Looking and acting professional is key to getting ahead with your career. While results count as well, you are much more likely to get promoted or hired if your future employer can easily imagine you in the job.
Do you have consistent habits and mannerisms that make you come across as a real pro? Looking like a professional is much more than dressing well.
Professionalism includes a bunch of qualities that make you stand out as someone who is prepared, responsible and reliable. Your are consistently good at communicating with customers and clients. You make a good impression everywhere you go.
The good news is that anyone can learn how to look professional and boost their chances of succeeding in the workplace.
Let’s start with the basics for looking professional. The first tip is to dress smartly.
This is one is easy. You don’t have to look glamorous or like a fashion icon unless you’re literally in the fashion industry. Just dress so that you look the part.
Looking the part usually means dressing like your bosses and other colleagues in senior positions. You want to get where they are, so aim to be at least as well dressed as they are. What they are wearing should reflect the company’s brand or culture.
Business professional for women typically means tidy dresses, skirts or slacks. Tops should include neat button-down shirts or blouses with a blazer. Business professional shoes include classic heels no higher than three inches, loafers or tidy flats. Women can accessorise with minimal jewellery and belts.
Business professional for men typically refers to a dark-colored (gray, navy) suit and tie. The tie should be simple, avoiding bright colours or busy patterns. Men should wear a button-down shirt (preferably white or light-blue) and belt. Pair with a professional, closed-toed shoe like an oxford or loafer. Info #indeed
Often workplaces have a dress code, whether it is official or unofficial. Pay attention to the rules. Be at least as well dressed as the people around you.
Answer the Phone Courteously
Phone etiquette is a big part of looking professional. The initial contact you may have with a recruiter or future boss could be from them ringing you up. Don’t blow your first impression with lousy phone manners.
The first words you utter when answering your phone convey a lot. Avoid answering your phone with something casual like “Hello?” And try to avoid sounding tired or busy with something else – even if you are called at an inconvenient time.
A couple of examples of good greetings to use are “Hello, Michael Smith speaking” or “Hi, Aubrey here, how can I help?” A brief but friendly and informative greeting creates a positive impression for the caller. Your optimistic, helpful tone is also likely to lead to a better conversation.
Staying punctual is another tip for how to look professional. The person who is late for meetings, misses deadlines or is last to the office in the morning sticks out for all the wrong reasons.
Punctuality is a sign of good time management. A failure to be punctual conversely shows that you are a poor time manager and, therefore, an inefficient or unreliable worker. A lack of punctuality is also plain rude in many instances. You inconvenience others needlessly.
Being punctual is quite easy to do and a habit you should definitely cultivate. Pay attention to times and the clock and use scheduling apps. Just a few minutes to check or make a schedule at the start of the day could make all the difference.
Professionals are dependable. Because you are reliable, everybody knows that they can trust you to follow through on your words in a predictable way. You are consistent with your work in both style and outcome. Reliability also means that you are always there to solve problems or help out in emergency situations.
Being reliable means not surprising people with puzzling behaviour or distractions from work. Demonstrating you are reliable helps to create smooth, low-conflict relationships with colleagues. Bosses know what they will get when they ask you to do something important.
To look professional, get in the habit of being accountable for your work. Accept responsibility for getting things done and take action as soon as any problems arise.
Avoiding accountability is a certain path to looking unprofessional. No-one likes being around someone who puts up excuses for their failings. And problems can quickly snowball into disasters if they are not dealt with quickly.
If things aren’t going perfectly, own it and don’t be afraid to look towards others for help – including your boss. People will respect you for making work outcomes the number one priority.
Show a Positive Attitude
Professionals project a positive, non-defeatist attitude. Showing positivity gives energy to the people around you and helps everyone to keep pushing through challenges. You are realistic but upbeat enough to look for solutions.
Positivity goes hand in hand with a can do approach. Professionals have the know-how and character to get things done. Being positive is a sign you are a professional who has what it takes to accomplish your goals.
No matter how great you are at what you do, having a negative attitude can hinder your own success and that of your team’s. Debbie Brown
If you have an idea for something, the only way to make it happen is to be positive. Your optimism will rub off on others and have them seeing opportunities.
Leaders have the ability to project a positive attitude to motivate their staff. They also try to surround themselves with other positive people. That’s why positivity makes you look more professional and enhances your career prospects.
Professional Email and Signature
Email is obviously a key communication tool for work and other purposes. You want to get it set up right so that it conveys an air of professionalism.
To start with, do you have a professional email address (outside an everyday business email)? For example, “email@example.com” probably doesn’t cut it when you are applying for a job. “firstname.lastname@example.org” would be better.
Each email should also contain a signature block with some info about you, such as job title, and a phone number. Recipients may be annoyed and won’t take you seriously if you stay mysterious with respect to key info.
When sending emails, some mistakes that could have you looking like an amateur are: leaving out attachments, cluttering up your emails with too much information, burying action items in the middle of the email, and subject lines that don’t make it clear what the email is about. Be in the habit of writing solid emails to enhance your professional reputation.
Avoid Constant Complaining
Most people have experienced being around someones who complains too much. For example, a teammate might complain about carrying too big a load one minute, the next they have an issue with a supervisor, and later they are whinging about a lack of resources to do their job.
Working alongside a constant complainer is draining and demotivating. It creates a dark cloud in the work environment where problems and barriers seem to exist everywhere.
To look professional, minimise how much complaining you do. Show maturity by dealing with problems in a constructive way that doesn’t bring down those around you. Raise issues when you need to while being mindful of your professional image.
Uphold Your Ethics
To look professional, find a way to maintain your ethics while still helping your employer make a profit.
Moral dilemmas often come up in the workplace. Do you sell an expensive computer to someone who obviously doesn’t need all the features? Do you force a client to follow the terms of a contract even if it’s unfair to them?
Professionals find a sensible way to maintain their ethics while supporting the interests of their employer and themselves. Sticking to your ethical principles is an important aspect of being professional and ultimately should enhance your career prospects.
When people see unethical behaviour, they tend to dislike and distrust the person doing it. A lack of ethics can also hurt the reputation of a brand or organisation. Professionals are ethical and rightly proud of the job they do.