7 Qualities of a Professional
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.
I agree with them all but struggle with looking like a professional. I am older , heavier and have deformed feet so finding appropriate work shoes are a problem all the time. I think I have gone as far as I can go. (Which is middle management which is fine with me) but wonder if I was younger, thinner and could wear high heels would it help?
Hmmm….. That’s an interesting question. It makes me pause and think harder about the appearance aspect. Where I’ve landed for now is this:
There are things we can’t change about our appearance, things we can change but don’t want to, and things we can and do change. It’s valuable to be conscious about what goes into the latter two categories, and accept and embrace the first category and make it work for us rather than against us wherever possible. For example, I can’t change the fact that I’m short, but I do find other ways to show up as “bigger” through the way I speak and take up space.
And appearance is only one part of the package, so we can use other aspects of our competencies to round out the way we’re perceived.
Finally, “looking the part” doesn’t have to mean totally conforming to the societal norm. It depends on how open-minded those around us are. That’s where it pays to choose our bosses and organizations thoughtfully.
So, whether or not wearing high heels, being thinner and younger would help is an interesting question. In a society that defines atttractiveness that way, it’s tempting to say yes even while hoping that people aren’t that shallow. And recognize as well that people who are seen as extremely attractive can have difficulty being taken seriously.
In the end, it’s about looking neat and well groomed so that people are not distracted by our appearance, and can focus on the value we bring.
Knowing and keeping boundaries between personal and work life are an important part of being professional for me. We all struggle with work life balance, but I believe by and large a professional’s conversation and time at work are about work, not friends or family or outside pursuits, unless they directly relate to work.
Thanks for sharing your views, Jana. Interesting to see how each work culture defines the acceptable boundary line between work and personal life. And indeed, how each person perceives this. As with so much of life, there isn’t necessarily one right answer…which is what makes life so fascinating!
Professionalism is integrity displayed through knowledge, appearance,respect for others and self confidence as you make choices or decisions that impact the lives of people in your career choice.
What a succinct and yet complete definition, Mary. Love it! Thank you for sharing this.
Even though I am not working now, I think this is an excellent article!!! It has points that I can use in daily life, and in all aspects of interactions – it really is helpful!
Thanks, Ann! So glad this applies in all of your life.
Thank you for compiling a strong list of qualities of a professional. I agree with every one! I would like to emphasize that integrity and consistency are very important for me in identifying professionals. Those who are consistent with their demeanor and speak honestly and treat every employee or colleague in a consistent manner have my trust.
Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tonya. I agree that integrity and consistency deserve greater emphasis – these are crucial for building trust, which indeed is the basis for strong relationships.
please kindly assist with seven distinguishing characteristics of a professional