How Do Employers Judge Professionalism?

Conventional wisdom says that job seekers ought to present a professional image to potential employers. While a majority of people agree that’s the case, there is a variety of opinion as to what a professional image is.

I’ve written on this topic before, however, given the cultural slide away from professionalism in the workplace, it’s a topic worth revisiting.

Professionalism is generally judged subjectively. I suspect most people would agree on what makes a “professional” senior corporate executive, however, may have a range of ideas on what makes a “professional” mechanic.

Professionalism is not simply whether someone wears a nice suit, rather it’s a number of traits that combine to form a professional image.

How does a potential employer judge whether someone is professional or not? Here are some common indicators…

Attitude. Attitude creates a positive impression. However, It’s also a critical component of professionalism. It’s not just whether someone is upbeat or not, but also whether they are a solution-finder or nay-sayer. A professional is someone that sees opportunity, not someone that just finds reasons that something can’t be done.

Competence. Competence in your field is also vital. In order to be professional, you have to know what you’re talking about. You have to be able to have understanding and insight into relevant issues in your field and be able to articulate solutions.

Communication Skills. You may have a great attitude and be highly competent in your field, however, if you can’t communicate your insight or ideas effectively to others, you miss the mark. Communication skills don’t refer to an accent, but rather the ability to be understood, speak in clear terms, and make complex subjects understandable.

· Appearance. Appearance does matter. It’s not necessary for someone to wear a $2,000 suit. However, clean and appropriate clothing, fit properly, and arranged well do play a part in a professional image. A mechanic in well fitting and well cared for cover-alls can create a professional image as well as a C-Level executive in a tailored suit. Dirty, wrinkled, sloppy, and unkempt appearance damages a professional image regardless of the field you may pursue.

Appropriateness. Inappropriate language, slang, appearance, or subjects have as much to do with damaging a professional image as anything else. Running off on unrelated tangents in a conversation, cursing, or wearing a polo shirt to a formal executive interview each create an impression that you don’t grasp the particular role. Like it or not, but ‘bucking the system’ rarely gets rewarded when pursuing a new job.

Are you professional?

Take a critical look at yourself through an employers lens and decide whether you hit the mark, or need to re-aim!


Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives.

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