According Merriam-Webster’s definition, “Professionalism” is described as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” While this definition is clear in in its explanation, it does leave quite a bit up to the discretion of its reader. What skill is it referring to? What is considered bad judgment? What training is required? Who decides if I have done a job well?
The time in our lives when we are toying with the idea of what professionalism means, such as interviews, is not a time when we want to be guessing if we are “professional” enough. We want to be confident that we are exuding its definition. Often it is the younger crowd that struggles with this amorphous definition of professionalism. Generationally, it seems, what is expected of “professionals” changes. It is important to remember, however, that in a business setting, age holds no value. It is how we carry ourselves, how we present our ideas and how we articulate our experience that will gain the attention of company decision makers. There are simple habits that we can incorporate into our thought processes and actions that can booster our professionalism. No matter your skill, judgment, politeness, or training.
In this day and age, there is often more about us online than we like to think. And it is our responsibility to take accountability for what shows up when we Google our name. Who you are in a job interview is far easier to control than who you are in an internet search. Take time to clean up your web appearance. If you want to keep all your college photos on Facebook, make sure your security settings are tight. If you have a twitter, be aware of what you are tweeting. These are all simple security procedures that you can take to prevent your employer from getting the wrong impression.
Snip, Sniff, and Zip
No matter how kind our heart is or how hard we deny it, we judge others based on how they look, smell and take care of themselves. So why not use this fact as a tool rather than a hindrance? What we choose to wear is correlated not only with our self-respect, but our intelligence, our work ethic and our morals. Choose to represent yourself in accordance with the employer you wish to work for. What is the company’s target market? What will appeal to them? What will make them trust you? This advice draws a parallel with how we smell. Personal hygiene is a sign of adulthood. Adulthood means you are showering regularly, you are not dousing yourself in cologne, you are wearing job and age appropriate clothing, and your hair is well kept. Do not lose opportunities to poor hygiene.
Say thank you to anyone who has helped you, answered questions or given you their time. This can come in a personalized email, a handwritten note or a phone call. Often small gestures (the receptionist who got you coffee) are forgotten about or swept aside. When you take the time to recognize someone for his or her effort or concern for you, not only does it boost their day, but also it is likely that they will do it for you again in the future. After every interview, it speaks volumes of your character if you send a handwritten thank you note to everyone involved in your interview.
In order to write a handwritten thank you note you need to remember her name. Calling someone by his or her name already sets you above stranger level, and easily enters you into acquaintance-level. It also shows respect, as well as evidence that you were listening. It is far easier to ask someone’s name at the start of your interview and memorize it, than to awkwardly ask at the close of the interview.
Your written word is a direct representation of who you are and how you complete tasks. Capital letters, punctuation, and correct spelling are a reflection to others not only of your knowledge, but the level of work that you can offer. This applies to your resume most importantly, but all other documents that will pass through your hands to your (hopefully) future employer’s hands: job application, thank you note, cover letter, and all email interaction.
Be on time.
There is no worse display of gratitude or respect than tardiness. Be on time, if not early, to everything. If life happens and you are running late to an interview, it speaks volumes of you to notify the appropriate person that you will not be on time. This applies to thank you notes and email responses as well. There is a grace period to all invitations in which it is too late to RSVP, this stands for all communication. Respond before it is too late.