Consider this scenario: Two different companies invite you to interview with them for a position you are very interested in.
The interviewer for the first company is the hiring manager for the firm. He comes into the meeting late and seems distracted. He doesn’t make eye contact with you and, in fact, texts while you are talking to him. His questions seem rushed and he obviously has not reviewed your resume.
The interviewer for the second company—again, the hiring manager—shows up on time, actively listens, and seems interested in what you have to say. When interrupted for an emergency, the manager handles the matter quickly, quietly, and apologetically.
Which of the two companies would you favor? You are obviously going to think more of the second interviewer, and probably more of that company and the position as a result.
Although this scenario isn’t really that far-fetched, the point is that this is a prime example of why professionalism is essential to your success and to the success of your company.
Think about it … the hotel bar at a conference. Texting while you are in a seminar or an important business meeting. The innocent kiss after lunch in the company cafeteria with your girlfriend. The profane statement made when your computer crashes. Blaming someone else for a mistake you made. Accepting credit for someone else’s work. The wrong photo on Facebook.
Believe it or not, these are all examples of unprofessional behavior that can have a negative impact on your career.
Webster’s dictionary defines professionalism as the “skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” How you dress, speak, and interact is an important part of being perceived as a professional, but there are other, less obvious traits you may not have considered:
Attitude. Ever have a boss who was testy all the time? The impact on the office was probably palpable. Try not to take your bad mood out on your co-workers, boss, and especially your clients. Having a positive attitude and regulating your mood can go a long way to developing a professional reputation.
Honesty and Integrity. Honesty is the best and most professional policy. Whether you are considering faking an illness so you can go shoe shopping or fudging the truth about your knowledge and experience, it’s essential that your colleagues and employer see you as honest and trustworthy. Always be honest about how much work you can handle and when you think you can complete it. If your work load is too much or you need assistance because you don’t have the expertise, ask for help. While it may seem like a weakness at the time, asking for help will earn you respect because you made sure the work could get done on time.
Accountability. Professional accountability means you do what you say you’ll do, including completing your duties on time and showing up for work. It also means being responsible for your words and actions. The hardest part of being accountable is accepting responsibility for mistakes. Pretending the mistake didn’t happen, you didn’t know about it, or worst yet, pawning it off on someone else, is unprofessional and rude.
Control. Losing your cool at work is not cool. Swearing, cursing, yelling, or throwing things around is juvenile and unnecessary. No matter how upset you are, try to maintain objectivity. Take a deep breath and calmly express your opinion. If you need to, take a walk outside to clear your head.
Exhibit Expertise. To be a professional, you have to have a profession. Make sure you know yours and share the specialized knowledge you have with your colleagues. Hoarding knowledge won’t get you anywhere in a team environment.
Of course, if you do all of these things, but show up for work late wearing your surfer dude outfit, you’ll probably still be seen as unprofessional. Punctuality, good manners, listening to others, and avoiding gossip are the characteristics of what makes a professional, even if these vary by corporate culture. If you are unsure of what constitutes professionalism in your office, look at a manager or executive who you admire, and emulate their behavior.
Professionals are respected and valued in an organization. They are the first to be considered for promotion and given special projects to build their career. Be professional; it’s easy to do and is a great way to advance your career.
What is considered professional in your workplace? Have you run into an issue where you questioned someone’s professionalism? Let us know! Email your comments about professionalism to firstname.lastname@example.org.