Master 5 Characteristics of Professionalism

Let’s start with a qualifier:  I believe a majority of PR graduates are meeting entry-level professional standards required in business today.  Unfortunately, not all grads meet those expectations.

A new survey of 520 human resources professionals and business leaders conducted for the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania confirmed that nearly 60% of the hiring decision for new college grads is based on an assessment of the applicant’s professionalism. 

Here are the five characteristics you’ll need to possess if you want to impress these hiring managers:

  • Personal interaction skills, including courtesy and respect.
  • The skills to communicate, and listen.
  • A great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is completed.
  • Professional appearance.
  • Self-confidence and awareness.

David Polk, professional of behavioral science at York College and president of the Polk-Lepson Research Group, which conducted the study, noted that survey respondents gave low marks to recent grads.  A third of the respondents believed that less than 50% of all new grads exhibit professionalism in the workplace.

Slightly more than half felt the level of professionalism had stayed the same over the past five years, but a surprising 33% felt professionalism had decreased.  The standard complaints were cited–entitlement, values, work ethic and culture of Millennials. 

While some can argue with the survey results–especially the usual finger pointing at Gen Y shortcomings, the key take away is the opportunity to position yourself in the upper quartile of grads by understanding and mastering the five characteristics of professionalism.  As the survey notes, nearly 90% of respondents said that professionalism is related to the person not the position.  All the more reason to differentiate yourself from the pack. 

The professionalism study is getting considerable media attention, including a piece on National Public Radio’s popular Markeplace program.  You can hear the report and read some thoughtful listener comments on the NPR website

3 thoughts on “Master 5 Characteristics of Professionalism

  1. I like what you did here – cited the standard complaints, but didn’t dwell on them. Moving on when talking about this subject and millenials? It’s kind of unheard of. I appreciated that…a lot.

    Way to stand out of the pack yourself. Thanks for the advice, as always.

  2. Ron, a few comments:

    * Personal interaction skills, including courtesy and respect.
    [Baby boomers really perforated courtesy and manners as ‘artificial’, reaching the nadir with EST from Werner Erhard – being rude was being real… Gen X and Y are apt to call people by first name upon introduction, unless the person they’re greeting is visibly elderly.]

    * The skills to communicate, and listen.
    [Listening skills are crucial, and too many of us, regardless of generation, lack them.]

    * A great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is completed.
    [We’re on firm footing as long as we don’t expect Gens X and Y to stay at the office 12 hours straight to get the work done – if the deadline is 8 a.m. Monday, who cares if we’re in the office Thursday afternoon or Friday? This is a huge issue with Boomer managers and younger contributors.]

    * Professional appearance.
    [this is mounting a comeback, with many formerly casual offices adopting more stringent standards. Again, this can be a deal-breaker for Gen X or Y – if they get the work done right and on time, why is attire an issue? Facial hair, piercings, tattoos — is conformity crucial? Defining this aspect clearly is a challenge.]

    * Self-confidence and awareness.
    [Not a big problem with my students – though as with most people, large groups are an issue for discussions…]

    The question of what emerging professionalism is and where it will be is difficult — certainly many of us would be considered less than professional by our parents’ generation — sloppily dressed, too willing to share our perspectives, not deferential enough. This is a moving target!

    However, the reality is that the five standards cited are in place today. Indeed, young pros should adopt them and practice their tenets.

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