How to be a Professional at Work and Why It Matters

If you want to be taken seriously then you need to be a professional.

Having a winning cover letter and amazing resume is great but if you don’t make a great impression during your interview you won’t get the job. Being professional matters when you are starting a new job too. You want your new co-workers and boss to feel confident that you know what you’re doing and how to work properly. 

In every stage of your working career, being professional will open doors, improve people’s opinion of you, and put you on the right path.

What Does it Mean to be Professional?

Being a professional is the way that you carry yourself at work and the way you work with those around you. It means that when you talk to people, face a challenge, or go about a routine task, you do it in a way that people expect and appreciate.

Being professional doesn’t mean that you are paid more than anyone else or that you work in one of the jobs classed as “professions”. Anybody who works in any job can be professional. It’s all in the way you act.

Why Being Professional Matters

One thing is for certain – you will immediately recognise when somebody is a professional. It’s the waitress who doesn’t bat an eyelid after a customer smashes three glasses. It’s the sales person who continues calmly tries to help the customer whose obviously damaged product has an expired warranty. Being professional gets you noticed – by the customers you help, by your co-workers and most importantly – by your boss.

If you are about to start work for the first time, or if you are getting back into it after a break, then you might want to follow this guide to being professional at work. And, if you’re new at work, when it comes to being a professional, sometimes it can help to fake it ’til you make it.

How to Be Professional

Being professional includes a wide range of factors. The way you dress, talk to people, and carry out tasks can all affect how you appear. It’s not that a professional never makes an embarrassing mistake at work, it’s more in the way that they bounce back from it. Similarly, being professional doesn’t mean that you are always in control but when you aren’t, you remain calm and composed.

If you want to look professional at your job because you are chasing a raise or, if you are about to start a job and want to know how to impress your new boss, then follow these simple tips.

Dress the Part

Being well-dressed doesn’t mean you have to be up-to-date with the latest fashion styles. Nor does it mean you have to spend thousands on your clothes and haircuts.

What it does mean is wearing clean, presentable clothes, that are in line with what your co-workers are wearing. Remember, clean is a relative a term. A painter having some paint on their clothes is fine. Another painter with a huge splash of old meat pie down their shirt probably isn’t.

Although men and women have slightly different rules when it comes to dressing for work (women aren’t usually expected to wear ties for instance) the dress codes will be the same. Whatever the code is (casual, business, or even business casual) make sure your clothes are neat and clean and your shoes aren’t broken.

If you have just started working and aren’t sure where to draw the line, it’s okay to dress a little better than would normally be expected. Make a good first impression and then when you are more comfortable, you can scale it back.

Remember Where You Are

Rules about your personal style have become much more lax in recent years. Now it is not uncommon to see someone working with visible tattoos, facial piercings, or a large beard.

While having your own style is okay, most people expect that people will be more subdued at work. If usually you wear large, ostentatious jewellery on the weekends maybe sub in some more subtle pieces for the working day. 

Of course, if your role or your profession leans towards the exotic and in-your-face then by all means embrace it. You don’t want to be the one person looking like Wednesday Addams when everyone else is in fluro. Appearing professional is as much about fitting in with others as it is about how you present yourself. 

Follow the House Rules

This means following the unspoken rules that govern any workplace. If people go outside to take personal phone calls, don’t take yours at your desk. If someone is working hard to finish a task, don’t go over to them and start chatting about your weekend plans. Respect the flow of the workplace and other people’s time. Not only will following these house rules make you look professional, it will also probably impress your co-workers.

Follow the company policy too. Not much will blow your professional cover more than being caught watching videos on Facebook when you’re supposed to be working.

Be Punctual

Meet deadlines, be on time to meetings, have everything you need with you, and give people warnings if you or a project will be late. Getting to a meeting or interview early is always a good idea but don’t arrive too early. If you are there too early it might annoy whoever you’re meeting with that you are ahead of time. The best plan is to get there 5-10 (maybe 15 for interviews) minutes early.

Being on-time shows a number of things to your boss and co-workers. It proves that you:

  • Have good time management
  • Are respectful of their time commitments 
  • Are reliable and can stick to plans

While people understand that things go wrong from time to time and there is traffic or difficult customers you don’t want to get a reputation as someone who is always late. Being on your boss’ radar can be good. Being on the radar because you’re always late or unorganised is always bad.

Be Organised

Being professional involves being prepared and organised

You definitely don’t want to be in the middle of an important meeting wondering where your notes are. You don’t want to be the worker whose work station looks like the middle of a war zone.

Not only does being clean and organised help you find stuff when you really need it (like that pen you put down only a minute ago…) it helps you think clearer. In fact, there a whole bunch of great health benefits that come from being organised. This includes lowering your stress and improving your energy levels. 

Be a Great Communicator

Being professional is heavily influenced by how good your communication is. You might look amazing in your three piece suit but you will look like an amateur if your notes are all over the place and you can’t follow the flow of conversation.

Being a good communicator involves all aspects of communication, verbal, visual, written, and body. Make sure that you feel comfortable communicating to people in a wide variety of ways to ensure that you are always acting professionally in the workplace.

Some examples include:

  • Taking notes at meetings so you don’t forget important tasks and information
  • Speaking up when you have an idea, notice something that’s not quite right, or if you need clarification
  • Listening closely to ensure you don’t ask a question that has already been answered a million times 
  • Writing brief, concise emails that get straight to the point. Stay on track and be work appropriate.

Be Considerate

Being considerate of those around you is an important part of working with others. If you notice that somebody is injured then hold the door for them. If one of your colleagues is swamped, see if you can shoulder some of the load.

Thinking of others is not only a kind gesture, it’s one that helps people get through the day easier. Being professional at work goes further than just doing your job as well as you can. 

Be Respectful

A lot of these come down to respect. You need to respect your customers and clients, your colleagues and superiors and most of all you need to respect yourself.

This means that you avoid gossiping about co-workers with people at the office and you definitely don’t participate in workplace bullying. While you don’t need to like everyone you work with, you shouldn’t let that influence the way you work with them.

Welcome new people into your workplace too. Whether they are a new worker, client, or just fixing something be nice to them. Not only do you not know who they might know but you would expect the same thing if you went to a different workplace.

Does it Really Matter Though?

What about the person who is an overachiever and doesn’t have time to stick to the rules? Consider successful business people like Elon Musk or even current President of the United States Donald Trump. It certainly doesn’t look like being professional is a big priority for them. However, consider their unprofessional behaviour on twitter and how it affects their public image. 

This tactic of acting however you want and waiting to see what will happen is a risky one. It might pay off if you have a long history of successful business projects or are one of the most powerful people on the planet. It will still alienate people however and create conflict.

It’s not such a great idea if you are just starting out at a new job or finding your place in an industry. It might be better to play by the rules for a bit until you can establish yourself as the next big thing.

Things Change

Being professional is a crucial aspect of being successful at work. However, you don’t always need to follow the same rules. Things change all the time. Once it would have been unbelievable that workers would go to work with facial piercings and visible tattoos.

Once you get more comfortable with the people you work with and their expectations, then you can start changing things up a bit.

Don’t let a boss or hiring manager write you off because they think you don’t care about your appearance. You want them to be accepting so that they can find out you really care about results. Get the job, prove your worth, and then, maybe, talk about relaxing the dress code.

Being Professional Isn’t a One Step Process

At the end of the day, whether you like it or not first impressions matter. While you may have different opinions about how you need to dress or act in order to get work, your first point of call should be getting onside with your interviewer or boss. Being professional is a way to be taken seriously by the people you will work with.

That’s why it’s so important to follow these guidelines when you are starting a new job, meeting a new co-worker or supervisor, or meeting clients. It’s about making people feel comfortable around you and letting them know you know what you’re doing.

That’s why you can’t whack on a suit or clean up your desk once and call it a day. Being seen to be professional – and more importantly, being professional – is an on-going process but the benefits are definitely worth it.

Tell Us

Have you ever seen someone who was completely un-professional? Someone who made you wonder how they got their job at all? Would these tips have helped them or where they too far gone?

Let me know in the comments below.

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