Job Seeker Blog - Spark Hire

How to Be Professional

If you have worked in an office setting before, then chances are you have witnessed one of your co-workers be unprofessional at some point. You may have even -gasp- acted unprofessionally yourself. In the unfortunate chance of the latter situation, you probably learned the hard way what kind of behavior is professional and what behavior is unprofessional. However, for those that are a bit weary on the boundaries of what is professional and what is not, I have come up with a couple tips on what to do and what not to do in order to be professional in the workplace.

Of course, every job is different and the environment within these jobs will be vastly different as well. The behavior of a construction worker on site will be much different than the expected behavior of an employee at a financial firm. Or perhaps it won’t. In any case, there are a couple behaviors that you should employ no matter where you work in order to maintain a professional reputation among your employers and co-workers. Obviously it’s clear that you must be looked at as professional by your employers, but it is just as important to be regarded as professional by your co-workers. In fact, Spark News recently released an article that discussed the satisfaction levels of teachers in the public school system. One reason cited as to why more teachers are dissatisfied with their jobs was due to the fact that many teachers did not think that their peers regarded them as professional.

Therefore, acting professionally in the workplace is not only important to your performance and role as an employee but is also very important to your happiness and satisfaction at work. So take a moment, read through some of these tips and remember to always be professional at work, no matter what the others around you are doing.

Dress Code
Dress codes vary across the board and are different from business to business. How you dress at a financial firm is likely to be different than how you dress at a place like Groupon or the hot dog joint you work at on the side. However, even if your company allows for you to dress casually there are certain things that you will want to avoid no matter what. If your company does have a dress code, I would recommend that you follow it to a ‘T’. If you have a casual dress code at work, I would recommend that you still dress professionally. For instance, wearing your “I’m With Stupid >” shirt may be acceptable and allowed, but in terms of professionalism it will be difficult for your employer to take you seriously or to think that you are capable of handling important business. Like I said, every company is different and maybe you work in a quirky, no-holds barred office where these kinds of things are acceptable and humorous. However, I always like to go with the grandma rule. If you wouldn’t wear it in front of grandma, or if grandma would make some kind of backhand comment on how odd and informal people are nowadays, avoid wearing it to work.

Reliability
A big part of being professional is making sure your co-workers, and especially your employers, can rely on you. If you are given a project and a set deadline to finish it, then you had better make sure that you finish it on time or with time to spare. If your employer can’t rely on you, then why did they even hire you as part of their team? An unprofessional employee would be fine with submitting their work an hour or a couple hours past deadline. They would be OK with taking longer to finish projects because they don’t understand that reliability is so important. If they can’t finish the work on-time, an unprofessional employee wouldn’t say anything and would turn their work in past deadline and would be confused when their employer didn’t believe that they were struggling with time constraints. On the other hand, a professional person would let their employer know if they were struggling with getting their work done on-time so if they missed the deadline, it was understood why. A professional person would work hard to get their work done ahead of schedule, if possible, so as to show that they are a motivated and hard worker. Furthermore, if you tell Susie in Accounting that you will get her some of the figures she needs by Monday and completely forget about her, or send them to her on Wednesday instead, chances are she will deem you as unreliable and talk about it with others. As an employee, this is what you don’t want.

Punctuality
A professional person is usually a very punctual person. Even if they aren’t naturally, they work hard to make their employers believe they are. If you start work at 9 a.m. it’s not very professional to show up to work at 9:10 a.m. everyday. Instead, a professional person will be at their desk at 8:45 or 8:50 a.m. everyday so that when 9:00 a.m. rolls around, they are ready to get to work. Of course, we all have late days and transportation issues, but if you know that the train arrives late every day on Wednesday, then if you are professional and genuinely care about your job then you will be at the train station earlier every Wednesday to catch the early train. It may seem small and insignificant, but many bosses and employers regard punctuality as very important. On the other hand, some don’t really care. Either way, you should.

Co-Worker Interaction
If your company is like most today, there is a large amount of diversity among the employees that work there. One great thing about our country is that there are many different races, religions, ethnic groups, sexual orientations, etc. One downfall of this, though, is that some people aren’t sure how to deal with these differences or how to regard them. Ignorance may be bliss, but when it comes to the workplace, blatant ignorance as to why someone is how they are or why they do what they do is not as blissful. For example, if you work with someone who, for their own personal purposes choose to dress a certain way or not to avoid certain foods, then it isn’t wise to crack jokes at them or poke fun at them. Even if it’s lighthearted and they laugh, they may be cursing you under their breath or in their head. Be mindful of the comments you make and the things you say to your co-workers because everyone has different opinions and views. A professional person understands this and stays away from these sticky situations all together. If Rob does something that you think is odd, don’t joke about it. It’s OK to ask him about it in order to learn why, but making fun of him or cracking jokes, however lighthearted they may be, is unprofessional and offensive. Plus, these unprofessional interactions are not like to stay between the two of you. People talk and offices are full of gossip. Other employees will see or hear what you said or did and they won’t regard you as professional either.

Relationships
Again, every office has different policies on what kind of relationships are OK and which ones are not. Dating in the office may be frowned upon, so doing so may be unprofessional. Furthermore, it’s great if you become close friends with the people you work with, but you should save your personal talks or your special handshake for outside of the office. Having a best friend at work is great and can be super fun, but other co-workers may be annoyed by your constant interactions or by you guys talking about things that happened outside of the office. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever talk about things that happen outside of the office, but keep them to a minimum or save the conversation for when you go out to lunch. Plus, if you are super close with Ed or Pam then Jon or Katie might feel intimidated by your close relationship and keep to themselves. You’re not doing it on purpose, but your super close relationship with Ed or Pam may oust other co-workers.

Internet Browsing
It’s true, we all do it. It’s somewhat unavoidable to open up Facebook or your favorite blog when you’re sitting in front of a computer all day, but a professional worker resists the temptation. Even if you just open up a browser for personal use for five minutes, your employer could walk in and see it, which would lead them to think that you are using their time for your own personal endeavors. Not professional and certainly not good for the strong work ethic you are trying to portray.

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter