Have you ever gone out to eat and had a miserable experience with service? Even if the food is phenomenal, bad service can certainly turn customers away. Why is that? It is because we come in with a certain level of expectation. Personally, I expect a waitress/waiter to be helpful, considerate, warm and sensitive to my time. I expect them to show me respect as a customer and I expect them to be “professional.” 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, professionalism means “the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or professional person.” I like to define professionalism as a level of expectation-behavior or competence that is expected of a professional. 

So, the question is… How do I know what is expected of me?

Other than the work ethic category, results from managers and supervisors surveyed were almost identical to Human Resources professionals. 

After looking at these results, I think professionalism can be broken down into three sections: behavior, communication, and presentation. In this blog, I want to dive into each of the sections and share with you some key areas to help you excel as a professional in your workplace. 

I. How am I supposed to behave? 

I am glad you asked…  The workplace is oftentimes a formal environment. Before reading further, however, it is important to note that every workplace is different and every business/industry has a unique culture. Here are some general guidelines to follow as an emerging professional. 


No one likes a “Debbie Downer.” Show enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new skills and tackle projects. Depending on the nature of your work, you may have sudden-shifting deadlines. Remember to show flexibility and positivity during these difficult times and your manager will take notice. 

Understand your place 

Many millennial employees are criticized for feeling entitled. As you approach the work field, keep in mind that many managers and supervisors may already have a negative bias towards millennials. Overcome the stereotype by recognizing your boss is your superior for a reason and show them the respect they deserve whether or not you agree with some of their ways of getting things done.

Respect Time 

The worst problem with new employees according to the York College of Pennsylvania study (mentioned above) was a lack of urgency in getting a job done. You are expected to complete your work within a set period of time and you are paid to complete your work within that time. Anything less than that is inadequacy.
If needed, take extra measures to ensure you remain honest and diligent during your work hours. This could mean writing down a checklist of tasks to complete during the day. 

Be the bigger person 

Work is not the place to show up anyone. If a conflict arises within the workplace, show some maturity towards your co-workers. Though winning an argument may make you feel like the king of the world, don’t throw it in their face. 

Be Helpful 

Help out your co-workers! Be someone who takes the time to invest in others and demonstrate your dedication to the company/team and not just your own personal gain. Your coworkers and manager will label you as a team player (not a bad label to have compared to some others). When there is an opportunity for promotion, you will stick out. 

II. Communication

Communication is the key to succeeding in any relationship. Relationships within the office are no exception. To have successful and healthy relationships with co-workers, clients, customers and bosses, you have to understand how to communicate effectively. 

When to speak up and when to shut up 

Have you ever been around an oversharer or someone who says things at the worst moment? It’s pretty awkward, huh? There is a time and place for everything. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to office communication. When someone has the floor, show them some respect and let them speak. If you have something valid or helpful to add, wait for an appropriate time and speak up. 

Proactive Communication 

This goes hand-in-hand with respecting other people’s time. When you need information or resources from someone, give them plenty of time to gather what is needed and respond. As soon as you realize you need information, let the contact know and give them an idea of when you would like to receive their response. That way, they can check their schedule and deliver the necessary information when it is convenient for them within the time frame you need it. 

Email Communication

Be clear about what you need, be respectful and don’t blow up their inbox. Also, try to be timely with email communication. I try to respond to every email within 24 hours. This has and continues to be a good rule that I personally follow. Email communication is a blog in and of itself but for all intents and purposes of this article, we’ll keep it simple – Be respectful, timely and clear. 


Cussing is for sailors. Unless your workplace is a sailboat, just don’t. That is all. 

Don’t Gossip 

The office is not high school. Do not spread rumors or begin spreading your assumptions and opinions about everyone to your co-workers. It creates a toxic environment and distrust between co-workers. 

III. Presentation

No list needed for this one as it is straight-forward: Be presentable. 

Professionalism extends into how we carry and present ourselves to our clients/customers and fellow workers. Dress appropriately and present yourself appropriately. Dressing in appropriate business attire sends a message that you take pride in yourself and your work. 

If you are confused as to what you should wear, it is always safer to lean a little bit more on the conservative side until you gain a better understanding of what is acceptable and what is the norm in your company. 

Now, does this mean you have to wear a suit or a dress suit? Yes… and no. Again, every business or industry has its own standards. For instance, lawyers are expected to wear posh suits and carry themselves with a certain level of confidence and poise. Hopefully, you will never be a defendant in a court case but if you were, how would you feel if your lawyer walked into the courtroom wearing a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants? 

In conclusion

To excel and climb the ladder within your industry, you need to demonstrate professionalism. As you step off the graduation stage and enter into the workforce, it is essential to recognize that you are not finished learning. Take the time to understand your business’ culture to complement your technical knowledge or expertise.

Approach your future careers with vigor and your co-workers with respect and humility.  As a college student/college graduate, you are expected to perform at a certain level. Fulfill that expectation and look for ways to go above and beyond. Rise to the occasion and your boss will notice!

About the Author

Andrew Hurst
Andrew Hurst

Andrew received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism (2015) and a master’s degree in Strategic Communication (2022). Seeing the world by way of story, he was drawn to writing and music at a young age. He is also a major foodie which may explain why his shirts “keep getting smaller.” Andrew serves as the managing editor for PrepU.

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