People think that they can call themselves professionals because they’ve got 9-5 jobs in their fields. But being a profressional is more than just a degree or a title, it’s a set of behaviors that show that you both care about the work you do and are committed to doing an excellent job.
Being a professional is shelving your rage at a perceived wrong, it is taking the high road, it is doing what you say you’ll do.
Of course, we’re all imperfect, we all screw up, so don’t beat yourself up if you miss a few from time to time. But try. Really try. Because professionalism can mean the difference between you and another freelancer getting the client, it can mean the difference between you and someone with more seniority getting a promotion.
1. Check your spam folder. What if a client or colleague emails you and you miss it because spam snagged it? Checking spam is essential. You should probably check it daily, depending on your email provider.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Answer emails and phone calls promptly.
4. Don’t brag.
5. Be consistent. Keep promises.
6. Be likeable and make sure your clients and colleagues know you care about them as people. Learn their names and something about their family or hobbies. Remember it and ask about it. If you can’t remember, keep a notebook or a spreadsheet.
7. Know your value, but don’t be a diva. Don’t work for free–if you want to volunteer, do it for a cause that feeds your soul–don’t put in unpaid time, but remember that you’re not invincible or special: no matter how good you are, there is now or will be somebody better. Find those people and learn from them. Professionals know that they have room to grow, and they seek out growth.
8. Sometimes people are crazy or insecure (or sexist or racist or mean), and sometimes those people get power they ought not have, and sometimes, no matter how good and professional you are, you will rub those crazy/insecure people the wrong way, and there will be ramifications. Be kind, depart quietly, and take action to protect yourself. If you respond to crazy with crazy, you’re letting crazy win. Same with insecurity, sexism, racism, or meanness.
9. Never, ever take anything personally. Even if it was intended that way. Sometimes, there are bad days, and there are shitty choices, and there is meanness. Even if you did something personally to cause a lash out, as long as you were doing your job and being professional, there’s no reason to be affected. If you screw up, apologize. Accept responsibility for your words or actions, learn from them, and move on.
10. Never say something in a professional email that you would not say in front of everybody you work with or for.
11. Be careful on twitter and Facebook and tumblr and G+ and LinkedIn and your blog and wherever else. These social media and networking venues are not designed as your personal outlets for bitching, especially not for airing professional grievances. If you must bitch, do it off line. Nobody likes a whiner. If you must whine on social media, don’t, but if you do, do not incriminate other people. Do not name names. Here’s an alternative to bitching online: turn your experience into a cautionary tale that explains what happened and what you could’ve done better. Write it all down on a piece of paper. If you don’t keep pens in the house anymore, you can go get 10 of them for $3.00 at Target.
12. I feel like this should go without saying, but if you think somebody wronged you in a professional situation, do not email or call his boss after the fact. (If you are involved in a three way conversation with a person who wronged you and his boss, you may stick up for yourself, but do not be petty.) Tattletales are no more appropriate in the work place than they are on the playground. Furthermore, professional tattling will nearly always backfire: you will look like an idiot, and the person you tell on will look like the victim of a crazy, petty person. Getting the reputation of being a crazy, petty idiot is not professionally advantageous.
13. Guard your reputation. Regardless of who your parents are, how much money you have or don’t have, or your work history, your reputation is your most valuable asset. If you follow all of the advice above, you’ll go a long way toward having a good reputation. But remember, only you can screw up your reputation. See #12 about why it’s unlikely that someone trying to ruin you could. If someone succeeds in screwing something up for you, take the high road, keep on keepin’ on, and know that you’ll get some satisfaction when that person finally implodes.
14. Know your work, inside out, and always do your best.