On Professionalism

Someone asked me earlier this week what I thought were hallmarks of professionalism, not in any specific context or job, but as a general rule.

It wasn’t a difficult question for me to answer, as I think about this from time to time as an IT-Semi-Professional.  What did catch my attention though was some of the answers I heard from other people.

Let me start with what other people thought defined being professional.

Being professional, according to some colleagues and friends, isn’t about performance so much as appearances.

Things I heard included:

  • Coming In Early (Daily)
  • Staying Late (Daily)
  • Long Work Weeks (80+ Hour Work Weeks, For Example or a 12 Hour Work Day)
  • Wearing A Tie
  • Wearing A Suit
  • Clothes In General
  • Don’t Gossip
  • Effective Communication

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree with a couple of these (specifically: don’t be a gossip and communicate effectively stand out as “Duhhhhhhh”) but a few left me flabbergasted.

Coming in early, staying late, and working long weeks or long days consistently doesn’t speak to professionalism to me.  Consistently working early or working late speaks to me as being overworked (due to not being able to handle the job, being overloaded, being under-staffed) or other problems which should be addressed.  Working extended work weeks speaks to the same for me.  I am the first person to stay late to take care of a task if it is necessary (for example: when I’ve been strapped with short deadlines or when a vendor shows up at 3:30pm to address a problem and it takes a while to work it out) but on the regular: I’m in at 8:00am and I’m out the door at 4:00pm.  Those are my hours.  I am paid for that time.  Any time beyond that is time I volunteer willingly, but it shouldn’t be a requirement nor a mark of being ‘professional’.

Wearing a tie, wearing a suit, or clothes in general don’t speak to me as being professional either.  I work in IT at a desk.  I interact with people outside of my office on a daily basis.  You won’t see me wearing ratty, disgusting clothes.  You also won’t see me wearing a suit and tie.  It isn’t conducive to the work environment.  If I came in wearing jeans (decent jeans) and a t-shirt (so long as it wasn’t offensive, poorly fitting, or otherwise disgusting) it should not affect my ability (or the perception of my ability) to do the work at hand.  Especially when I have to crawl around on the floor fixing cables or dealing with under-the-table or in-a-closet equipment.

Now let me talk about the things that speak to me as being professional (not including the ones I agree with from the other responses above):

  • Be Polite
    • No matter how many times you’ve heard the question, answer it as though it’s the first time you have; that is to say: don’t hold a person in contempt for not knowing something basic. You can talk or rant about it to coworkers or friends, but don’t do it in front of the people you’re helping.
  • Be Efficient
    • When you know what the solution is: make it happen as expeditiously as possible.  When you don’t know what the solution is: do your best to find out using the resources you have.  If you can’t find the solution, know when to pass the buck and get help.
  • Be Consistent
    • Don’t arbitrarily enforce rules.  Everyone is on the same level playing field.
  • Be Effective
    • Your solutions should work and work well.  They should be as consistent as you are supposed to be.
  • Prioritize and Triage
    • I work in I.T., as I’ve said.  Three tickets come in: a general use printer not printing properly, the Purchase Order printer not printing properly, and a building unable to login.  Obviously there’s a hierarchy there in terms of priority.  That being said: would it be better to fix the basic printer not working properly first? It affects more people.  What about the Purchase Order printer?  That is the one they use to sign checks and send PO’s to vendors so the organization can keep working.  An entire building is out of commission, that affects a lot of people but isn’t an easy fix. These are tough questions to answer.  Thankfully you aren’t a 1-person-army, there are others who can work with you to get it all done, right?.
  • Work Smart, Not Work Hard
    • I don’t know how to describe this other than to say: if you have 30 boxes to move from one area to another, don’t carry one or two boxes at once: find a cart and use the cart.  Or don’t brute-force the solution, look at other solutions and see if you can save yourself some repeated effort.  Sure, you could brute-force it but let’s be honest there are better things to do.
  • Don’t Be A 1-Person-Army
    • Recognize that you have competent (right?) coworkers that can do the tasks just as well as you.  Don’t feel like you need to take on all the work.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Don’t be worried about being seen as being unable to handle it.  We ALL need help every now and then.

There are more, of course, but these are the ones that stick out to me as being important.

It was just interesting to see how people have differing opinions about it.

There is a semi-well-known quote, “Professionalism isn’t the job you do, it’s how you do your job” but I’d like to amend that to be: “Professionalism isn’t the job you do or the clothes you wear, it’s how you do your job.”

And that’s my 2 cents.

-M, out

Aside: Sorry about the completely ridiculous image – I am not a graphics artist, I just couldn’t find a clip that said what I wanted.  It’s done now.

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