Do others see you as professional? What does it mean to be a professional? And how does that help you stand out in your career and get noticed for the right reasons?

Being a professional is my highest compliment. When I can say, “She’s a professional”, that means I’m more likely to sponsor you, which means plucking you out from where you are and placing you into a bigger and better opportunity where you can shine.

It means I’m more likely to advocate for you and recommend you, whether it’s for a bigger role, a new project, a promotion. So, being a professional is a really good thing.

The interesting thing is, it’s easy to fall short.

I had a colleague who went to all the right schools, had all the right credentials, was super smart, and brought in lots of business. He had many redeeming qualities, yet he still wasn’t a true professional. Why? Because we could never count on him. He would say, “Oh yeah, I’ll have that paper to you by 9 a.m.” But, it might be 10 a.m., it might be noon, it might not be until the next day. Ultimately, he didn’t move up to a senior management position.

Instead, what you want to do is to embrace all the qualities of a professional.

So what does professionalism really look like? Here are seven qualities I look for.

1. You are excellent at what you do

You set high standards for yourself. You take pride in your work. You demonstrate your expertise. And you are regularly investing in yourself, learning and growing.

2. You take the high road

You have a choice in how you react to difficult situations and how you make decisions about what to do and say in a tricky situation. Taking the high road means choosing an option that is honest and honorable, rather than sinking down to the lowest common denominator. You respect others and treat people fairly. You don’t gossip, but rather you’re discreet. You don’t blame others and finger point. Instead you admit your own mistakes when you make them.

3. You can be counted on

Being counted on means honoring your commitments and not leaving people wondering whether you’re going to come through. You do what you say you’re going to do. It means creating a track record of delivering on your commitments, and not leaving others with the anxiety of wondering whether they need a backup option when they’ve asked you to do something.

4. You are calm under pressure

You’re  poised, and can keep a cool head when everybody around you is going crazy, so you can come up with an answer or action that will save the day. It’s about cultivating that quality of being unflappable even when you’re being grilled in a big meeting or facing an important deadline and something goes wrong. This quality is about thinking clearly and taking the right actions in emergencies.

5. You are proactive

You’re proactively anticipating things that might happen, so that you can smooth the path forward. And when things do go wrong, you’re focused on finding solutions. You’re taking the initiative to set things right. It’s also about being a leader and taking action without other people having to tell you to.

6. You go the extra mile

Going the extra mile means being willing to take things up a notch in what you do, and going up to that next level to serve your clients. And it extends to helping other colleagues around you. Those extra touches are what differentiate you and your organization from the rest of the crowd.

7. You represent yourself and the organization in an excellent way

This means looking the part, which is your appearance and the way you dress. It’s the way you behave – how you conduct yourself, your demeanour, the way you handle yourself. It's also the way you communicate – are you discerning about the language you use and how you interact with others, whether that’s in person or in writing?


Those are seven qualities that I look for in a professional. If you’re seeking a sponsor or bigger career opportunities, then these are qualities that others are looking for too.

Nobody’s going to be perfect, but the key is that you continue to work toward being more consistent in having and displaying these qualities. And by the way, these qualities are helpful in the rest of life too, not just at work!

Now I’d love to know:

What does professionalism look like to you? And is there a quality that you would add to this list?

Leave a comment below and let me know.