Graduation season is upon us! If there is one thing that is absolutely vital to getting/keeping a job, it is making sure that you have a firm understanding of professionalism. Unfortunately, no one talks about professionalism basics for new grads! Your first job will just…expect you to know how to behave in a professional environment.
While some people can naturally pick up how to act in a professional setting, for most of us there is a bit of a learning curve. This article will teach you allll the professionalism basics every new grad needs. Whether you are entering the corporate world, starting graduate school, heading to your first internship, or moving into a more “white collar” environment after a career change, these professionalism basics are absolutely essential to succeeding in the workforce.
What is Professionalism?
Before I go through some of the professionalism basics everyone needs to know, we need to get on the same page about what professionalism really means. Well, well, well, welcome to the world of vague definitions and expectations. Professionalism basically means the expectations that we have of professionals. While almost all workplaces will have a code of conduct and an employee handbook, they tend to stay pretty vague about what “professionalism” means. And really, professionalism and expectations will vary from workplace to workplace. You kind of how to feel out what the general expectations are of you and your fellow employees.
However, there are a few universal professionalism basics that you need to know. Basically, these are the things that everyone expects you to know but will never tell you.
Why is Professionalism Important?
Professionalism really boils down to understanding etiquette and making sure the people around you feel respected. By practicing professionalism, people will understand that they can trust you to carry out tasks and make the company seem reputable and professional. If you are a seasoned professional, new grad, or even a current student looking to impress at your next internship, learning professionalism basics is the key to success.
Why Didn’t I Learn Professionalism Basics in School?
Honestly, unless you had to take a business class, professionalism just isn’t taught in college. It makes no sense! My theory is that no one teaches you professionalism basics because…there are no hard and fast rules for what professionalism really means. Professionalism can seem like this mystical set of rules and expectations that no one really understands, but every one can easily identify when someone is doing it wrong. With this guide to professionalism basics for new grads, you will never be that person who everyone secretly thinks is super unprofessional. I promise!
Now, let’s get into professionalism basics for new grads. Though there are a lot of topics to cover when we talk about professionalism, this article focuses on the most important things you need to know. Think of these as the true professionalism basics that you absolutely must do every.single.day.
ONE // Be On Time
I cannot stress this enough. You absolutely must be on time. It doesn’t matter how early you have to leave to avoid traffic or what you have to skip if you wake up a little late, you absolutely need to show up to work on. time.
In the past, I’ve had student workers who arrived later than we asked them to because they thought that since I and the other person responsible for them weren’t there, they didn’t have to be there. Little did they know that everyone in the office is always watching the new grad or the student, since they want to make sure they are not doing something that can be harmful to the company. Within a week of our former student worker showing up ~20 minutes before we got there instead of at the time they were supposed to, no less than five people had told us that they noticed the student’s start time had started to vary significantly. Honestly, this left a terrible taste in our mouths and showed us that we couldn’t trust the student. We even had to have a sit-down meeting with the boss to discuss this!
Showing up late every once in a while is understandable, but showing up consistently late (even just once a week!) makes you look unprofessional and disorganized. Being on time to work truly boils down to time management and prioritization, which are…basically the most important skills you need to have to be a good employee. So, get to work on time! Or early! Early is great!
TWO // Respond Promptly
Whether it’s to an email, meeting request, or anything else, you should always respond promptly to anything work-related. A good rule of thumb is that everything in your inbox requires an acknowledgment before the end of your workday, and anything from your boss should be acknowledged within 1-2 hours. Unless they specifically say that you can take longer to respond, you should never leave anyone waiting. Besides being unprofessional, it’s just really rude! If you are a new grad, you are typically the lowest on the office heirarchy. You might have an intern or a student working below you, but, really, your time isn’t worth much! Take the extra time to clear your inbox before you leave for the day. Everyone will appreciate it!
THREE // Don’t Eat in Meetings
This might be a personal pet peeve or something that doesn’t even happen anymore since so many meetings are virtual now. However, trust me, you should never eat in a meeting. Unless it is a specified lunch meeting, it is rude to eat when you should be listening and contributing to the meeting. This is especially a big deal if it is a morning meeting! Coffee/tea is acceptable, but if you are eating breakfast during your first meeting, it just looks like you didn’t manage your time well.
FOUR // Dress the Part
For the love of god, please dress professionally. Even if you think the workplace might be more casual, dressing up will show that you know how to look professional. After your first week or so at the company, feel free to relax your work clothes to meet what everyone else is wearing. If you aren’t sure about what to wear, as a friendly coworker or your supervisor! They’ll be happy to help!
FIVE // Ask Questions
If you don’t understand what to do, ask! Showing that you are ready and willing to ask questions in the beginning will show that you are teachable and ready to learn. This is super important! Your manager needs to know that you’ll ask a question if you don’t know what to do. If they know you feel comfortable asking for help, they won’t micromanage you every time you do something new.
SIX // Be Organized
One of the most important aspects of being professional is having a clean, tidy, organized workspace and organized files. If organization doesn’t come naturally to you, invest in some baskets that will help you hide your mess. If you aren’t sure how to best organize your files, as your coworkers or supervisor! They might have a standard that they want you to follow.
SEVEN // Practice Poised
Above all else, you need to be poised in a professional situation. Maintain good posture, speak in an even tone, and be the politest version of yourself at all times.
EIGHT // Work Comes First
The biggest component of professionalism is remembering that when you are at work, you need to be in work mode. Even if you become super friendly, your coworkers are always coworkers first. Don’t tell them anything you don’t want your boss to know, and you won’t have any regrets. This can be super, super hard! Personally, some of my best friends are people who I met at work. No matter how much fun you have outside of work, when you’re on company time, you need to act like your boss is in the room at all times.
NINE // Maintain a Positive Attitude
As someone who loves to complain, this can be super hard for me, personally! However, maintaining a positive attitude at work is an incredibly important aspect of professionalism. There is a time and a place to raise any concerns, but you shouldn’t be complaining about your job all day at work. If you feel overwhelmed or unhappy and you find that you feel miserable all day, talk to your manager. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve complained about something to everyone…except the person who can actually do something to help. It looks unprofessional and shady!
TEN // Be Helpful
This one almost goes without saying, lol. Honestly, offering to help is the number one way to get your boss and coworkers to like and respect you. When you think about your job, you are really there to make your manager/boss’s life easier and to lessen their workload. You’re there to help! Showing that you are always eager to help will show your boss that you are a team player and that they can rely on you.
This article covers professionalism basics for new grads!
If you are a new grad or a seasoned professional, these are the basics of professionalism in the workforce. Are there any professionalism basics you think I missed? Leave them in the comments below, or send a DM on Instagram!
More Resources for New Grads
If you are a new grad looking for additional resources to start your career, you’re in the right place! Check out this article for 11 interview outfit ideas that will guarantee you land your dream job, or follow me on Pinterest or Instagram for more new grad tips!
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