What Does Professionalism Look Like?

Do you know what it means to be a professional? Would you recognize professional behavior if you encountered it?

For many, the image of being a professional is tied up in appearances. They see someone in a suit (and tie for men) and assume that this person is a professional.

For others, credentials are the essence of professionalism. They see a degree or professional certification and think, “there goes a professional.”

For still others, professionalism is an impersonal, almost clinical, “business-only” approach to both conversation and life.

I would submit that each of these images of what a professional is are lacking the true essence of professionalism. Quite simply, they miss the point of what a professional really is.

In this post, I’d like to discuss what professionalism REALLY is (and is not) and suggest a few ways that you can be more professional in your interactions with customers and clients.

You Can Have a Life and Still Be a Professional

It’s okay to have a life outside of work (and acknowledge that life), as long as your clients know that you can be trusted to complete your work on time.

I remember, years ago, attending a professional presentation where one of the key speakers was another writer who happened to also be a mom. In her speech, the speaker briefly mentioned her young children. Afterward, another colleague (let’s call her Sally) was discussing the presentation with me. Sally commented on how unprofessional she felt the speaker had been by mentioning her kids in the presentation.

Personally, I think that Sally missed the boat with both her comment and her attitude. The speaker’s talk was actually very relevant to the topic. I actually found it to be very helpful. The fact that the speaker mentioned her kids briefly did not detract from the presentation at all, in my opinion.

Some may disagree, but I think that it’s okay to let your clients know that you have a personal life as long as that personal life doesn’t dominate your client relationships. You don’t have to pretend like work is the only thing that you ever do or have any interest in. After all, your clients probably have a personal side to them as well.

Six Signs of a Professional

If professionalism isn’t determined by how we dress or the degree (or other qualifications) that we hold, then what is professionalism?

I would argue that there are at least six signs of a true professional. Without these characteristics, professionalism simply isn’t possible.

Here are the six characteristics of a true professional:

  1. A professional is courteous. A true professional may disagree with you, but they will never be rude to you. They will maintain their composure and always speak politely.
  2. A professional is reliable. When you engage a true professional to do your work, you can count on the fact that it will be done. A professional takes their work seriously and will not abandon work or a client.
  3. A professional is respectful. A true professional listens attentively to your suggestions and ideas. They will inform you if they thing you should do something differently, but they will not belittle or insult you.
  4. A professional is honest. With a true professional, you know what you are getting. Their word is good, and they will honestly report all of their actions.
  5. A professional is responsible. A true professional will acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions — even they occasionally make mistakes.
  6. A professional is competent. A professional knows how to get the job done and is up-to-date with the most recent developments in his or her field.

As a freelancer, you can use this list to examine and adjust your own behaviors and attitudes. Do you exhibit professionalism? What areas could you work on?

What Is Professionalism To You?

Have you given much thought to what professionalism is? What would you add to the description of a true professional?

Have you ever been treated unprofessionally? If so, how did it feel?

Share your thoughts!

Top image by rogerimp