RESEARCH shows that impressions formed during the first two to six minutes of an interview seldom change later. So it is important that you plan the professional image you want to project.

General guidelines

* Wear clean, pressed clothing that fits properly.

* Check clothing for missing buttons, hanging threads, lint, dandruff, stray hairs and stains.

* Hair should be clean, groomed, styled and should look natural, even if you colour it.

* Hands and nails should be clean and trimmed.

* Wear deodorant. Use perfume or cologne sparingly.

* Breath should smell fresh, but do not chew gum, candy or mints during the interview.

* Jewellery should be minimal. Remove all visible body piercing other than one pair of conservative earrings for women.

* A conservative watch completes your professional image.

* Cover any visible tattoos.

Appearance aside, you should also pay attention to your non-verbal behaviour during the interview so that you can effectively communicate your strengths to your potential employer. These include:

The handshake

A firm handshake with good eye contact communicates self-confidence. Not shaking hands is a very clear form of rejection and is extremely insulting to the other person.

Eye contact

Maintaining eye contact demonstrates attentiveness, respect and honesty, and is an opportunity to establish trust with the interviewer.

Aim for a steady gaze, not a long, hard stare. That is rude and will make the interviewer feel uncomfortable.

Proper posture

Proper posture conveys confidence, alertness and interest. Lean forward a little with your head slightly tilted when the interviewer is speaking, particularly about the company, the job description and duties.

Head movement

Nod carefully and sparingly, to show that you are listening to what the interviewer has to say. Slow, deliberate nods are favourable to consistent, quick nods, which signal an eagerness to please.

Gestures

Use hand gestures to express yourself and to emphasise certain points. However, if the interviewer notices a contradiction between your words and gestures, you can be sure the latter will leave the stronger mark.

Facial expressions

If you want to convey the message "I am comfortable", your smile must be genuine. The biggest indicator of your true inner state is your facial expression.

Listening

Being a good listener enables you to respond to questions more effectively. You an also get information which will help you ask better questions.