Written by The Northwest Coaching Group’s Early Career Coach, Katie Schrage

If you are about to embark on your first job search, understanding what is expected of you as a “professional” is all too important. Getting high marks on professionalism could be the difference in getting a job offer and never getting a call back.

According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, “Professionalism” is described as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” While this definition is clear in its explanation, it does leave quite a bit up to the discretion of its reader. What skill is it referring to? What is considered bad judgment? What training is required? Who decides if I have done a job well?

The time in our lives when we are toying with the idea of what it means to be a professional,  such as interviews, meetings with superiors, and performance reviews, is not a time when we want to be guessing if we are “professional” enough. We want to be confident that we are exuding its definition. Often it is the early career crowd that struggles with this amorphous definition of professionalism. Generationally, it seems what is expected of “professionals” changes or loses portions of its definition.  It is important to remember that, in a business setting, age holds no value. It is how we carry ourselves, how we present our ideas and how we articulate our experience that will gain the attention of company hiring managers and decision makers. There are simple habits that we can incorporate into our thought processes and actions that can bolster our professionalism . . . no matter the level of skill, judgment, politeness, or training.

First Impression is always important

No matter how kind our heart is or how hard we deny it, we judge others based on how they “appear” to us in the first few seconds we meet them.  This includes how well they are groomed, dressed and behaved. How we choose to take care of ourselves, what we choose to wear and how we approach others is correlated not only with our self-respect, but our intelligence, our work ethic and our morals. Do your homework before any interview.  Know what the company’s mission is and who they serve. Choose to represent yourself in accordance with the company’s culture and target market. What will appeal to them? What will make them trust you?

Be gracious

Say thank you to anyone who has helped you, answered questions or given you their time. This can come in a personalized email, a handwritten note or a phone call. Often small gestures are forgotten or swept aside. They are powerful when used consistently. When you take the time to recognize someone for their effort or concern for you, not only does it boost their day, but it is likely that they will do it for you again in the future.

Remember names

In order to write Betsy a handwritten thank you note for meeting you at the coffee shop to discuss how she landed her dream job, you need to remember her name. Calling someone by their name already sets you above stranger-level, and easily enters you into acquaintance-level. It also shows respect, as well as evidence that you were listening. This comes with the territory of inter-company relations as well as client-relations. It is far easier to ask someone’s name at the start of your relationship and memorize it, than to awkwardly ask three months down the road.


Your written word is a direct representation of who you are and how you complete tasks. Even if you are sending a simple email or text message from your phone, there is no excuse. Capital letters, punctuation, and correct spelling is always expected. Poor grammar is a reflection to others not only of your knowledge, but the level of work that you can offer.

Be on time

There is no worse display of gratitude or respect than tardiness. Be on time, if not early, to everything.  If life happens and you are running late, it speaks volumes of you to notify the appropriate person that you will not be on time. This applies to thank you notes and email responses as well. There is a grace period to all invitations in which it is too late to RSVP, and this stands for all communication. Respond before it is too late.

Google yourself

In this day and age, there is often more about us online than we like to think. It is our responsibility to take accountability for what shows up when we browse the internet for our name. Who you are in a job interview or an office meeting is far easier to control than who you are in an internet search. Take time to clean up your web appearance. If you want to keep all your college photos on Facebook, make sure your security settings are tight. If you have a Twitter account and followers, be aware of what you are tweeting. Keep your Instagram private. These are all simple security procedures that you can take to prevent your employer from getting the wrong impression.

And if you need help understanding how ready you are to get out there and find that perfect job find a coach that you can rely on.