How to Be a Professional for Today’s Workforce

The workplace has changed. The workforce has changed. Opportunities have changed. The employment landscape has changed.  But what has remained the same? From my experience what has stood the test of time is the notion of professionalism and the elements that comprise the term “professionalism” and what it means to be a professional. The internet defines professionalism as, “the competence of skill expected of a professional.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”managing people for the first time

In addition to the clinical definition of professionalism is also an attitude. Professionalism has as much to do with the way a person conducts themselves in the workplace as the skill or competence they have in the job. A person who shows consideration and respect for colleagues, subordinates and supervisors alike demonstrates commitment to professionalism. An individual who keeps their word, shows loyalty, exceeds expectations and never compromises their integrity also demonstrates professionalism.

I believe professionalism, in addition to individual skills and abilities, is and always has been an attitude. Professionalism is a state of mind. Here are seven characteristics from careerbuilder.com I totally agree with and that define a professional state of mind:

1. Accountability: When something goes wrong, do you immediately look for ways to avoid blame or for ways to correct the problem? Taking responsibility for a mistake — and then learning from it — might be the most reliable mark of a true professional.

2. Consideration: True professionals tend to be aware of how their work and behavior affects everyone around them. Small courtesies such as letting colleagues know in advance when you’ll be unavailable can make a big difference in the team’s overall performance.

3. Humility: If you’re unsure how to best perform a task, do you ask for help or plow forward? If you’re too proud to take direction or criticism, you’re putting pride ahead of the good of the team and the health of your career.

4. Communication: Avoiding comments that make others uncomfortable or undervalued is a prerequisite, of course, but true professionals also grasp many subtler aspects of communication. For example, when you provide feedback, are you careful to do it in a way that will be helpful rather than belittling? Do you listen to input from others even when you think you know best?

5. Tidiness: The effect of your personal choices on others extends to the clothes you wear. A suit and tie don’t make you a professional. But taking care to dress appropriately for your workplace conveys that you’re attuned to your environment and that you respect the job and the people around you. It’s also a matter of self-interest, since employers say that clothing choices affect promotion prospects.

6. Kindness: Approaching others with patience and respect for their perspective enables constructive criticism and stronger collaboration. When in doubt, fall back on the old standby: Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

7. Consistency: Professionalism is easiest to measure when things aren’t going well — when you’ve done subpar work, miscommunicated with a co-worker or when clients or colleagues are behaving unprofessionally. Under duress, do you treat people with the same respect as you do when everything’s clicking? True professionals aren’t necessarily less emotional than other workers, but they are less likely to let those emotions lead to outbursts and other knee-jerk reactions.

In addition to the seven characteristics from careerbuilder, I would add:

8. Treat Others with Respect. Treating others with respect in general, and especially when the other party is not giving you the same courtesy, is a vital aspect of demonstrating professionalism. Some ways to show respect are using the appropriate tone and words while communicating (the non-verbals are equally if not more important than the verbal forms of communication), focusing on the other person while speaking and maintaining a calm demeanor even when the other person doesn’t.

9. Keep Your Word. Professionalism is based on trust and upholding the commitments you make. Being professional means eliminating excuses and following through on what you said you would do. There is almost nothing worse than the feeling of being let down or disappointed by someone who didn’t follow through on what they said they were going to do.  Don’t be that person. Your word at work and in life is all you have: it must be unbreakable. Bottom Line:  If you can’t follow through, for any reason, don’t make the commitment.

Like anything worth having in life, professionalism is something you must work at if you want to make it to the rank of the “consummate” professional. In this case, practice truly does make perfect and with time and dedication your professionalism will become a critical element in achieving your career goals.

For more reading on professionalism, check out these articles:

Empathy: It’s Professional

Want to Be Seen as Professional? 3 Important Tips

Lia Miller is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Kaitlin Moller

As I was reading these characteristics, I couldn’t help but think that they’re also imperative when it comes to just being a decent human being overall. So it’s interesting how paralleled professionalism and everyday life should be, especially when the word “professional” is so workplace-focused. I really learned a lot from this post!

Lia Miller

Hi Kaitlin! Thank you for the feedback and I totally agree these characteristics not only apply to professionalism but to being a decent person in general. I’m glad you found it useful!