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The Ultimate Guide to Professionalism

Developing and maintaining professional behaviors is essential to success in the workplace. Employers expect both candidates and hired employees to demonstrate professionalism when interacting with others. Those who display personal professionalism are usually rewarded with better opportunities, such as career advancement and increased compensation.

This guide will help you better understand professionalism so you can ensure you’re behaving in the most professional manner throughout your job search and career.

What is professionalism?

Professionalism is a set of characteristics that displays your ability to be a hardworking, dependable and respectful individual in professional settings. The way you conduct yourself, relate to others and approach tasks all factor into your degree of professionalism. This includes dressing appropriately, treating others with respect and maintaining a positive attitude.

While professionalism may vary in meaning between jobs and industries, a few essential characteristics are standard across almost all workplace environments. Professionalism is

10 characteristics of professionalism

Here are several characteristics and habits associated with professionalism:

Let’s explore these in details with suggestions for how you can demonstrate these behaviors.

Reliability

Reliability is crucial to workplace success. Departments are more efficient and effective when individuals can rely on one another to do their part. When you and your teammates can trust each other to meet deadlines, produce quality work and respond promptly to requests, it’s easier to meet organizational goals and overcome challenges.

To be reliable, you’ll also need to be flexible and maintain your focus on your job duties even in the face of unforeseen obstacles. Consider the difference between an IT professional who becomes anxious and alarmed about a bug and one who acknowledges the issue and calmly moves forward to fix it. Employers prefer to hire professionals who can maintain an even demeanor because they are more reliable and thus more professional.

You can demonstrate reliability by:

  • Always following up on requests or questions
  • Arriving on time or early for work, meetings and events
  • Producing a consistent quality-of-work
  • Responding to issues in a consistent manner
  • Following set processes and procedures
  • Giving your full attention to the task at hand

Humility

Another essential aspect of professionalism is humility, or the ability to be humble. Those who exhibit humility are confident without being arrogant and recognize the value others bring to the team. Humility helps people cooperate and work together as a team without one individual considering themselves more important than others.

Employers generally determine someone possesses humility when they are respectful of their peers, acknowledge others for their hard work and avoid boasting about their personal accomplishments. These professionals often place greater emphasis on how outcomes affect the entire team rather than just themselves.

You can demonstrate your humility by:

  • Actively seeking ways to develop others alongside yourself
  • Acknowledging your mistakes
  • Asking for assistance when necessary
  • Accepting constructive criticism
  • Asking for and using advice from more experienced or knowledgeable professionals
  • Doing what it takes to meet team goals, even if it means accepting tasks below your level of expertise
  • Encouraging others to share their thoughts, ideas and constructive criticism

Etiquette

Etiquette is an unwritten code of conduct, or the “proper” or “right” way to act in workplace situations. Using proper etiquette often means demonstrating good manners, being polite and treating others with courtesy and respect. While business etiquette can vary between employers and industries, it’s always better to be too formal than risk offending someone.

You can demonstrate proper business etiquette by:

  • Greeting new people with a handshake
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Using professional language and full sentences in written communications
  • Putting your phone away during meetings and when you’re engaged in face-to-face conversations
  • Greeting individuals by name
  • Making eye contact when speaking to others
  • Keeping conversations focused on work and avoiding personal topics

Neatness

One key aspect of professionalism is maintaining a professional appearance with good hygiene and cleanliness. This applies both to your workspace and yourself. It’s important you wear clean clothing that meets your organization’s dress code and keep your workstation free of clutter. Neatness shows others you’re organized, conscious of how you present yourself and prepared to handle your job duties.

You can demonstrate neatness by:

  • Ensuring your clothing is clean and free of wrinkles and holes
  • Selecting clothing that’s appropriate for your job
  • Maintaining proper personal hygiene
  • Keeping your work area tidy and organized

Consideration

Employees who show consideration for those around them are mindful of the thoughts, feelings and needs of others. They’re kind to colleagues and customers, even in challenging situations. While you may have to deliver bad news or express criticism of a project or its results, doing so with consideration is more constructive and effective.

Those who are considerate demonstrate thoughtfulness and empathy, which can include everything from asking a colleague about their weekend to helping an overwhelmed coworker complete a challenging project.

Here are a few ways you can be more considerate at work:

  • Be polite and kind to your peers, managers and customers
  • Make an effort to assist others in need
  • Remaining tolerant and respectful of others and their feelings
  • Listen to others’ thoughts and opinions carefully before responding

Work ethic

Employers prefer to hire professionals who are devoted to their work, and are more likely to offer additional responsibilities and opportunities to those who are engaged in the workplace. Demonstrating work ethic shows employers you’re loyal to the company and committed to delivering positive outcomes through your work. Proving you’re dependable and willing to put in extra effort to meet your employer’s needs will help you advance your career.

You can display your dedication by:

  • Taking initiative and volunteering for new projects
  • Exhibiting a positive work ethic
  • Delivering high-quality work
  • Being punctual
  • Meeting all deadlines
  • Maintaining a positive attitude about your job duties

Read more: Tips to Demonstrate Work Ethic

Organization

While organization is similar to neatness, you can keep your desk neat yet still find it difficult to locate things in a timely manner. However, if your space is both neat and organized, you will know where everything is, find important items quickly and work more efficiently.

Organization also extends beyond your physical workspace. Organized professionals are able to better manage their time and obligations well, too. They have a clear grasp of what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time and set personal deadlines to keep themselves on track. This way, they don’t miss important details and can make the best use of their work day.

You can stay organized in the workplace by:

  • Maintaining a clear agenda
  • Creating and updating to-do lists
  • Always returning items to the right locations
  • Preparing for tasks by gathering the proper tools and information ahead of time

Accountability

While employers often hold their workers accountable, the most effective professionals do this for themselves. Demonstrating accountability shows others you take responsibility for your actions and their results.

Accountability requires you to accept your role in mistakes or failures, which can be challenging. However, this also proves your self-awareness and commitment to honesty and integrity.

You can demonstrate accountability by:

  • Completing all tasks assigned to you in a timely manner
  • Accepting responsibility for the outcome of any project you’ve participated in
  • triving to achieve your goals and do your part to help your team meet business objectives

Integrity

Integrity is an important part of professionalism because it assures others that you hold yourself to a high standard of morality. Those who have great integrity are honest and ethical at all times. While most businesses set forth a behavioral policy to help guide workers’ behavior, it’s crucial you hold yourself to a high standard of morality even when your employer has provided explicit rules for how to conduct yourself.

Employees demonstrate integrity by delivering on their promises and taking responsibility for their actions. They take a proactive approach to challenges in the workplace rather than waiting for issues to be discovered. Acting with integrity also means being respectful of all those around you, including coworkers, supervisors, subordinates and customers.

You can show your integrity in the workplace by:

  • Keeping your word at all times
  • Avoiding workplace gossip
  • Being honest in all your business dealings
  • Maintaining confidentiality when required
  • Avoiding discussing sensitive topics not relevant to your job
  • Adhering to all company policies and procedures, even when no one is watching
  • Giving credit to others for their accomplishments
Expertise

While you don’t need to be an expert on everything, it’s important to be competent in the areas for which you are responsible. For example, an HVAC technician who is knowledgeable about the latest technologies for energy efficient cooling will seem more professional to customers and peers than a professional who isn’t up-to-date on the latest industry best practices.

In most cases, it takes ongoing effort to maintain a high level of industry expertise. To continue developing your knowledge and skills, it’s helpful to read industry journals, attend conferences, enroll in relevant courses, practice with new technology and seek a mentor in your field. The more expertise you have in your field, the more professional you will appear to others.

You can demonstrate your expertise in the workplace by:

  • Recommending new products, tools and processes to improve outcomes
  • Ask your manager for feedback about performance to determine where you can improve
  • Stay current on new industry developments
  • Pursuing continuing education in your field
  • Practicing essential skills often
  • Volunteer for training opportunities, both as a student and an educator
Understanding professionalism in different workplace situations

Committing to professionalism will help employers understand your ability to be reliable and capable. However, different scenarios require different behaviors. Here are a few tips for using professionalism in a variety of workplace situations.

Professionalism in an interview

An interview is your first chance to make a positive impression on an employer, so it’s essential you appear as professional as possible. Without knowing the details of the company’s culture, policies and procedures, you should be formal and exercise your best manners. You can exhibit professionalism in an interview by:

  • Dressing more formally than you might as an employee
  • Greeting each person with a handshake
  • Making eye contact as you speak
  • Speaking clearly and respectfully without using slang or unnecessary jargon
  • Sharing your accomplishments with confidence
  • Avoiding saying anything negative about previous employers or colleagues

Read more: Job Interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression

Professionalism with customers

If you have direct contact with customers, clients, patients or others your organization serves, it’s important to you display proper professionalism at all times. However, it’s also crucial you adapt your behavior and language to your audience. For example, a professional demeanor working with children will be notably different than one working with busy stakeholders.

Some aspects of professionalism are universal, such as:

  • Arriving early for meetings
  • Responding promptly to questions and requests
  • Treating others with courtesy and respect
  • Demonstrating tolerance for other beliefs and opinions
  • Acting with honesty and integrity

Related: Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples

Professionalism with colleagues

Navigating professionalism can become more complex when you’re interacting with your coworkers. While you should always treat them with respect and tolerance, you may also form friendships and certain formalities may feel unnatural. However, you should still be wary of acting in an unprofessional manner or engaging in misconduct. Avoid jokes or stories that might be perceived as offensive or insensitive.

When you’re in the work environment, you should maintain a clear sense of professionalism that’s different from how you would act in a casual environment. This includes:

  • Avoiding unprofessional language
  • Showing respect and compassion for those around you
  • Exercising punctuality

Developing your professionalism is essential for launching and advancing a successful career. While your industry and workplace environment has a significant impact on which aspects of professionalism are most important, adopting the characteristics and habits listed above can help ensure you’re prepared no matter where you work.