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One of the biggest keys to being asked to join the professional world is looking and acting professional. But a recent survey of more than 500 HR and business professionals found that half of all university graduates do not exhibit professionalism.

Consistently topping the list of problem areas is inappropriate appearance and poor communication skills. Here are the top tips for nailing the interview:

Before the interview

Research the company: Learn its history, mission, and recent activities. Be sure to look at the corporate website and online press room.

Clean up your digital image: Remove photos, links, and text that might be viewed as inappropriate from all social media websites and the sites of your friends. Listen to your voice-mail message: Make sure your outgoing message is clear, concise and not off-putting to potential employers.

Customize your résumé: Your CV should highlight the skills most relevant to the career you're pursuing. That means including all pertinent job experience such as internships in your chosen profession.

Get ahead of the curve: Invest in a personal business card that can be printed inexpensively by one of the many e-retailers or visit your local stationery store. Cards should be kept simple with just your name and contact information.

Practise, practise, practise: Rehearse answers to standard interview questions: What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? Where do you hope to be in five years?"

The day of the interview

Arrive early: Busy people do not like to be kept waiting, and it shows disrespect if you are tardy. Arrive five minutes early but don't rush; you want to be calm and poised for the interview.

Dress like you mean business: Wear neutral colours and, if in doubt, err on the side of dressing "too professional." Women should wear minimum jewellery. Men should wear suits and well-polished shoes.

Turn off your phone: All mobile devices should be turned off completely. Nothing says "This interview is unimportant to me" more than taking a call or looking at a text during a meeting.

Connect with people: From the receptionist to the last person you meet, make direct eye contact, and offer a firm handshake to the interviewer when arriving and departing.

After the interview

Go old-school: Send a handwritten thank-you note on quality paper within 24 hours of the interview. Research shows this simple gesture boosts hiring chances by 20 per cent.

Pamela Eyring is president and director of the Protocol School of Washington.


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