Professionalism is a concept that refers to the conduct, behavior, and attitude expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.
It encapsulates the qualities that we are all expected to embody (in a professional capacity) in a workplace or similar formal setting.
Examples of professional traits include competence, integrity, respectfulness, effective communication, and commitment, among others.
Professionalism is not limited to any specific industry or profession but applies universally, referring to a person’s disposition toward their work and commitment to upholding a strong work ethic and respectful workplace culture.
Professionalism can be defined as the consistent display of adherence to generally accepted workplace etiquette, ethics, and conduct.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, professionalism is:
“…the combination of all the qualities that are connected with trained and skilled people”. (Source)
These qualities encapsulate specific behaviors such as effective communication, respect for others, competence, reliability, and responsibility.
Key features of professionalism include:
- Maintaining a positive demeanor
- Ensuring promptness and punctuality
- Dressing appropriately
- Being accountable for one’s actions
- Demonstrating a strong work ethic.
In some workplaces, such as in healthcare, it also extends to maintaining confidentiality of clients and always working in their best interest. In fact, in professions like financial advising, this is even a legal requirement!
Examples of Professionalism
1. Competence: Competence in professionalism is showcased when an individual consistently demonstrates knowledge and skills in their chosen field. They are reliable and can be trusted to complete tasks effectively and efficiently. This extends to remaining up-to-date with industry developments and continuously seeking to improve and expand their skill set.
2. Accountability: A professional is accountable for their actions and decisions. They do not shy away from taking responsibility for their mistakes, instead using these as opportunities to learn and grow. They take ownership of their tasks and the outcomes of their work, demonstrating a sense of responsibility.
3. Honesty and Integrity: Honesty and integrity are cornerstones of professionalism. Professionals are transparent in their communication, express their thoughts and opinions truthfully, and always strive to do what is right. Honesty also reflects accountability discussed above: an honest person stands up and owns their behaviors.
4. Respectfulness: Professionals respect their colleagues, clients, and superiors. They listen to others’ ideas, are polite, and maintain a positive and respectful communication style. They value diversity and inclusivity, treating everyone fairly and without prejudice.
5. Effective Communication: Professional individuals have strong communication skills, meaning for starters that they express themselves clearly, confidently, and respectfully. They listen actively, respond appropriately, and ensure their message is understood. They use professional language, avoiding inappropriate or offensive terms.
6. Reliability: Professionals are reliable and can be trusted to fulfill their responsibilities. They meet deadlines, keep their promises, and maintain consistency in their performance. They prove to be dependable members of their team or organization.
7. Adaptability: In the professional world, situations and requirements can change quickly. Professionals display adaptability by being open to changes and handling them effectively. They stay calm under pressure and find solutions to new challenges.
8. Confidentiality: Professionals understand the importance of privacy and confidentiality. They do not disclose sensitive information unless it’s necessary and authorized. They respect the boundaries set by the organization and adhere to the principles of information security.
9. Punctuality: Professionals respect the time of others by being punctual. They arrive on time for meetings, meet deadlines, and manage their tasks effectively to ensure timely completion. Punctuality also shows Teamwork: Teamwork is a significant aspect of professionalism. Professionals work effectively with others, show a cooperative spirit, and contribute positively to a team dynamic. They value others’ input and recognize the importance of collective effort in achieving goals.
10. Self-Improvement: Professionals are committed to continuous learning and self-improvement. They seek out opportunities for professional development and learning. They are receptive to feedback and use it as a tool for growth and improvement.
11. Autonomy: A professional person can uphold the standards expected of them even when no one is around to watch or police your behaviors. This will demonstrate that you’re a hard-worker who can be trusted to take on tasks and independently execute them without having to be watched over.
12. Dress Code: Following the appropriate dress code is another example of professionalism. Professionals dress according to the standards of their industry or organization. Their appearance is neat, clean, and suitable for the work environment.
13. Work Ethic: Imagine two scenarios – one person who slacks off toward the end of a long day, and another person who works hard right up to the last minute. That second person is professional, and they’re demonstrating their professionalism by having strong work ethic. In other words, they hold themselves to high standards in the workplace.
14. Ethical Decision Making: Professionals make decisions based on ethical considerations. They prioritize fairness and justice in their actions, even when faced with difficult choices. They uphold the values of their profession and their organization in every decision they make.
15. Resilience: Resilience is another important aspect of professionalism. Professionals remain steadfast in the face of adversity, show a positive attitude, and are determined to overcome obstacles. They take setbacks in stride, using them as learning experiences to propel them forward.
16. Work-Life Divide: A professional understands the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and make sure they can draw a divide between the two so personal life doesn’t spill over into work life. They manage their time effectively to ensure they are productive at work while also taking care of their personal well-being. This balance is crucial for sustained productivity and overall life satisfaction.
17. Teamwork: A person is considered professional if they are able to work effectively in team, put the team’s goals first, and even work well with people they don’t get along with. To show you’re professional in teams, you might consider, for example, discussing how you make a point to turn up early to team meeting, have notes ready so you can contribute, and also are ready to take additional notes at any point.
How to Show Professionalism for a Job Interview
When applying for a job, professionalism starts with the very first interaction. I often tell my students that even the structure of the emails they send is a sign of how professional they will be.
For example, you’d want to include a subject line, salutation, and professional language in the email in order to demonstrate your competency in communicating in professional environments.
But of course, the most important moment where you demonstrate professionalism is in the interview itself. Here are some rough guidelines to follow:
- Be Prepared: Adequate preparation shows professionalism and respect for the interview process. Consider this checklist: have you researched the company? Do you understand the job role? Have you thought of relevant questions to ask the interviewer? Each of these questions demonstrate that you take your work (and this opportunity) seriously.
- Punctuality: Nothing says unprofessional more than arriving late. So, arriving on time, or even a few minutes early, is essential. It shows respect for the interviewer’s time and signifies your reliability, which is a crucial characteristic they will be looking for in their next hire.
- Dress Appropriately: Your attire should reflect the company’s dress code or the standards of your industry. Dressing appropriately shows respect for the organization’s culture and demonstrates that you can present yourself professionally.
- Effective Communication: Articulate your thoughts and answers clearly and confidently during the interview. Maintain eye contact and use positive body language (for more on this, see my article on active listening skills). Listening carefully to the interviewer’s questions and responding appropriately signals your professional communication skills.
- Show Respect: Treat everyone you meet at the interview location with courtesy and respect, from the receptionist to the interviewer. You’ll be surprised how much sway the receptionist mat have – and don’t be surprised if the interviewer asks their opinion of you!
- Follow Up: This is crucial. Send a thank-you note or email to your interviewer after the meeting to follow-up, especially on any questions they had that you couldn’t answer in the moment. Try to show your appreciation for the opportunity and how much you take the opportunity seriously.
- Answer with Examples: If asked questions directly about your professionalism, you need to provide actual examples in your answers. Show, don’t tell – in other words, you need to demonstrate professionalism through stories rather than by saying simply “I am professional!” This shows your ability to understand how professionalism works in real-world situations.
Remember, demonstrating professionalism during a job interview not only increases your chances of landing the job but also sets the tone for your potential future relationships in the workplace.
Professionalism refers to your ability to uphold formal and mature behaviors within a workplace or other formal environment. It may also extend to the ability to exercise particular behaviors expected within your specific profession (such as a police officer exercising strong restraint, or a doctor maintaining confidentiality). Overall, when you want to demonstrate that you’re professional, it’s best to give examples of how you’ve upheld the formal standards expected of you in your profession, even when no one is watching.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]