Professionalism and value

In today’s market professionals need to take advantage of every opportunity to make themselves more marketable and valuable. Whether you are looking for a new job or a promotion, you need to stand out from your colleagues. I believe increasingly employers are going to and need to pay more attention to this “softer” skill.

Lets start with the idea of a professional. Here’s a definition of a professional from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

1 a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession b: engaged in one of the learned professions c (1): characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2): exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

Just being in a profession does not make one a total professional. There clearly is a basic requirement that you need to be trained and competent in your profession but there is another part, the part of exhibiting professional behavior and standards everyday. It’s this second part I want to discuss. I also want to make this very actionable, so here are five actions I recommend you take to make yourself a better professional that will help you stand out.

Be on time: Get to meetings on time. Get to work on time. Get to that interview on time. Punctuality is noticed and valued. In some cultures punctuality is an absolute must. Want to work with clients in Germany or Japan – you need to be right on time. Lack of punctuality also kills productivity. I always get annoyed when people don’t show up for meetings on time since the people who are on time end up wasting their time waiting for others.

Eliminate “good enough” thinking: The vast majority of people and companies tolerate “good enough” thinking and results. What I mean by this is doing the bare minimum to get the job done. Just good enough so it works or functions. I challenge you to go the extra mile, take your work products where they are great. This requires more effort in understanding the problem, solving it and checking it for quality. But the results – and you – will stand out.

Dress like a professional: Imagine getting on an airplane and seeing the pilot and now imagine he is dressed sloppily; shirt wrinkled, shoes dirty, etc. Would that take you aback? Would you worry about him flying that plane? I would. If a pilot cannot dress well and take care of his appearance then I worry he will be sloppy in the cockpit. The rest of us are no different. Our bosses, clients and colleagues make immediate judgments about us based on how we dress. When I interview someone the first thing I notice is their dress and how they present themselves. Because if I hire them then they will be representing my company’s brand. This matters – a lot.

Start challenging your boss: The people I value most are the ones who ask lots of questions and challenge my thinking and me. Because usually I am not the smartest person in the room and because the people in the field see things I don’t see. Their perspective is very valuable. I get disappointed with people who don’t challenge or ask questions. When you get time with your bosses (individually or in a group setting), don’t waste the opportunity to ask questions and challenge them.

Improve yourself: Professionals work on their game. Look at some of the best sports professionals in the world – people like Tiger Woods or Roger Federer, and you will see a huge commitment to improving themselves constantly. As a professional you need to manage your career with the same care and that means making a constant investment in improving your skills. Leverage your employer and the programs your company offers.  Get feedback from you boss, be honest with yourself and find out how you stack up against the competition (your peers) and work on your skills.

The five steps above are starting points. Clear goals and actions you can start taking now. However, being a successful professional is a lifelong journey. The reward is not just in the results you will ultimately produce but you will learn more about yourself and enjoy the journey.