When I was looking for my first job out of college, the advice I received over and over again was "be professional." And, at the time, I thought "be professional" might have been code for "don't be yourself."
Now that I’m on the other side of things, I know that you can be yourself and still be professional. At Communications Collaborative, we are a tightknit, hardworking team, but we have fun. We have quirky senses of humor. However, I’ve also been at companies that are bigger and more formal. I’ve realized that whether your company is small or large, informal or formal, there are universal professional attributes that will serve you well at any organization:
1) Respect: I put this at number one for a reason. Respecting and listening to the opinions of others, from the CEO to peers to interns, is the pinnacle of professionalism. Taking the time to understand different points of view, and identifying compromises when needed, are key to maintaining and growing a healthy, professional workplace.
2) Presentation: From the way you speak in an open office to the shirt you choose, the way you present yourself counts. Does this mean you can’t tell a joke, dress down on a Friday, or share an opinion? No. But, you should think about whether the words you use, the clothes you wear, or the thoughts you have are appropriate for your company’s environment and culture. This also gets back to how important it is to work at an organization that feels like the right fit for you. If wearing a reindeer sweater for the entire month of December is your thing, work for a company that gets that.
3) Communication: Direct, honest communication is also a key piece to being professional. Chances are, at some point in your career, you will work with people who are challenging. (And by the way, they probably think you are challenging, too.) Clarifying a misunderstanding, knowing when to “pick your battles,” and figuring out the best way to communicate even if personalities don’t click, is part of everyone’s job as a professional.