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Professionalism

Practice the skills that will strengthen your reputation and develop the competencies most sought after by employers

By: Barbara A. Ritter, Editor in Chief

Being a business professional can mean you display the basic expected behaviors of a good employee (like showing up on time and working hard), but it also means you can reflect upon and develop your own skills. Whether you are a first-time job seeker or a seasoned professional, there are a number of competencies that employers look for in their best and brightest employees. These competencies include: the ability to solve problems and make decisions ethically and creatively; building healthy relationships; working constructively with others who are different from you; building a reputation as a trustworthy professional; and looking for coaching or mentoring. Professionalism includes not just understanding how organizations work, but also understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your needs for development. In this resource, you will find 11 skills that can help you develop the competencies you need to successfully navigate your career journey.
Understanding Organizations and Professional Behavior

Professionalism begins with understanding the organization in which you work or want to work. This includes having a basic understanding of how an organization is structured and the flow of decision-making control. Understanding the organization will help you understand your place in it and how best to complete your work.

Regardless of which unit or functional area you work in, your boss will expect you to be able to make good decisions. Good decision makers will take time to understand the problem, gather facts, consider solutions, and implement the best solution. Understanding how to effectively solve problems is necessary to succeed in the workplace. In addition, creativity in the decision-making process can help generate more and better solutions to organizational problems. This is a skill coveted by employers and, believe it or not, is a muscle that can be exercised.

In some cases, making a productive decision is not enough and the ethical ramifications of the decision must be given close consideration. To be a business professional, you must understand how to appropriately handle ethical dilemmas in the workplace. This means it is important to understand personal, organizational, local, and global ethical expectations and apply them to decision making.

Behaving ethically means respecting others who are different from you. This means it is important to understand not just the biases that we are conscious of, but also implicit biases that are so ingrained in the way we think that they are applied to our decision making automatically. Becoming aware of unconscious biases and working actively toward diversity, equity, and inclusion will make your relationships and your organization stronger.

Developing Your Professional Skills to Work Effectively With Others

One requisite competency to succeed in the workplace is the ability to work well with others. Building healthy relationships will make you more effective in the workplace and help you advance in your career. Developing your strategies for relating to others in the workplace may include proactive strategies that will help in any situation or reactive strategies for dealing with difficult people. Both of these are important tools in your toolbox that will set you apart from other employees.

Working in a team will likely be an unavoidable part of doing business in any job. Fortunately, there are a number of learned factors that contribute to team performance. Did you know that it is generally accepted that the optimal team size for many projects is about five (some researchers say three to eight)? Learning more about how to work effectively in a team will help you achieve your workplace goals. In addition, the world of work has changed quickly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ability to understand and participate in virtual teams has become more important. As a skill to develop, performing successfully in a virtual work environment is crucial to effectiveness.

Preparing for Success

No matter where you are in your career journey, career readiness is key to obtaining your goals. Career readiness is a process that includes maintaining and upgrading your skills, your attitude, and your network. It comes into play in all stages of career exploration and obtainment?the job search, the interview, and the offer.

Part of being career-ready incudes close consideration of your professional reputation. Creating a positive reputation requires intentional effort and you will want to pay careful attention to how others perceive your work ethic, tactfulness, ability to manage your workload, and your ability to relate to others. Building your brand may be the most important work task to advance your career.

One way to get assistance in planning your career journey and advice on building your professional reputation is to engage in a coaching or mentoring relationship. A mentor can help you plan your career, share advice, expand your network, and help you live vicariously through their experiences. A coach can help you address a specific area of performance in which you desire to improve. Both a mentor and a coach can provide invaluable assistance in helping you achieve your career goals.

Go Get ‘em!

Be proactive as you define and embark upon your career path. Taking responsibility for the management of your own career will lead to a more fulfilling outcome in terms of personal and career success. A basic understanding of organizations and the types of professional behavior expected by employees, the ability to work with others and in different environments, and ownership of your skill development and professional reputation will ensure that your journey begins with a solid foundation.

Further Reading
Page citation: Ritter, B. A. (2021). Professionalism. SAGE Skills: Business. https://sk.sagepub.com/skills/business/professionalism