Professionalism. The Oxford English Dictionary says it means, "The competence or skill expected of a
professional: the key to quality and efficiency is professionalism."
But what exactly is 'expected' in this context?
I once made the mistake of 'assuming' a candidate knew what I meant by dressing professionally for an interview at a global (and very professional) business.
When speaking with my client afterwards, they said this particular person gave a very bad first impression by turning up in casual pants and a polo shirt.
Tidy, yes. Professional, no.
Needless to say, they were not asked back for a second interview.
However, to be professional can take on many forms, not only how you present yourself (your attire and your grooming) but also how you interact with others (attitude and competence).
Are you reliable, respectful and competent? Do you perform your tasks with genuine intent and honesty? Do you maintain professional etiquette and ethics in the workplace? Depending on your workplace this can take on many different forms, however, there are and always will be, a few common traits, that make us valued and respected, that it helps to be aware of:
1. Respect - Treat everyone with respect, all staff at all levels, vendors, clients and customers. When I worked on cruise ships, we had a 10 foot policy whereby we had to greet everyone we passed within a 10 foot radius with a 'Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening'. I still do it sometimes to strangers on the street. Yes, they look at me funny! But it's only good manners and isn't it nice to get a greeting and a smile from a stranger?
2. Competence - Know your role, your skills and what is required of you. Don't just 'talk the talk', 'walk the walk'. If you don’t know what’s expected of you, then ask a person who can tell you.
3. Reliability - Be dependable, turn up to work, meetings and appointments on time.
4. Honesty - Be honest, admit your mistakes and take responsibility for rectifying them.
5. Support others - Be sure to include your team in on any accolades, share the spotlight. Be a team member.
6. Be positive - Smile and see the good in everything!
7. Stay work-focused - leave your personal life at home and do not use the company time for personal issues (unless there is an emergency of course) or to bog your colleagues down with negative energy from non-work matters.
8. Project a positive business appearance - dress professionally and speak positively and confidently about your company and yourself.
9. Integrity - This is one of my company (and personal) values. Do what you say you will do and you will become known as someone whose word can be trusted.
It goes without saying (or does it?) that unprofessionalism includes gossiping, being negative, poor attendance or tardiness, unprofessional body language, presentation and disrespect.
The more you practice ‘being professional’ the more chances you will have to create a positive reputation and image for yourself. This can ultimately translate into a better job, promotion and more chances at exciting projects or opportunities.
But most importantly, you will benefit from feelings of increased self-worth and dignity and isn’t that the best reason of all?