Becoming a True Professional

175x225_RetbergHeadshotAuthor: Amanda Retberg
Company: WLC
Title: Assistant Professor, Communication

What does a professional look like?  What characteristics does one need to be considered a professional?  What is professionalism?  In all my classes, I consistently instruct students to be professional.  However, I never provide a definition of professionalism.  A significant mistake!  My assumption that students know what professionalism is often leads to frustration for me and confusion for them.  Therefore, in this post, I will discuss characteristics that are associated with professionalism and provide a broad definition for you along with additional resources to consider as you enter the professional world.


If you have been in my classes before, you know that I often refer to York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence for additional insight into what employers want from recent college graduates.  Every year they conduct a National Professionalism Study that identifies characteristics of professionalism across various career fields.  The information gathered from the study is most beneficial in helping students understand what professionalism consists of and how to better prepare for the workforce.

So, let’s discuss specifics.  What makes a professional?  If I think of the best examples of professionals in my life, they have the following characteristics:

  1. Excellent Communication Skills For example, they are comfortable carrying on a face-to-face conversation with anyone and know when to put the technology down.  Conversely, they know how to effectively use technology to connect with others or to complete a task.
  2. Respect for Others In a society filled with various opinions on everything, knowing how to listen and respect other’s views is vital.  This includes not commenting on controversial issues such as religion and politics.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this broad rule.  Using discretion is a must.
  3. Owning Mistakes We all make mistakes and often times you will find more understanding in admitting a mistake and asking for further guidance than blaming someone else.  This includes being late for work – just don’t do it.
  4. Know Your Audience How well do you understand generational differences?  Someone who grew up decades ago from you experienced the world differently.  As a Generation-Xer, I am reminded of this daily when I work with my Millennial students.  They often want to be friends and make connections when I want to get the work done.  There is value to both of our approaches.  Recognizing this and learning from each other is what contributes to both of our professionalism.  Think beyond yourself and become educated on generational differences.  A good place to start is from a previous article in the Economist, Winning the Generation Game.

Is this the final list?  Of course not, but it is a start for you to consider.  Knowing you need to further educate yourself on professionalism is the right step for any true professional.


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