Being a professional doesn’t necessarily require wearing a suit or having an advanced degree. According to the US Department of Labor, being a professional means conducting yourself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. It means communicating appropriately and always finding ways to be productive.
It is important to keep these ideas in mind both in your role as an employee and in your role as a student. Components of professionalism include:
Appearance: Your appearance should fit the situation. What’s considered appropriate to wear as a student in the classroom may not be appropriate attire for a job interview. Brightly colored hair or visible tattoos, for example, may be acceptable in the classroom, but you should dress more conservatively for an interview. What’s considered appropriate to wear as a welder may not be appropriate attire for a teacher. Think about the situation, the people that you’ll be around, and the message that you want to communicate. Make sure that your appearance doesn’t take away from your message!
Attitude: The student/employee who doesn’t let small problems interfere with getting the job done is appreciated for his/her professional attitude. Your attitude is a key factor in your ability to develop strong relationships with those around you and in today’s world, that network of people that you’ve built is incredibly important.
Dependability: Show up to work and class on time. Turn projects in when they’re due. Come to class or meetings prepared. Dependability means you follow through by doing what you say you're going to do. This quality will help differentiate you from the masses. Being a person of your word is a valuable reputation to establish.
Communication: The way you communicate tells a lot about you. Think about your audience. The way that you speak to your friends may not be the most appropriate way to speak to a supervisor. Using “text speech” when texting your friends is acceptable, but using this method when emailing an instructor is going to be frowned upon! One part of communication involves the words that we are writing or speaking, but communication also involves tone, eye contact, and body language. Components of professional communication:
- Via email: Don’t think of an email as a text. Think of it more like a formal letter. Always include a subject line, an introduction, and a closing. Use correct punctuation and spell check!
- In person: One of the most important things you can do to be a good communicator is to listen. Active listening is a skill that can benefit you in most areas of your life. It involves eye contact, facial expression, body posture and gestures. Looking at your phone while someone is speaking to you is rude and definitely unprofessional. Let the speaker know that you hear them! When it’s your turn to speak make sure that what you say is appropriate for the individual and the situation. If you’re in the workplace, in an interview, or at an event where you don’t know many people, it’s probably best to leave politics, religion, and very personal information out of the conversation.