Professionalism—So What Exactly Is It?

Group of professionals standing in a cluster

Congratulations! You’ve landed that first job—and you’re ready to start.

Now those same folks who were asking: “What are you going to do when you graduate?” are giving you advice to get started: “ Remember to be professional!” Professional is such an all-encompassing word. What exactly does it mean?

Well, like beauty, professionalism is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some general principles most would agree on. Professionalism is a cluster of attributes including your competence, your work ethic, your ability to work with others, your attitude, how you dress and comport yourself, your time management skills and your ethics and values.

What should you focus on as you step into a new position, wanting to demonstrate a high level of professionalism?

  • Communicate effectively with others. Show positive regard for each person you interact with, and demonstrate good listening skills. Ask questions! Admit mistakes and make things right! Effective interpersonal communication may be the most important way you demonstrate professionalism.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to the team. Assist others with projects as appropriate and commit to team goals.
  • Display a positive attitude. Research shows that more people are fired because they don’t get along with others than because they can’t do the job. Don’t grumble or whine.
  • Dress appropriately. Read the Operations Manual for any information about dress codes and observe the work culture. Dress in keeping with other professionals—and those whose positions you aspire to. Make sure your attire is suitable for the work you are doing.
  • Manage your time effectively. Prioritize and meet deadlines. Be reliable and punctual.
  • Practice good etiquette. Yes, that’s manners! Don’t interrupt, yawn, look down or otherwise convey lack of interest in others. A word about phones and other technology: silence them in work meetings.
  • Keep good boundaries between home and worklife. Minimize personal calls and discussions of personal problems at work.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, convey integrity and commitment to your values. Your colleagues need to know that can count on you for honesty, confidentiality, and commitment to organizational values.

So yes, it is about the dress, and it is about the manners, but it’s so much more than that. It’s conveying that you are a person who is intelligent, committed, hard –working, and an all-round great colleague. It’s all true—isn’t it? Great, you are already on your way to being a great professional!

~Mary Beth

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