What does it mean to be a professional and to act professionally?
Every job requires professionalism and one of the worst rebukes someone can give in a business context is that someone else acted “unprofessionally”. But what does it mean to be a professional and to act professionally?
Professionalism may not be taught – but we know it when we see it, and unfortunately there are very few prominent role models of professionalism. On the contrary we are often drawn to stories about the Elon Musks, Steve Jobs and Alan Sugars of the world. The mavericks and tyrants who got to where they are by being relentlessly audacious, by acting as if the rules do not apply to them, by not caring what others thought and by not allowing other people to stand in their way. While it is ok to admire the successes of people like this that is not to say we should seek to imitate their worst characteristics.
Nobody becomes special simply by acting as if they deserve special treatment. You become valued at work by doing your job with pride and enthusiasm and making others feel valued, by acting professionally, not like a rebel.
Here are our tips on how to be professional:
We all know unreliable people, maybe you are an unreliable person, they’re the worst (sorry).
Simply put, being reliable boils down to doing what you say you are going to do. People will know they can rely on you if you follow through with the projects and tasks you agree too. Reputations are easy to acquire and hard to shake, and nobody wants the reputation of being the person that talks big on an idea then leaves it to wither on the vine.
Don’t burn bridges
We will all occasionally have to work at jobs or with people who agitate us or even whom we downright dislike. While you might want to go down in flames by quitting in style or venting your frustration by calling people out on social media…. Tempting as it might be, this is never a good plan. Always be positive about past employers – it’s nice to be nice and take the Zen route.
You really never know when the alternative approach might come back to bite you – you might need a reference or confirmation of employment in the future. You might well encounter a former colleague or boss in your new role and find yourself in an awkward spot. You might even see your social media takedowns of your previous employer end up in front of your new potential employer. If someone thinks twice about offering you a job because you posted something negative online, “their loss!” you might think, but if it stands between you and the job you want, it’s your loss.
If things end, end them amicably.
Be a self-starter
Lots of employers will write job adverts asking for a ‘self-starter’ even if they don’t really know what that means. Parents or school teachers may have encouraged you to be a self-starter, but without teaching you the skills to be one. So what does it mean to be a self-starter?
Make life easier for your colleagues, not harder
We have all worked with people who seem to live to make things unnecessarily difficult, arduous and complicated than they need to be. This is not cool. Every job has its difficulties and frustrations but we all remember the people that help us out and make life easier. That doesn’t mean you have to do their job for them– it just means you are helpful, full of support and you do small things to make their lives at work easier. Positive colleague relationships are what makes an organisation run smoothly.
Take pride in your work
Every job has an impact, even when you are working on something that doesn’t inspire you.
Sifting a load of data for a spreadsheet? Someone will need that information at their fingertips at some point and will be grateful that it is in an accessible format. Working on some marketing copy for a client account you find boring? People will see those ads and may find just what they are looking for, so make them the best ads you can.
If you don’t take pride in your work, then who will? This advice isn’t about finding joy in mundanity; it is easy to do tasks well when we enjoy them but all jobs include responsibilities that are boring or challenging. Taking pride in your work means doing the things you struggle with to the best of your ability regardless. At the end of the task, you will be able to enjoy that great sense of achievement for getting that job off your desk.
It means being proactive and motivated to work on your own initiative. To become more of a self-starter, the aim should be to try and rely less on waiting to be told what to do and instead focus on actively thinking of projects and working to make them a reality. Always check your ideas are on the right path and align with your Manager’s thoughts and ideas, of course – and ensure you are performing in your job before embarking on additional work. Ultimately, being easy to manage, enthusiastic and hardworking on all the right things is always welcome.
There are few things as annoying as emailing someone and never hearing anything back. If put on the spot most people would agree that it is far quicker to dash off an email response than to dream up an excuse for why you, as a computer literate person being paid to do a job, could not reply in a punctual manner (or at all).
There are exceptions of course, nobody likes the person who hits “reply all” on everything, and unsolicited sales emails do not require your attention any more than cold callers. The person who politely acknowledges your message is far more likely to get a favour when they need one than the person who may as well have dropped off the Earth judging by their email communication skills.
Admit your mistakes
Everyone gets things wrong, mistakes happen, so when you make a mistake… Own it.
Admit it, admit it early and be proactive in putting it right. Taking the opportunity to suggest ways to prevent it happening again demonstrates your ability to learn from mistakes or moves the issue away from a slip up by one person to solving a problem for the benefit of everyone involved. Owning and admitting mistakes is about caring about what you do, demonstrates reliability and taking pride in your work. Professionalism is about learning from your mistakes and doing your best to make sure you don’t repeat them.