Why Is Professionalism Important? Expert Insight for Recent Graduates

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Professionalism is a seemingly vague term that you’ve never given much thought to in the past. But now that you’re getting closer to launching a professional career, however, this word has taken on a lot more significance. You’re about to be on the hunt for a new job in your career field, and you’re aware that professionalism is a trait managers will be looking for in your interviews.

You know that professionalism matters, but you still have some questions about this characteristic. Why is professionalism important, and what can you do to be more professional?

We spoke with HR specialists and hiring managers to get the answers you’re looking for. These experts are sharing their experiences from the opposite side of the interview table, with insights on the importance of professionalism and how to act in a professional manner as you enter the workforce.

What is professionalism?

Simply put, professionalism is the way you conduct yourself at work to represent both yourself and your company in a positive way. It includes standards for behavior that might be mandated in an employee handbook, like adhering to a certain dress code, as well as traits that are harder to pin down but still valuable to being professional in the workplace.

Professionalism goes beyond a checklist of requirements. Instead, it includes “embodying the company’s values and serving as a stellar representative of the company,” according to Eric Mochnacz, HR consultant at Red Clover. “Professionalism is someone’s inherent ability to do what is expected of them and deliver quality work because they are driven to do so.”

Professionalism also encompasses the way an employee interacts with other people, including coworkers, customers and supervisors. “Professionalism includes speaking with your colleagues in a respectful manner, conducting yourself with integrity and being courteous,” says Sarah Walker, HR manager at Miracle Mile Law Group. “This is absolutely important in the workplace because it shows that you not only care about your career but also that you respect your peers—this can go a long way in the future.”

The importance of professionalism

The experts agree that professionalism is one of the biggest factors in your level of career success. It might sound dramatic, but it’s true! This trait affects every aspect of how you do your job. A lack of professionalism can cost you a job or promotion, and it can even put you first in line for a layoff.

“Your level of professionalism can make or break your career,” Walker says. “Without it, you will never be taken seriously and you may even be looked over when it comes time to be considered for a promotion.”

One reason professionalism is so important is because it’s an outward display of your attitude toward your job and your company. “It’s a sign of loyalty, dependability and responsibility,” says Nate Masterson, HR manager at Maple Holistics. “A lack of professionalism suggests a lack of respect towards an employer, which can impact your ability to land a job.”

Signs of professionalism

It’s clear that professionalism is important, but what are the real-life signs of professionalism employers are looking for? Our experts have shared the examples of professionalism that are sure to catch their eye.

Appropriate attire

Like it or not, appearance plays a part in how others view you, and that includes your level of professionalism. “The way that you speak and dress are both first-impression indicators of your professionalism,” Masterson says. “In an attempt to show potential employers that you have these characteristics, you need to act and look the part.”

Strong communication skills

Nearly every job requires employees to communicate with others through writing and face-to-face. You can show off your communication skills by preparing well for your interview so you appear calm rather than flustered. “I’m looking for someone who is able to articulate themselves well,” Mochnacz says.

Ethical actions

“Being honest and ethical suggests professionalism,” Masterson says. “Whether that’s clocking in honest hours of work or holding yourself accountable for your mistakes, part of being professional means that you abide by ethics both in and out of the office.” Sharing an example of a mistake you made and what you did to correct it can show interviewers that you operate within a strong code of ethics.

Calm under stress

Every job has its difficult moments. True professionals can handle issues that crop up without causing a scene or complaining to coworkers. “Professionalism is being able to handle yourself in a professional environment,” Mochnacz says. “You don’t lose your cool, you respond appropriately even when the pressure is on, you’re mindful of your thoughts and actions in front of the custodian and the CEO.” 

How to improve your professionalism

Even if you don’t have much experience with professionalism yet, there are many steps you can take to improve as you prepare to enter the workforce. “Recent grads can brush up their professionalism by finding a mentor who will lead by example,” Walker says.

Events and conferences are another great place to practice professionalism. You can use networking events to gain valuable experience putting your best foot forward. They’re also an opportunity to observe how others behave in a professional setting.

Attend hiring events for practice displaying your professionalism one-on-one. If you’re feeling bold, you can even ask the connections you make whether they thought you acted in a professional manner or whether there’s something you could do to improve.

Show off your professional side

Now that you’ve got the full rundown of the importance of professionalism, you’re ready to put your best foot forward as you take your first interviews. Learn what other skills to highlight in your job interview with our article “7 Skills Employers Look For Regardless of the Job.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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