The dictionary defines "professionalism" as "the competence or skill expected of a professional," which suggests that if they're able to demonstrate the knowledge and execute the tasks expected of them, employees in any field from accounting to warehouse management will survive and thrive in the modern workplace. But in real life, this quality is not as clear-cut as a simple dictionary definition would suggest. And some employees—especially younger and less experienced workers—struggle with this concept in a way that can create an impediment to their career growth. If you aren't sure exactly what this word means, or how it can impact your success, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Professionalism Means Respect for Those Around You
When you speak to others, give them your full attention. This includes your coworkers, your clients, your network contacts, your direct reports, and of course your boss. If you decide your phone is more important than the person in front of you, don't expect to be trusted with high levels of responsibility. And don't expect to be offered a promotion when a position above you becomes available.
Keep your eye contact focused on the person you're speaking to. Ask meaningful questions as you speak, and keep your messages and explanations clear, articulate, and respectful. Attention to this small detail can gain the trust and confidence of those who interact with you in the workplace.
Professionalism Means Respect for Your Organization and Its Customers
Do you stand behind your organization and its mission? Do you honestly believe in the value of the product your company produces or the services it provides? Are you proud to tell people that you work here? Do you respect the customers who buy this product or use this service? Are you proud of your coworkers and do you feel like a member of a respectable team?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you're on the right track. If you can see this destination from where you're standing, then you and this job are an adequate match, at least for now. If these questions make you laugh, then it's time to start looking for another job. Start working on your resume now, before you find yourself hustled out the door.
Professionalism Means Respect for Yourself
Dress appropriately for your workplace, and keep in mind that neat, clean, well-maintained clothing is always appropriate. Even if you don't interact with customers, keep your appearance tidy and your posture elevated. Small details of grooming and self-care can have a greater impact than you realize. If you aren't eating properly or getting enough sleep, you may not think those around you can tell…but they can.
Self-respect also shows in words and body language. Walk, speak, and write with confidence and self-assertion. Before you let someone tell you that you don't know enough, aren't good enough, or don't deserve the things you want, take this person's credentials into account. Are they qualified to judge you? If not, find a more qualified critic/judge/instructor/mentor/arbiter—or better yet, be your own.
Professionalism Starts with a Strong Resume
To create a professional impression, start with a strong resume and cover letter. Turn to MyPerfectResume for the help, guidance, templates, and tools you need to showcase your skills and gain the confidence of potential employers.