Archive: Professionalism — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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1. professional character, spirit, or methods. 
2. the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from an amateur.

professionalism. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 19, 2007).

You can often hear complaints today about a lack of professionalism among the workforce. Employees that don’t do their jobs — companies that rip off their clients — people who generally treat others much worse than they would like to be treated. We often see professionalism described in the negative, though. This is not professional. That is not professional. Instead, I think we would be much better off to describe what professional is, rather that what it is not.

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You are what you wear?

One of the first signs of professionalism is usually taken to be your dress. Frankly, as long as you are decently clean and attired, I think this has less bearing than anything else I will discuss here. In fact, it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Sure, if you dress slovenly, people will develop a certain opinion about you, but to judge all your work and professionalism by the clothes you wear seems the height of folly.
I will make one concession, though. Company culture will often dictate professional dress. If you are in a suit and tie environment, you must adapt to the culture. To do otherwise is folly. If you want to dress differently, you will often have to find another company with another culture. Does it make sense? Not always, but there are many things in life that don’t make sense.

Actions speak louder and words, really!

If you want to appear truly professional, in everything you do, there are some important, yet simple, guidelines to follow. They might seem commonsensical, but so many people ignore them you are sure to stand out in comparison. First, return your phone calls and emails promptly. That’s right, simply by calling people back on the same day you receive their call, you can seem more professional than those around you. Silly, huh? I am sure you know from your own experience, though, that most people don’t do this. Some can take so long to call you back, despite the urgency of the call or email, you might think they dropped off the face of the earth. People who call or email quickly are the one’s that get the job, get the sale, get the project. It is as simple as that.

Next, when you make a commitment, do everything in your power to deliver on that commitment. Do what you say you will do. Do it when you say you will do it. If you can’t deliver on your commitment, return to your client/boss/peer and re-negotiate the commitment. Never simply “drop the ball.” Never make people come looking for you and the information you promised. This is one sure way to destroy any sense of professionalism.

Be careful of re-negotiating too often, though. Eventually those around you will understand that your commitments mean nothing. For yourself, it also shows that you are unable to properly estimate the time and energy involved in producing results. Are you making commitments you can’t keep? Why? Are you afraid of looking bad to your boss or peers? Guess what? Constantly missing or renegotiating commitments looks even worse and the results will be the same. You’ll soon find yourself looking for a new job.


Finally, the biggest component of professionalism is treating everyone with respect. You respect them as unique individuals and, most importantly, you respect their time. Professionals don’t show up late for appointments or meetings, regardless of their level. You might think a CEO can keep anyone waiting, and they can, but the message they send to their employees is very clear – I don’t respect your time. Even worse, I don’t respect you.
Don’t talk down to anyone, no matter what their level. It is often said that if you truly want to know someone, watch how they treat “the help.” Someone who mistreats those around them will have no compunction about mistreating you someday. Do you say please and thank you? Even to the waitress at your local lunch spot? Do you assume that everyone works for you and never need to be thanked for anything? How you treat others is directly proportional to how people perceive your professionalism. Furthermore, it clearly shows your character as a human being.

Professionalism has little to do with how you dress and is much more about what you do and how you work with others. If you keep your commitments and respect those around you, you will be seen as a professional and others will want to work with you again and again. Disrespect others and you will find yourself lonely, isolated and the very definition of unprofessional.


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