Professionalism in the Workplace

The transition from student to professional is exciting, challenging, and full of surprises.  Successfully navigating this transition requires preparation, and the information provided below is intended to help you get started.

Behaviors and Practices of Successful Employees

If you have landed an internship or full time position, likely you were able to demonstrate self-confidence, motivation to learn, interpersonal skills, and any technical or other skills the employer looked for during your interview. Your next task is to use those skills to smoothly transition into your role as an intern or full time employee.

Review the following resources to gain a better understanding of behaviors employers look for from successful full time employees:

First Job & Success in the Workplace, from the University of South Carolina

Important Information: Use of Technology in the Workplace

It is not okay to check Facebook, tweet, text your friend, or answer a personal call on your cell phone while at work.

Managing Expectations (or, Handling Disappointment)

Most organizations do a superb job of mentoring interns. They recognize interns as learners, novices in the field who are trying to soak up information. They expect a lot of questions, leave room for mistakes, and make time for continuous feedback on performance. Often times they also woo interns with organized social gatherings and make great efforts to incorporate fun into the internship experience. This is very strategic on the part of organizations; they are using the internship experience as an extended interview for potential full-time placement, and they want to ensure that high-performing interns develop a certain level of commitment to the organization in return.

Interns who are hired on full-time after graduation may wonder what happened to the organized outings and social gatherings they experienced as interns.  It is incredibly important for young graduates to recognize that treatment of full time employees will differ significantly from how interns are treated.  However, full time employees will benefit from being treated as real professionals.  Managing expectations from the start will ensure satisfaction during those first months of a full time job.

Ongoing Reflection and Self-Assessment

Managing your professional presence will be a career-long task.  Take time to reflect on the impression you make when you meet and work with others.  Also, consider periodically whether the track you are on is the right one.  Use the list of questions below to guide your reflection.

  • What impression do you want people to have of you?
  • What feeling do you want people to have when they are around you or when they see your materials?
  • What word or phrase do you want people to say if they are asked to describe you briefly?
  • What words describe how you carry yourself?
  • How do you introduce yourself?  Consider your tone, handshake, word choice, when you do it, how you follow-up, etc.
  • What is your message in life (which, by the way, comes across loud and clear as you work with others)? Write just one, two, or three words.
  • What do you value?
  • What do you really want out of your career at this point in your life?
  • What interests and skills do you have that you could contribute to your office? other offices in your organization?
  • What does your appearance say about you?
  • How do you hold yourself when standing?  Sitting?  When in meetings?
  • Which situations do you approach with confidence?  In what situations are you less sure of yourself?
  • How do you communicate?  Consider both verbal and written communication.
  • When and how do you network?
  • How do you take credit for your work?  What do you volunteer for?
  • Whom do you choose to connect with?  How do you approach making connections?
  • How would you describe your ability to listen?
  • How comfortable are you in any given social situation? (e.g. the office holiday party)

Once you have learned your job and feel comfortable with your role in an organization, we recommend that you have a conversation with your supervisor and other professional mentors about your professional development.  From your supervisor, try to learn what it will take to move ahead at the organization. From your professional mentors, learn what steps you should be taking now in order to achieve your future career goals.

Bowman, J. (2007). Don’t Take the Last Donut.  The Career Press, Inc., New Jersey.
Demarais, A., & White, V. (2004). First Impressions: What you don’t know about how others see you. Bantam Dell, New York.