In a nutshell: Are you projecting the right image at work? These dos and don’ts will help you come across in a more professional manner.
Even in today’s casual workplaces — jeans and T-shirts on Fridays, anyone? — it’s still important to project the right image. Your professional demeanor, in addition to strong soft skills, says a lot about your capabilities, reliability, work ethic and behavior and an employee and a leader.
Here are some ways to appear more professional in the office.
Do: Dress the Part
Some places expect suits. Others, polos. And others still are OK with jeans. But even if the dress code has loosened up, that’s no reason to dress down. All workers should be wearing clothes that are clean, well-fitting and free of holes and rips. Showing too much skin is a no-no, so leave the tube tops and sleeveless tees at home.
The Balance, a website dedicated to personal finance and professional development, has a gallery of suitable casual workplace attire. Of course, your workplace may vary. Look to the leaders in your organization and try to dress at their level.
Be conscious of your outfits when you’re speaking to clients. Dress up if you’re visiting to a firm that has a more refined dress code than yours.
Do: Groom Yourself
Before you leave the house in the morning, make sure you like what you see in the mirror. Many kinds of hairstyles and facial hair are acceptable now, but make sure your hair is groomed and makes you look neat. If you wear makeup, make sure it’s suitable for the workplace: What looks good for an evening in the clubs might not send the right signal at a 10 a.m. meeting. And, whatever you do, don’t follow Steve Jobs’ example and eschew deodorant. The people working closely with you will thank you.
Do: Show Up on Time
The Muse, a career-focused website, says habitually running late can undermine your professional reputation, “no matter how smart, competent or capable you might be.” When you show up on time, it demonstrates to other people that you care about them and respect their time constraints.
Learn to rely on your calendar. Be sure to add buffers between meetings, in case one runs long or the meeting rooms are far away. Set alarms in Outlook or whatever calendar program you use. If necessary, trick yourself by setting your watch five to ten minutes ahead.
Do: Say No the Right Way
Eventually, the moment will come when you can’t take another project or task. It’s possible to say no in a way that’s respectful and professional. Harvard Business Review advises that you should be “honest and upfront” about the reasons for turning down the work. One possible thing to say: “I would be unable to do a good job on your project and my other work would suffer.”
Gossiping about coworkers might be tempting, but ultimately it will make you seem immature and insecure. Keep the conversation around the watercooler positive, and don’t participate when other people gossip.
- Never gossip to higher-ups
- Don’t bring up confidential information
- If you have to discuss something negative, make it as impersonal as possible
Don’t: Use Your Phone in Meetings
Let’s face it. It’s hard to put your phone down. There’s a constant stream of information to be consumed and addressed, from the Facebook post from your college roommate to the latest Slack message from your boss.
Forbes says that using your phone during meetings might send a bad message to other participants. That’s because phone usage shows a lack of respect, attention, listening and power. While you might sometimes be able to get away with checking a text message discreetly, you should never take a phone call during a meeting!
Don’t: Say the First Thing that Pops in Your Mind
Part of being a professional is choosing your words carefully. Be sure to put yourself in the listener’s shoes, and think about the best, most useful way to get your message across. Challenging news, such as a poor performance review, might be handled as a forward-looking conversation about opportunities for improvement. Demonstrate emotional intelligence in all your interactions with others.
Should you swear in the workplace? The answer is probably no, even if you hear senior leaders doing it.