Demonstrating professionalism is the key to a successful career. Employers, fellow employees and customers all expect a high level of professionalism. For this reason, being professional can help you to achieve your goals and advance your career. In this article, we discuss what it means to be professional and how to develop the key attributes that constitute professionalism in the workplace.
What does it mean to be professional?
Professionalism is having the skill, knowledge and confidence to perform a job to the highest standards that might be expected of you. Being professional can mean different things depending on the employer or industry, and the confidence, knowledge or skill expected in one role might not be the same in another.
What is the same across different career paths, though, is the expectation that comes with professionalism. Demonstrating professionalism means taking your job seriously, being reliable to your colleagues and caring about your responsibilities and successes.
Top 10 attributes of professionalism
While different roles have different expectations, there are common qualities and attributes that employers expect their employees to have and that can be developed over the course of a career. Here are the top 10 attributes of professionalism:
- Etiquette and manners
- Morality and ethics
Being responsible shows that you're aware of what your role actually entails and that you're ready to be held accountable for your actions and the results they produce. These are the most effective ways to demonstrate responsibility:
- Be accountable for your actions in the workplace.
- Complete tasks required of your role to high standards and on time.
- Help out colleagues and managers, even if it's not expected of you.
- Develop the leadership skills and expertise to take on further responsibility.
Your colleagues and your managers need to know that they can depend on you to accomplish a task, to complete a project or to take on a new challenge. Proving your reliability could give your managers and employers more confidence in your abilities.
Here are some great ways to always be reliable:
- Be consistent and exceed expectations in the workplace.
- Always be on time and meet deadlines.
- Help out colleagues when you can.
Being held accountable for your actions demonstrates moral fibre and shows that you take your job seriously. Accountability means taking both praise and criticism equally well, and it also shows valuable leadership qualities.
There are many ways to work on being more accountable:
- Be transparent with colleagues and managers.
- Own mistakes in the workplace, work to fix them as soon as you discover them and apologise to colleagues and managers as needed.
- Hold yourself and others to the same standards, including company, moral and legal standards.
Organisational skills, such as time management abilities, are important qualities when it comes to professionalism. They also give you opportunities to progress and to take on new challenges throughout your career. Good leaders highly prize organisational skills and are generally happy to delegate responsibilities and provide opportunities if you demonstrate your organisational capabilities.
Here are some key tips to help improve your organisational skills:
- Keep a diary, work planner or calendar.
- Plan your schedule and tasks ahead of time.
- Manage deadlines and appointments.
Etiquette and manners
You should always keep to etiquette and have good manners in the workplace or in professional settings. Following the correct etiquette in the workplace or within a company can help keep you in high regard with other employees. Keeping good manners is important both within and outside of the workplace since, as an employee, you are a representative of your organisation.
There are many ways to improve your working etiquette and personal manners, including the following methods:
- Always smile and be positive.
- Be polite and courteous.
- Be humble.
- Always follow the workplace dress code or norms.
This attribute of professionalism involves having empathy for others' feelings, ideas, efforts and backgrounds. Being considerate of others enables you to be a more collaborative team member and effective representative of your organisation to customers, clients and the public.
Here are a few ways to practise consideration:
- Be conscious of your and others' work-life balances.
- Always help out colleagues when you have the time.
- Praise and work with other colleagues' ideas.
- Treat other people as you would like to be treated.
Morality and ethics
You also need to be considerate of workplace morality and ethics. This can mean different things depending on your industry, but being professional means identifying which moral codes you should be following. In order to establish your own workplace morality and ethics, you can try the following:
- Learn more about company policies and procedures.
- Read books and scholarly articles on business or industry ethics or even philosophical morality.
- Discuss issues with colleagues and managers when morality appears subjective.
Integrity is a key aspect of professionalism because it demonstrates an awareness of the standards you and colleagues are held to and a commitment to consistently doing what's right based on those standards. Integrity also means being able to choose between right and wrong and sticking to those choices when questioned.
This important attribute leads to many other related qualities that are vital for professionals to have, such as reliability, taking responsibility and being held accountable for your actions. To demonstrate integrity in the workplace, you can do the following:
- Be honest both at work and outside of work.
- Follow your company's moral principles, and lead by example to encourage colleagues to do the same.
- Recognise the achievements and accomplishments of others, especially when their work helps you succeed.
- Stay in line with your moral and ethical principles.
- Adhere to workplace ethics, morality and legal standards in difficult situations.
Showing dedication to your everyday work, your job, your team and your organisation shows that you are interested in contributing to the team's and the company's success. It shows that you are motivated and willing to sacrifice time and energy to accomplish your individual and team goals, which can also show that you care about the longevity of the organisation. Lastly, dedication to your work may also showcase your love of your job, industry, team and/or company.
In order to be more dedicated to your work, you can commit to the following:
- Go above and beyond workplace expectations.
- Always be on time and meet deadlines.
- Express pride in your work and organisation.
- Be a collaborative and agreeable team member.
Being an expert in your field goes a long way to demonstrating professionalism. It shows that you are dedicated to your work and motivated to continue in your career. This attribute also shows that you value improvement and want to be the most effective employee and team member you can be.
Expertise involves many years of study, training and practise but can help you to advance in your career. Here are ways to work on your expertise:
- Keep up to date on the news in your field.
- Attend seminars, lectures, training sessions, skill development courses or industry talks.
- Read peer-reviewed books and journals to learn more about your industry.
- Pursue continuing or advanced education and certification.
Tips for upholding professionalism in the workplace
Since employers expect that professionalism extends to your performance in the workplace, here are some general ways you can begin developing your professionalism:
- Identify the attributes you can improve and the skills that can help you do so, such as role-specific knowledge, helpful technical skills or transferable soft skills.
- Ask your manager, team members and professional connections about the attributes they believe you excel in and which they think you can continue to improve.
- Look for opportunities to put these attributes into practise, such as leadership opportunities, new projects or training.
- Review your current or future organisation's principles, which can often be found in an employee handbook or the organisation's mission statement.
How to highlight your professionalism
Employers expect job candidates to demonstrate professionalism on CVs and in interviews. Here are some ways to highlight your professionalism attributes during the hiring process:
Highlighting professionalism on a CV
Your CV covers your previous relevant experience and training, which often involves years of developing valuable qualities of professionalism. When providing an explanation of your contributions to previous teams, emphasise opportunities where you demonstrated integrity, organisation and expertise, amongst others. For example, if you worked in a banking position, you can mention how you managed customers' transactions with discretion to successfully keep personal information safe.
Highlighting professionalism in an interview
Many behavioural and situational interview questions gauge your workplace morals and personality. Some questions you can use to demonstrate professionalism include:
- Can you explain a time when you and a colleague disagreed on a solution?
- In the past, how have you handled mistakes you've made on the job?
- How would you handle a situation in which we had to move a deadline up?