Professionalism and Your Career
A lot of elements go into a successful career. Talent is certainly among them. So is hard work. But a certain attitude and way of carrying oneself also makes a huge impact. To succeed as a professional, you need to be a professional, and that means looking and acting the part. Polished business etiquette, the right attitude, and — yes — even the right look will change your fortunes as you try to move your career forward.
Seeing just how much professionalism matters isn’t always easy. After all, this is the era of the laid-back tech CEO decked out in cargo shorts. Office dress codes are loosening, and old etiquette norms are, in some cases, going out of vogue. But just because professionalism looks different in 2019 than it did in 1955 doesn’t mean that professionalism doesn’t matter. It still matters as much as ever.
Your professional image is a part of your personal brand, and it’s going to play a major role in how you are treated by peers, clients, and managers. Make the right impression — right from the start.
Professionalism starts with your first impression. All the people you meet, whether they’re clients, a co-workers, or others, will immediately size you up. Perhaps they’ll do it consciously, or perhaps it will be unconscious — either way, though, you can bet that the conclusion they draw will be tough to reverse.
So get it right the first time. The smile. The firm (but not too strong) handshake. Remember the names of the people that you meet, and listen to people when they talk. You’ll have lots of time to prove your worth, but you only get one chance at a first impression.
Dressing for success
Office dress codes have changed over the years, but it remains important to look neat and professional at work. If your work has a casual dress code, that’s just fine — but make sure that you’re the one whose T-shirt or polo shirt is neat and new, not the person who shows up looking like you’ve slept in your outfit.
In more traditional business environments, you’ll have to think more carefully about what you wear. In general, try to dress at least as well as your co-workers do — or, better yet, at least as well as your superiors do. When you’re arriving for a job interview, you should be slightly better dressed than your interviewer. And, in general, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Women’s business outfits can be tougher to evaluate than men’s, but if you find a great retailer that you trust and gain a basic understanding of how the (traditionally male-dominated) dress codes at workplaces correspond to women’s clothing options, you’ll do just fine.
A lot of what it means to be professional can also be described as business and office etiquette. Just like any other part of our society, the business world has certain rules of behavior. You need to make sure that you’re doing the right things to be polite to clients, customers, co-workers, superiors, hiring managers, recruiters, and everyone else who you meet in a professional capacity.
So send those thank-you notes to the people who interview you. Pick up the tab at a business meal when you were the one who proposed it. Return calls promptly, dress respectfully, and remember people’s names. This is all just good manners.
Building your professional network
If you behave professionally, people will notice. And that will help you accomplish one important thing that leads to success in business: developing a strong professional network. Networking is key to getting ahead in business, and maintaining great connections relies on — and is also a part of — true professionalism. In this context, professionalism means thinking about what you can do to help your professional contacts (not just the other way around), remembering names and other details, and politely staying in touch. When you’re a great professional, that gets through to people.