What Does it Mean to Be Professional?

Posted by in Career Advice

We hear it often, and I know I use it often in my posts about job interviews and the like; but what does it really mean to be “professional” as people say? It is a term that tends to most frequently be applied to a situation involving work of some nature.  Now, while it is often easy to notice when someone is not being professional, and is also fairly easy to notice when some is being professional, it is not necessarily a term that can be easily defined. To different people it can mean slightly different things, so it is a bit relative.


Some people refer to certain careers in general as one of a “professional” nature – those types of jobs that are elevated in our society, and require higher levels of education. This is a different use of the term, and is not what I am discussing here when I say professional. Any person in any job, regardless of the education, pay or societal elevation it has, being professional is a way of acting and working in any position.


Here is a list of some things that would fall into the unprofessional category, and some suggestions regarding them:


  • Doing sloppy work
    • Doing sloppy work shows you do not really care about your job, and that shows a real lack of professionalism in your attitude. You should strive to do every job to the absolute best of your ability, and accomplish something you can be truly proud of in every circumstance.
  • Dressing or looking sloppy and unkempt
    • Not wearing clothing that would fall within company guidelines or wearing inappropriate things that “clash” with the image of the job is reflective of unprofessionalism. Wearing dirty clothes/uniforms, or coming to work looking like you just woke up, is to show unprofessionalism.
  • Being rude or uncaring to others
    • Your attitude to others is a great tell-tale sign of the amount of professionalism you have - or lack. If you are constantly grumpy, or cutting down or being disrespectful to others, it shows a real deficiency of professionalism.
  • Talking bad about others, the boss, the company, etc. behind their back
    • While this may not show a public display of unprofessionalism, even being rude and disrespectful behind closed doors can be viewed by others around you as acting unprofessional, which can affect the way others think about you even if they do not say it.
  • Disrespecting others publically
    • If you openly act disrespectful to others, it displays a real lack of humility and compassion, and comes across as very unprofessional. Even keeping to the simpe “golden rule” – do unto others as you would have others do unto you – is the lowest common factor of a professional attitude.
  • Disrespects the guidelines at a job: breaking the rules, being late, careless, etc.
    • Constantly being late, being unsafe, and in general just not caring to adhere to company policies, puts you in the unprofessional category. You should always try as hard as possible, and make it a habit of getting to work at least a few minutes early, getting back from lunch on time, and showing up to meetings on time; it is always better to be early than late.
  • Acting out and displaying a low standard of manners
    • The manners and attitudes of how you treat your buddies outside the workplace should never bleed over into workplace life. The workplace is the place you straighten up and put on your best behavior and strive for professionalism and excellence. Outside the workplace, you let down your hair and be yourself. Keeping those two places separate will help greatly in the search for professionalism.
  • Using base and vulgar language, things that might offend others, when working with the public
    • “Swearing” - “cursing” – “cussing” – or whatever term you use to describe it – is something that should never be used in a place of business. It is offensive to many, disrespectful to others, and reflects a low level of maturity, a lack of self-control and a low/limited vocabulary. Just because you may not have a high level of education or intelligence does not mean you have to speak like you don’t. Good manners and good speech are things that everyone can have if they put their mind to it.
  • Having an “I don’t care” attitude
    • Pretty much all of the above items can be encapsulated into this one point – having an “I don’t care” and/or negative attitude and mentality. If that is your general attitude about your job then chances are you will act in an unprofessional manner if you are not keeping your attitude in constant check.


Hopefully these points give you a few things to keep in mind when it comes to seeking an attitude and work ethic of “professionalism” versus being labeled the opposite. Professionalism can assist in accelerating your career up and up, while lacking professionalism can drag your career down to a crawl.


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  • Manuel M
    Manuel M
    This is a very good write-up and I totally agree with you, as this is a MOST excellent summary of what being professional means. This was exactly what I was looking for, as too many individuals I encounter in my life, work and community, I have found simply do not act professionally. Well, I then had to think what exactly does it mean to be professional so that I can help other people to become more professional and this write-up does just that! Then to ensure that it was not just my view of being professional, it needed to be written by somebody else so thank you SO much for writing this post!!! Since we do not know each other, accept this comment as an endorsement of your words if you find someone thinks that it is "just your opinion"!

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