In order to have a successful career, you need to learn early on how to be professional in a business setting. The term “professionalism” is not just (or necessarily) about wearing a suit – it’s a collection of attitudes and behaviors that show respect, competence, and dedication.
Some aspects of being professional may differ depending on the type of work – lawyers may be expected to wear suits, for example, which is obviously not the case for bakers. But the core elements of professionalism apply across the board – and they’re easy to pick up!
1. Be Prompt
One of the most important ways to show professionalism is also one of the simplest: Never be late.
Your time is valuable, as is the time of your colleagues, clients, and office staff. Demonstrate that you respect their time by being punctual for meetings, engagements, and conference calls.
Life is life, however, and even those with the best intentions will find hurdles to punctuality arise now and again. Time management pros recommend that you circumvent these lateness hurdles by building in a time buffer. If you’re due at the office by 8:30 am, make it a goal to arrive by 8:15 am. That way, if you hit a snarled freeway or your latte stains your button down, you can still make it on time.
When it comes to client meetings or VIP events, strive to arrive at least thirty minutes early. This set window gives you time to collect your thoughts and prepare mentally. Nothing is less professional than keeping a group of people waiting and rushing in flustered.
Many of us struggle with timeliness, but a little bit of practice can have you arriving on time every time.
2. Stay Above the Fray
Part of working in a communal environment is dealing with different personalities and varied work styles. One way to tank your professional demeanor is by getting involved in petty office disputes.
Strive to be straightforward and forthright in your interactions. Avoid the temptation to gossip or spread rumors. If you’re having an issue with a coworker, then make an effort to resolve the issue in a direct, courteous manner.
The idea is to demonstrate that your top concern is your work – personal issues don’t belong on the job.
3. Pay Attention to Your Appearance
In our increasingly casual work world, modern office dress codes may be subject to liberal interpretation. A good rule of thumb is that it’s always best to err on the side of overdressed than underdressed.
Your clothing can either show that you respect yourself and the people around you or that you just don’t care that much. You don’t need to wear a three-piece suit to work in a casual office, you should always make an effort to maintain a clean, neat, well-groomed appearance.
Polish your shoes. Find an attractive, flattering hairstyle and maintain it. Cultivate a professional style of dress that you feel comfortable in and invest in some clothes that reflect your professionalism. Check out what the other people in your industry or in your work environment are wearing to figure out the right level of formality.
4. Mind Your Manners
Your mother would be proud to know that her lessons about keeping your elbows off the table have finally paid off! Simple gestures such as holding the door for others, saying “please” and “thank you” as appropriate, and addressing colleagues in a cordial tone can set you apart.
Likewise, it’s important to be respectful of the shared office space. If there’s a break room, don't be that person who leaves three-month-old Kung Pao in the fridge to sprout fuzz. If you’re the last to make coffee, wipe down the area around the pot and dry it off. These small considerations show your office that you’re respectful of others, which is a hallmark of professionalism.
5. Cultivate a Professional Attitude
Professionals know that they were hired by the business to work— not to socialize or balk at boring or minor projects. Time is money and it’s vital to show that you’re making an effort to be the best worker you can be.
Professionals also recognize that even the world’s best jobs have moments of tedium. Rather than grumbling about assignments, professionals do the work asked of them with grace and pride. Doing the job — or even going the extra mile — without complaint will show that you’re prioritizing your job rather than your personal preferences, which is crucial for a professional reputation.
6. Admit Mistakes
We’re all human, which means we’re fallible. Even the most consummate professional can remember a time when they screwed something up at work. It happens. Even the best of us make mistakes.
The key to how to be professional while recovering from a mistake at work is to confront that error head on. Professionals realize that the best move after making a mistake is to mitigate damage. Professionals realize that they need to accept responsibility, try to fix the damage, and then move on.
Professionalism isn’t about being perfect all the time, but learning how to handle the bumps in the road with grace. The best professionals know that each mistake presents a learning opportunity for how to do things better the next time.
7. Be Mindful Of Your Communication
We’re an on-the-go mobile world. This means that much of our daily business communication happens on the fly, in real time. That rush leaves us open to making silly errors and to using a casual style that’s not quite work-appropriate.
Make an effort to convey professionalism in all communication, whether that’s via phone, video conference, email, or text. Avoid communicating in ways which are too informal for the situation. Emojis, for example, rarely have a place in modern business communication, so leave those to the middle school crew.
When you’re communicating with clients or business partners, think about how your mode of communication looks from their end. A formal email signature block stating your name, professional title, and contact information can elevate even the most basic communication. If you’re invoicing or using snail mail, then simply having invoices created by computer program and stationary printed on high-quality stock demonstrate professionalism.
Also, take advantage of spell check! Typos and grammatical errors can demonstrate that the email or other communication in question isn’t important enough for you to give it your full attention.
Make Professionalism A Habit
Learning how to be professional in a business setting is simply about making an effort to demonstrate behaviors which show that you care about yourself, your job, and others in your business domain. And professionalism will serve you well beyond your job – it never hurts to be timely, polite, competent, and respectful!
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