be more professional at workProfessionalism in the IT world is desirable. Some people have it, some don’t. The ones that do have it, the ones that are professional, are treated with more respect and are usually better at their jobs.

Below, I share five tips that you can use to be more professional in your workplace.

Dress Code

Wherever you work, your employer or client will most likely have specified a dress code, or a standard of clothing that should be worn by all employees while at work.

This could be something less formal such as nice jeans and a polo shirt, or even a suit, shirt and tie, or anywhere in between. To be viewed and treated professionally, it is important that you stick to this dress code.

That means, if you’ve been asked to wear a polo shirt and jeans for work, wear a polo shirt and jeans. Don’t wear thongs and a t-shirt with worn-out jeans. Don’t wear long shorts with shoes. If you are however asked to wear a shirt and trousers, don’t come to work wearing a polo shirt and jeans.

If you adhere to the standard of dress that your employer or client expects, you’ll not only be treated more professionally, your co-workers and managers will notice that you’re taking your job seriously.

An exception to this tip is if your workplace has casual Fridays! It took me a while to get used to the idea of casual Fridays, because I wanted to always look professional. However, over time I realised that blending in with the client is more important so I made the exception.

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Punctuality to Meetings

Meetings are set up so a group of people can gather and discuss a topic or issue and come to a resolution or plan. They have a set start and end time – which is usually determined by the availability of the attendees, the availability of the room the meeting is being held in, and the estimated time to discuss the issue.

For these reasons, it is expected that the attendees will arrive at the meeting on time (have a read of some more effective meeting tips here).

Arriving on time means, funnily enough, “on time”. It doesn’t mean five minutes after the meeting has started. It surely doesn’t mean fifteen minutes into the meeting. It means at the scheduled time. If it’s a 10:00 meeting, arrive at 10:00, or even a couple of minutes earlier if able.

If you arrive late to meetings, it gives the impression you don’t care much for the topic that’s being discussed.

It shows a lack of respect and the other attendees may be irritated by this. If it happens on a regular basis, the meeting holders may even start the meetings without you, meaning you miss out on the discussion on the topic or issue, which could have an impact on your work!

Alternatively, if you always arrive a few minutes early, or on time to meetings, other people will see this as being professional, and shown to treat the other meeting attendees with respect.


Arrive Before Nine, Leave After Five

The usual work day begins at 9 AM and finishes at 5 PM.

Your employer or client is likely to expect you to work within these hours, or hours similar to this. This is so you can perform the required work for the day around your co-workers, which may be affected by the work you do, and be involved in discussions about your work.

For this reason, it’s important to work within these hours. If your boss expects you to be at work at 9:00 AM, then be at work by (you guessed it) 9:00 AM at the latest.

Don’t stroll into the office at 9:15 or 9:30 after you grab your morning coffee.

Every now and then may be OK  if your boss is aware of it and if there are unusual circumstances that cause you to be late. If it’s done consistently, though, it will get noticed very quickly by both your boss and your co-workers. They may be waiting for you to get something done or for information from you before they can work on something.

I’ve seen people arrive anywhere between 9 and 10, and I think this is a bad idea. It makes them seem lazy, as though they couldn’t get out of bed to get to the office by 9. It disrespects the other team members who get there before 9. And, their boss will notice this, whether they seem like it or not.

Similarly, your employer or client may expect you to work until 5 PM, so don’t pack up and leave at 4:50, or 4:30.

This will also get noticed very quickly if it happens consistently. It may not seem like much to you – a few minutes here and there – but it’s a reflection of the attitude you have towards your work and is not very professional.

Also, leaving at 5 PM exactly will give the impression that you have been “counting down” towards 5 PM, not actually doing any productive work up until then and just want to get out of the office – which is not a good signal to give. It’s also good for getting a pay rise or a promotion.

Ideally, the best thing you can do is arrive BEFORE your designated start time, and leave AFTER your start time. Fifteen minutes would be ideal – arriving at 8:45 and leaving at 5:15.

Even five minutes is OK – arriving at 8:55 and leaving at 5:05. Of course this means you spend a bit longer at work, but it goes a long way to show your co-workers and your boss that you’re professional in what you do.

The exception to this is if you have kids to take care of. As I’ve gotten more experience in the industry, I’ve noticed that many employers allow employees to arrive later as they have to drop their kids off at school. So, this is a valid reason but it should be arranged with the employer and team first.


Professional Attitude and Conversation

Your attitude at work goes a long way to show how professional you are. This involves both the conversations you have with your co-workers, and the way you go about your job.

The conversations you have with your co-workers, and the conversations you have with everyone else in your life are likely to be very different. The details of a big night out that you discuss with your mates are generally not appropriate to discuss with co-workers on a Monday morning. The discussions with your partner about your personal life are also generally not appropriate to bring up at work.

I use the term “generally” because it depends on the relationship you have with your co-workers.

In some cases, you may have a close personal relationship with your co-workers and it may extend beyond the office – you may get together at family events, or go out for drinks with friends after work.

However, in most cases, it’s a professional environment where the discussion topics should be considered first. The story about how drunk you got on a Saturday night and where you ended up on Sunday morning may be a great one to tell your friends, but it’s something that should be kept untold when around your boss or co-workers. They will think it’s unprofessional to discuss these things.


Split Personal and Work Time

Everyone has a life outside of work. You may have other interests, such as sport or entertainment. You may have a partner or family to go home to. You will probably have friends you’d like to meet up with or talk to. You may even have other things to organise, like a holiday or financial arrangements or a birthday party.

It’s certainly not unacceptable to have these commitments outside of work. How you deal with them, though, is a reflection on your work attitude. If you need to make personal calls (calls not related to your job), a few points should be followed:

  • Keep them to a minimum during work hours. Making calls on your lunch break is preferred.
  • Don’t use the company’s phone on your desk – use your mobile if you can.
  • Step away from your desk to receive or make these calls, if you can. Sometimes this can’t be done, such as calls that need you to be at a desk or at a computer for them.
  • If you need to make calls at your desk, be considerate of other people around you, and keep your voice at an appropriate level. Also, don’t use the speaker phone from your desk. This will quickly irritate your co-workers.

Separating the calls or tasks you need to do for personal reasons and for work reasons while at work will show your boss and co-workers that you are respectful of others and will see you as being professional.

I’ve mentioned this on my 50 Awesome Career Tips For IT Professionals post as well.


Use Your Lunch Break for Personal Work and Errands

Another suggestion I have for how to be more professional is to leave your personal work for your lunch break.

Most companies give you 30-60 minutes for a lunch break in the middle of the day. Sure, you should eat your lunch then. I also think you should do any of your personal things during this time. This includes any Internet browsing you need to do outside of work, as well as any errands you need to run.

I often need to do errands at work, such as going to the bank, post office, dry cleaner, newsagent, and other stores. I try to get this done during my lunch break. Sure, other people might have the same idea and it might get busy, but at least you’re not wasting company time by getting your own things done.

Also, your manager will be less worried about you being away from your desk if it’s in your lunch break. If you’re doing errands on company time, it doesn’t look professional and might annoy other co-workers.


Professional Hair Style

When you get ready for work in the morning, whether you’re a man or a woman, you might need to get your hair ready for the day.

Depending on your age, and how much hair you have, this can take some time. I’m no hair expert (if I was, I wouldn’t be running this site!), but I think there are some hair styles that are suitable for work, and some that are suitable for other events such as going out with your friends to a bar on a Saturday night.

It’s important to prepare your hair for the workplace and not for a social event. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to look professional – so put some thought into your hair when you prepare it in the morning, and think, “What impression am I trying to achieve here?”


Clean Shaven Face for Men

If you’re a man working in the IT industry, the general expectation for facial hair is to be clean shaven. It looks cleaner and more professional.

I say general, because that’s what has been expected of me over the years, but other employers and companies might be different. Sure, there are other people with facial hair in the office, and that is perfectly acceptable.

I believe the main point is to keep it clean – so if you’re clean shaven, make sure it’s clean and you don’t have any cut marks or missed spots. If you have a moustache or beard, then keep it groomed and clean. This will get noticed by other workers – in a good way and in a bad way.


Small Details Matter When Considering How To Look Professional At Work

Many times I’ve worked with and seen people at work that think they’re dressing professionally and trying to look professional at work, but haven’t quite pulled it off. They get almost there.

The reason it’s not quite professional is in the small details – things that are not that obvious but are still noticeable.

If you want to complete the look of being professional at work, everything needs to be up to a high level of professionalism. Some things to watch out for are:

  • Make sure your shoes are clean and polished, with no dirt or scuff marks
  • Make sure your clothes are ironed! I can’t stress how important it is to have a crease-free shirt!
  • Don’t wear bright shirts or ties (unless your workplace suits it)
  • Make sure your tie is fully tied up, not loose or with a button undone
  • Keep your clothes clean – no stains or spills
  • Wear perfume or cologne, especially if you exercise before or during work.

Dressing the part of a professional is a great way to improve and learn how to look professional at work. It will get you noticed by your co-workers and managers and will ideally help you towards a promotion.


Don’t Swear

Swearing is something that should be kept away from the office. As a software developer, there can be times where things aren’t working the way they are supposed to.

You might have trouble figuring out how some code works, it might be throwing an error for an unexplained reason, or you might be running behind on a project.

In any case, there is no need to use swear words. This just makes the team around you feel uncomfortable and makes you seem too casual.

If you’re frustrated about something, say something else, or don’t say anything at all. Get up, walk around, go somewhere and think for a few minutes. There are much better ways to deal with frustration than to swear.


How To Be More Professional With Your Grooming

Learning how to be more professional at work is more than just how you act. It’s also how you look.

We’ve covered what you should wear, but another part of your appearance is how you groom yourself. I’m talking about your hair, facial hair, teeth, hands, and general cleanliness.

Just like with what you wear, you should know what the company standards are when it comes to hair.

For example, some companies I’ve worked for state that for men, you need to be either clean shaven or have a trimmed beard. This means that you can’t have a two-day growth, and you can’t have a long out-of-control beard growing. The reason is that it looks unprofessional.

Try to consider what is appropriate when deciding how to groom yourself. Grooming includes areas such as:

  • Facial hair. I think it should be clean shaven, as it looks cleaner and more professional.
  • Haircut. Long hair looks messy.
  • Fingernails. Keep them trimmed.
  • Deodorant and cologne. You don’t want to scare people away if you smell bad!
  • Skin care. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but try to take good care of your skin, as it looks cleaner and more professional
  • Clean clothes. Make sure your clothes are clean, ironed, and have no spills or stains on them.

All of these things may seem small, but once they add up, you’ll look more professional than without any of the changes.


Don’t Check Your Phone All the Time

This is one that I’m guilty of sometimes, but I’m trying to work on.

Try not to check your phone all the time at work. These days, with the increase in smartphone use, our phones have become an extension of us. Messages, emails, Facebook notifications can all serve to distract us from our work.

If you’re on your mobile at work, it looks like you’re not doing anything work related. It doesn’t look good to the rest of the team.

Avoid checking your phone is a good tip for how to be more professional.

Sure, you might need to check it occasionally for whatever reason. But checking it every 15 minutes during the day is probably too much. It looks like you’re not focusing on work.

Put your phone on vibrate mode and leave it on your desk. Don’t check it unless someone calls you, or during your lunch break. You shouldn’t need to browse Facebook or send messages throughout the day.


Well, there you have it. Five tips that will hopefully make you feel more professional in your job.

Coming next – five tips on unprofessional behaviours you should avoid in the workplace

Feel free to leave a comment or question below, or share any other tips you have on acting professional in the workplace!

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