What does it mean — or look like — to be professional? While there’s not one single answer, and your perception of what makes someone “professional” may differ from your mom’s or your spouse’s, there are some habits and behaviors that constitute professionalism no matter what the circumstances.
Whether you’re new to the workforce or you’re in a later stage of your career, you’ll benefit from honing your professional demeanor and habits. Not sure of where to start? Here are seven things all professional people make sure they do at work:
1. Manage their time efficiently
For most of us, managing our time efficiently is a work in progress. While maximizing our time may always be a priority, putting effective time management strategies into practice is easier said than done. At work, time management is particularly important: if you tend to get distracted and slack on your job responsibilities, people will notice — and you may be less likely to get the promotion you’ve been eyeing. Luckily, there are several actionable time management tips that professionals swear by, including using productivity apps and blocking your schedule.
2. Meet deadlines
If you want to be seen as professional, you need to prioritize meeting deadlines. This goes hand and hand with effective time management; if you become skilled at managing your time, your ability to meet deadlines will improve. Meanwhile, if you consistently miss deadlines, your colleagues and your manager will likely see you as unreliable or even lazy. There are some surefire ways to ensure you’ll meet deadlines, like prioritizing your assignments, knowing how – and when — to say no, delegating, and asking for help.
3. Stay organized
If you struggle with organization, don’t despair: there are many concrete ways to improve this skill. If you truly want to grow in your career, organization will be key to your success; as your work becomes more complex or you begin managing other people, keeping track of details and developing positive habits will aid your productivity.
Honing your teamwork organization skills, scheduling skills, and resource coordination skills (among others) will help you eliminate problems, promote positive habits, and make for a more cohesive working environment.
4. Communicate effectively
People in your network are more likely to see you as professional if they have an easy time communicating with you. Whether you're writing a quick email, negotiating for a promotion or offering feedback to a direct report, the way you communicate your message will determine whether or not that message gets heard. Moreover, your communication style will impact how others perceive you and, in turn, how likely they are to want to work with you, promote you, recommend you or hire you.
5. Manage their inbox
Whether you’re an inbox zero kind of employee or you consistently have 20+ emails to answer by EOD, one thing’s for sure: if you neglect your inbox, you’ll be damaging your professional image.
6. Think analytically
Even the most creative thinkers must learn to think analytically in order to maximize their progress in the workplace. When it comes to making important decisions, prioritizing, and determining how to refine or adapt your current processes and routines at work, tapping into your analytical thinking skills will go a long way.
7. Dress appropriately
Whether your company’s dress code is formal or casual, chances are there’s some sense of what’s standard and acceptable work wear. If your colleagues tend to wear corporate-looking suits or dresses, don’t show up to work in jean cut-off shorts. There are ways to get creative and express your style no matter how formal or informal your colleagues dress; but no matter where you work, you probably want to avoid looking like you rolled out of bed and didn’t change before heading to the office.
Read more: How to Make Your Work Clothes Work for You