What Does Professionalism Mean to Your Career in 2019?

In an age of a more casual workplace, professionalism is far more than just how someone dresses. Professionalism will continue to strongly affect your current and future career.


What is Professionalism?

Webster’s Dictionary defines professionalism as “”the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.”  Some standards for professionalism vary from position to position, based on factors such as whether the position is public-facing; if it supervises others; and the employer’s culture.  Other standards are consistent from employer to employer, such as integrity, respect, and obeying the rules.  Someone is deemed either professional or unprofessional based on how they perform compared to a set of standards and expectations.


The Gap Between Expectations and Reality is Widening

In the 2018 Job Outlook Study published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 42.5% of employers said that recently hired college grads met the employer’s expectations for  professionalism/work ethic standards, while 9 out of 10 of the same graduates believe they met the employer’s professionalism/work ethic standards.  Compared to previous studies, the gap is widening, indicating a growing mismatch of expectations between employers and employees.   It also suggest a significant disparity in career trajectory between employees who exhibit strong levels of professionalism and those who do not. The lifetime earnings differential could approach a half million dollars!


Aim High, Not Low

Whatever the standards or expectations of the job and employer, be characterized as someone who aims high, not low.  One of my former bosses put it this way: “It is better to shoot for the moon and land on the barn roof, than to shoot for the barn roof and land in pig manure.”  Aiming high allows you a great deal of grace during times when you stumble.  Aiming at the minimum leaves no room when you fall short, and stamps you as a minimum effort kind of person.


Professionalism Characteristics That Vary By Position and Employer

Remember that these are compared to the prevailing set of standards and expectations for the job and employer, and that you should always aim higher than the standard.

a. Appearance. If you are characterized by being one step above your employer’s standards you will never be out of fashion in the opinion of those whose opinions matter. 

b. Behavior. Just like Appearance, whatever the standards are (as stated in the employer’s code of conduct, core values, and behavioral policies), be characterized by always being one step above the standard. This includes genuine respect of others regardless of their respect for you (if you set the professional example, you encourage others to rise to the same level).

c. Work Culture. Some organizations prize arriving early and staying late; others are okay with working from home.  Whatever the standard, fit within it and always aim high.

d. Communications. Fair or not, people judge someone’s intelligence by how well they communicate.  This means using the right word; spelling and pronouncing it correctly; and surrounding it with proper grammar and punctuation.  Professionals get this, so their written and spoken communications follow the standards for what is correct and appropriate for each audience with whom they interact.

e. Responsibility. Takes full responsibility for his or her actions, words, behavior; is willingly accountable; makes no excuses.


Professionalism Characteristics That Universally Turn Off Employers

What specific characteristics do employers cite as being unprofessional and unacceptable?

a. Showing up late or delivering assignments late.

b. A sense of entitlement (see this excellent video on The Entitlement Creed).

c. A poor work ethic, including not focusing on the work or being too casual.

d. Gossip, which is speaking about others behind their backs.

e. Complacency (lacks urgency and the desire to grow and improve).

f. Minimal performer who the very least required to maintain employment.<

g. A lack of coach-ability (resists direction).

h. Conducting personal business at work (which includes texting, social media, emails, and personal calls).

i. A lack of humility (thinking you are better than you really are).

j. Whining and complaining.


Bottom Line

The good news is that one’s professionalism is largely under the control of each individual reading this post. It’s a choice to learn the prevailing set of standards and live them out in the workplace. What’s your choice?

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


Latest Leadership Posts


Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principles, Part 5 Continue Reading


The Seven Essential Soft Skills of Highly Effective Salespeople Continue Reading


Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principles, Part 4 Continue Reading