Professionalism: Plebian or Proficient?

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Recently, I got into a conversational spat with someone over the value of professionalism. She told me I was too “straight edge” and that she thought professionalism was overrated and over used. I called her a flip-flop-wearing hippie and stood firm that professionalism is a dying art, one that should be resuscitated before the entire working world falls into a fit of sleaze and unethical behavior.


The root of the word professionalism is profession, a.k.a., career. So being professional, having standards or methods with which to operate in the workplace, can be a boon on the job. Similarly, a lack of professionalism can be a hindrance to career growth and development. Business is more than economics, and supply and demand, and the exchange of products and services for money or other products and services. Savvy businesspeople know that business, including IT business, is about perception as well as the nuts and bolts of operations, manufacturing, maintenance, selling, etc.


Perception is one of the strongest reasons to get certified. IT professionals who hold certifications are perceived to be better skilled, better able to perform on the job and more committed to their industry and to their craft. IT professionals who have not mastered the rudimentary do’s and don’ts of professional conduct are likely to suffer the same fate as the uncertified: They will be passed over for jobs, opportunities, promotions, etc.


Levels of professionalism vary by organization, but there are some basics that are frequently overlooked. First, there is to be no sex at work, not in your speech, by inference and certainly not by action. Second, there should be no swearing, though this one is frequently neglected. Those of you who have spastic bosses know just what I mean. Personally, I have been known to utter an emphatic “sh&!” when things go wrong, but I don’t make a habit of expelling profanities in the hallways outside my cubicle. Third, the company dress code should not be on the pay-no-mind list. You don’t need to wear head-to-toe Versace, just use your head and be aware of your company’s policies on appropriate office clothing.


I’ll never forget a scene from an old Jennifer Aniston film called Picture Perfect. She was passed over to be the lead on an ad campaign that she devised because she was viewed as too carefree. Essentially she was too willing and too able to take good ideas and fly to the next agency. Right or wrong, her trendy clothing was viewed in conjunction with loyalty and not considered reflective of a leader. In the scene where her boss explained why, he reminisced on his early days in the ad game when something similar happened to him. Roughly translated, his boss told him, “Dress how you want to be and how you want people to see you. Do you really want to be the janitor?”


The same goes for your behavior. Do you want to be viewed as dependable, competent, an effective communicator, someone who can deliver results, build effective relationships, uphold a certain standard, make a contribution? Of course you do. So act that way. If you don’t have a clue, find someone in the office who’s got the goods and observe their behavior.


It’s not that I don’t like flip flops. I do. I wear them. Furthermore, I’ve been called a hippie more than once, and I don’t mind a bit. But I’ve learned that in the career game, your manner and appearance play a role in where you end up on the board.

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