Terms like professionalism and work ethic are well understood, but difficult to describe. Professionalism is a major reason many organizations hire candidates, and even more importantly, why they keep candidates.

Everyone wants to be perceived as a hard worker and a true professional but not everyone can describe what it takes to achieve those goals. A good employee is one who you can depend on to keep themselves accountable for their actions and who you never need to worry about acting in an unethical or discourteous manner. Someone who can always be honest in their work and transparent in their actions is someone who has the potential to grow in any position.

Examples of professionalism

State Farm recruiter and United States Army veteran Adam Weber stated, “Personal accountability is synonymous with integrity. While in the service, integrity was seen as an Army value defined as doing what’s right when no one is looking. Your employer or supervisor will not always be there to guide you. To have the level of integrity of someone you want representing your company without the guidance of a supervisor is something every employer seeks. The work will be done correctly, time is allocated correctly, and company image is maintained in their presence.”

In my own experience working with community members through the McLean County Health Department, I learned that the way I communicate and interact with individuals determines the type of feedback I receive in return. This means concentrating on conducting myself professionally at all times. Whether it was facilitating a flu clinic, working health fairs, or engaging in community outreach, it was important for me to be mindful of how I presented myself. Simply being courteous, respectful, and honest goes a long way towards improving any social interactions, whether it’s with a community member you’ve never met or a colleague you see every day. Holding yourself accountable for your actions, being consistently reliable, and demonstrating sincerity will never go unnoticed in the long run.

Gardenia Harris photo

Gardenia Harris, associate professor, School of Social Work

Outside of the many technical skills you may develop on campus, developing student professionalism is a major focus of universities, faculty, and staff. School of Social Work Associate Professor Gardenia Harris stated, “Programs on campus are developed specifically with professionalism and work ethic in mind. We (faculty) try to emphasize these skills because they lead students to greater success throughout the course of their lives, not just one semester in the classroom.”

Tips for developing professionalism

According to senior human resource management major Ashley Chmielewski, there are plenty of other opportunities on campus to develop professionalism and work ethic outside of the class. “Attending networking events and joining student organizations are a great way to improve your overall professionalism in addition to what you learn in the classroom.”

Other ways to be professional include:

  • Be punctual – Being on time is a great habit to keep and proves you are reliable and take your work seriously.
  • Be accountable – If you make a mistake (which you will) be prepared to own up to it and work to fix a situation and learn from your mistakes. Nothing looks less professional than someone who won’t admit when they are at fault and passes blame onto others.
  • Be organized – You need to be able to quickly find what you need in order to carry out your job functions in a timely matter and organization is the way to achieve this. Being organized extends to how you manage your time as well. Having good time-management skills helps to keep your life organized to get the most out of every moment.
  • Be intentional about your appearance – Dressing professionally is important. Though many work environments don’t require a suit and tie it’s important to know what the expectations are and what message you are trying to send. Even more important than your dress is your hygiene. Bodily odor, unkempt hair, and general lack of personal care can be your downfall no matter how sharp you dress.
  • Be ethical – Not every profession has a moral code and when your organization doesn’t have clear rules for how to act it’s important to err on the side of caution. An ethical organization will always stand by honest and fair decision-making.
  • Be respectful – No matter who you work with it’s important to be respectful of those you might come into contact with. The spectrum of people you will work with over your lifetime will be broad and it’s important to always treat those people with respect. Additionally you should always be respectful in regards to confidentiality. Information you receive from colleagues and clients should always be handled with the greatest of care and respect for their privacy.

There are many other components to professionalism, but overall it is about developing the characteristics that it takes to be a successful person, and they are developed over the course of a lifetime. But you can start becoming the more professional now, by practicing it here at Illinois State.

Kevin McCall is a graduate assistant for career and curriculum development at the Career Center. Connect with him on LinkedIn.