You can be a professional without being professional. Chew on that one a minute. Professionalism isn’t something that’s taught. Why is that? We teach students how to think critically and how to be good citizens, but it’s up to our students to learn how to be professionals on their own. Many times we learn professionalism during first jobs, internships, through Career Services, and from our mentors. And when studies show that women have fewer mentors than men, females specifically may not have mentors to help teach professionalism.
First of all, what is it? Professionalism is a skill, competence, or acts that are expected in a professional environment. Yet, how can a young graduate know what is expected unless someone tells them? Here are 6 things I wish every student (or seasoned professional) would know going into their first job or internship. These might not sound like your typical list for professionalism, but they’re what I expect from new employees, especially recent graduates.
- Be enthusiastic. It’s your first month at a new job and someone asks you to go grab something for them from the printer. What do you do? Your natural response might be annoyance or frustration that they’re not utilizing your skills. Change your mindset and change your attitude. Be positive and enthusiastic about everything you do. Not only will you be happier (I promise), but you’ll show people that you’re part of the family and ready to do whatever it takes to make this company, department, or group flourish. Be enthusiastic about the job and buy in to the big picture so that you don’t get frustrated by the details.
- Be confident, but not cocky. I want to know that I’ve hired someone who feels like they’re going to be successful at their job. If you feel confident, I’ll feel confident in you as well. But don’t be cocky. You may not know all of the backstory behind something, so be humble enough with your ideas and recommendations to understand that you may not know everything.
- Be polite. The president of the company might have just asked you to do something for them. Before you go off to various people and throw his/her name around demanding to get things done, think about how to create relationships with these people. Explain the situation and politely ask for their help. Not only will you get the task done much easier, but people will respect you much more for it. If people want to be around you then you’ll want to be around them, too.
- Do your homework. Homework doesn’t end after college. In fact, now it’s all on you to learn without the guidance from professors. Find out everything you can about the industry you’re in. Even if you’re not going to be in banking, trucking, or manufacturing forever, know your industry. The more you can have a well-educated conversation with your colleagues, the more they will respect you and the more you will be invited into conversations.
- Do things before they’re asked. Do you see that the break room looks like your old dorm room? Is the conference room a mess right before a big meeting? Don’t be afraid to do menial tasks because they show that you care about the company and not just yourself. The same goes for your everyday work. Do you see an opportunity on the horizon? Instead of just telling your boss about it, go ahead and do a little research about how to accomplish it.
- Most importantly: Think about others. Because professionalism is about what is expected of you, go into work everyday thinking about what you would want if you were the boss or the coworker. Would you want a weekly report of updates to know what’s happening? Would you want prompt replies to your emails? Would you want to work with someone who was kind and positive? Think about what will make their jobs easier and in turn what will make you more impactful. Anticipate needs and act before being asked.