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Business etiquette tips for students

January 2, 2024
Author: Jonah Ferguson, VIU’s Employer and Student Engagement Coordinator

How to be a professional in the workplace

Making your way in the professional world involves more than just what you know. How you act and present yourself is just as important. At Vancouver Island University, a key focus is on preparing our students for the realities of the workplace. This includes the critical social skills needed to succeed in Canada’s unique business environment.

Let’s break down the key areas of etiquette that can help you stand out as a polished professional in the workplace. This article serves as an introduction – or a refresher – for students looking for work this semester. For more tips and advice, I encourage you to visit VIU’s Career Studio

Before we get started, I would also like to acknowledge and pay respect to the Indigenous values and traditions that form an integral part of Canada’s cultural fabric. We recognize that these values and traditions may result in different interpretations of professional etiquette and workplace interactions. We honour these diverse viewpoints and encourage their consideration in the context of this guide.

Professional etiquette fundamentals

Professional etiquette serves as the backbone of workplace interactions. It’s about understanding the subtle social cues and responding with appropriate behaviour. This is critical as it affects your ability to integrate into new teams, be taken seriously by peers and superiors, and can influence your career trajectory.

  • Do: Always introduce yourself with a firm handshake and maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t: Use informal language or slang when first meeting someone in a professional context.

Canadian business culture

Canadian business culture is known for its emphasis on modesty, equality and a collective approach to success. These values shape the dynamics of Canadian workplaces. Demonstrating an appreciation for this culture can help you integrate into your work environment more effectively. It can also help you foster collaborative relationships.

  • Do: Acknowledge everyone’s contributions and encourage a team-centric atmosphere.
  • Don’t: Try to undermine your colleagues or take credit for team efforts beyond the scope of your participation.

Professional dress and appearance

First impressions are often formed based on how you dress, making your clothing an essential factor in your career. In many Canadian workplaces, employees are expected to present themselves in a way that reflects the professionalism of their role and organization. Dress codes in Canada can vary based on your industry, organization and region. Make sure that you are aware of the appropriate dress code as you enter a networking event or workplace environment.

  • Do: Choose clothing that is conservative and fits well for interviews and meetings.
  • Don’t: Wear casual clothing such as sweatpants or pajamas to networking events. 

Communication skills in a professional setting

Effective communication is crucial for conveying ideas, building rapport and resolving conflicts. In the Canadian workplace, a high value is placed on clear and concise communication that is also empathetic and respectful.

  • Do: Be clear and to the point, but also be willing to listen and adjust your communication style as needed.
  • Don’t: Ignore the input of others or monopolize conversations. This can be seen as dismissive.

Conducting yourself in professional settings

Your workplace behaviour is a direct reflection of your professionalism. Canadian employers often look for individuals who respect the time and space of their colleagues.

  • Do: Pay attention to meeting etiquette. This includes arriving on time and preparing in advance.
  • Don’t: Use your phone during meetings or speak out of turn. This behaviour can be seen as rude.

Making contacts and networking

Networking in Canada is about creating mutually beneficial relationships that can support your professional growth. It’s a strategic element of career development that involves more than just collecting business cards.

  • Do: Be genuine and interested in what others have to say. Aim to build lasting connections.
  • Don’t: Use networking opportunities only for personal gain without considering how you can contribute.

Digital etiquette and online presence

Your online presence can significantly impact your professional image. Employers often search for candidates online. This means it’s vital to manage your digital footprint with the same attention you give to your in-person interactions.

  • Do: Keep your LinkedIn and other professional profiles up-to-date and reflective of your career goals.
  • Don’t: Engage in online conflicts or post unprofessional content that could be viewed by potential employers.

Continuing professional development

In an ever-evolving job market, commitment to ongoing learning is important. It shows employers that you are proactive in maintaining your industry relevance and enhancing your skill set.

  • Do: Take courses, attend workshops and seek out new learning opportunities to stay ahead.
  • Don’t: Allow your skills to become obsolete by neglecting new developments in your field.

References and referrals

Your professional network can be a great resource for navigating the job market. Former supervisors or coworkers can act as references or referrals, but you must manage these relationships carefully.

  • Do: Get involved with volunteer activities, classroom projects or extracurricular activities to develop relationships with professors, supervisors or community members that might act as future references and who can speak truthfully to your skills and work ethic.
  • Don’t: Ask people who you don’t know personally, and who have not worked closely with you in the past, to act as references or to refer you to contacts in their own network.

Note: If you have listed an individual as a reference and they have consented to being contacted, let them know when they might receive a reference check from an employer, as well as the skills and competencies that you might want them to highlight.


While these tips provide an overview of general practices and expectations in Canadian professional settings, it is important to remember that there is always room for individuality and personal expression. Each industry has its unique culture and norms can vary significantly. We encourage students to use this resource as a foundation and inspiration, adapting and integrating these guidelines with their personal style and the specific requirements of their chosen field.

By following the tips above, you will be well-prepared to make a positive impact in the Canadian workplace and beyond. 

For more help, visit the VIU Career Studio or access the Professional Business Etiquette learning module.

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