How To Be Professional at Work in 20 Steps (Plus 5 Qualities)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 2021

People who act professionally at work often have more opportunities for advancement throughout their careers. They may also have more freedom to complete their work, increase their earning potential and have better job security than their peers. If you're looking for opportunities to take on a senior-level or leadership position within your company, then you might be interested in learning how to appear more professional in the workplace. In this article, we provide 20 steps you can take to improve your professional appearance and discuss five of the most important qualities that can help you advance in your career.

Related: What Is Professionalism? Traits and Tips

20 steps on how to be professional at work

Acting professional in the workplace involves adhering to the rules of your organisation, upholding your responsibilities and treating others with respect. Learning how to be professional at work by improving your professional appearance is a great way to impress your colleagues and build more meaningful relationships with them. Here are 20 steps you can take to show your colleagues you're a professional in the workplace:

1. Arrive on time

Being punctual to work, meetings and other professional obligations can show your colleagues you're dependable and organised. It also shows that you value their time and you're committed to your job. This can help you improve your work relationships and the way your supervisors perceive you.

2. Manage your time

Managing your time goes beyond being punctual. If you have a deadline for a project, or if you agree to send a letter by a certain time, it's important that you complete the task by then. Learning time-management skills is an effective way to not only be more professional but to help you reduce stress from work.

3. Hold yourself accountable

Setting parameters in place to hold yourself accountable can help you meet important deadlines and produce quality work. Set short-term and long-term goals to help you evaluate and track your progress. Use a scheduling app or set reminders on your phone to ensure you check-in with yourself regularly. This can show your team members that you're dependable and increase the trust your supervisors have in you.

4. Improve communication

Communicating is key for any professional. Work on your ability to communicate in person, over the phone, through email and over chat messages. Maintain a professional tone whenever you're interacting with a colleague, regardless of your relationship with them. Doing so can help you establish your reputation as a professional, develop work relationships and ensure you're exchanging information effectively.

Read more: 15 Ways on How To Communicate Effectively at the Workplace

5. Come prepared

Preparation is another key aspect of professionalism. When you arrive at a meeting, try to have the necessary materials and equipment. Doing so shows that you took the time to prepare and that you care about the outcome of the meeting. Being prepared can also make it easier for you to participate in the meeting and make valuable contributions.

6. Project confidence

Acting with self-assurance can also make you appear more professional. Set aside time for self-care and surround yourself with positive people to improve your self-image. You can also take courses on public speaking to learn different confidence-boosting techniques. Projecting outward confidence in the workplace can help people find you more open and trustworthy.

7. Keep a positive attitude

Most offices appreciate a positive attitude. Professionals who can maintain a good attitude can have a positive impact on those around them. If you keep this positive attitude even when times are challenging, your coworkers may start to view you as a leader.

8. Maintain ethics

It's important for professionals to maintain ethical standards. Companies often have regulations and guidelines to keep their workplace positive. A business professional maintains their ethics even when it's challenging.

Related: Top 20 Qualities of a Good Employee You Should Know

9. Seek feedback

Asking your supervisors and colleagues for regular feedback can help you improve your skill set and the quality of your work over time. It can also show your team members that you're open to receiving constructive criticism. This can make it easier for other people to approach you to have honest conversations and give you the opportunity to learn from your colleagues.

10. Actively listen

Actively listening to your colleagues and supervisors is a sign of courtesy and respect. Make eye contact, smile and listen to what they're saying carefully. When you respond, try to rephrase their key talking points to make them feel heard. This can help you ensure you understand the critical information, improve your ability to collaborate and help you build stronger connections with your team members.

Read more: What Is Active Listening? With Tips for Improvement

11. Take on leadership responsibilities

Professionals also seek leadership opportunities. If an opportunity arises for you to take on more responsibility, the professional thing to do is accept rather than leave the work to someone else. Doing so can garner more respect around the office and perhaps even help you advance in your career.

Read more: How To Improve Leadership Skills: Guideline and Tips

12. Avoid office gossip

Gossip is the practice of discussing other people, like coworkers. It often involves a casual, non-work-related conversation with details that may not be true. Keep work conversations professional and appropriate at all times, as gossip can harm productivity for the business and the employee being talked about.

13. Continue your education

Invest in your professional development by looking for opportunities to improve your skill set and increase your knowledge. You can enrol in online courses, earn relevant certificates or join industry-related networking groups. This can help you become a significant asset to the company you work for and advance in your career.

14. Share your knowledge

A professional works to gather new knowledge and share it with others. If someone in your office doesn't know something that you do, take the time to explain it to them. Freely passing around knowledge can improve the business, and your coworkers may appreciate the help.

15. Work on your body language

Being conscious of your body language and nonverbal cues can improve your communication and make you seem more approachable. Maintain an upright posture, whether you're sitting or standing, to exude confidence. Other examples of professional body language include making eye contact, having a firm handshake and nodding to acknowledge when others are speaking to you.

16. Pay attention to your company's dress code

Understanding your company's dress code can help you ensure you choose professional outfits. Pay attention to the types of clothing your colleagues wear to determine how formal your attire needs to be. You can ask your colleagues what their favourite clothing stores to shop at are or look for outfit inspiration online to help you create a polished look for the workplace.

17. Modify your online persona

Your online persona also impacts whether others view you as a professional. There are a few simple ways to appear more professional online. For instance, consider going through your social media accounts and either making them private or only posting content that is suitable for the workplace. After that, make sure your email address has a professional signature at the bottom. Finally, if you have a website, be sure it's professional. Your website, your emails and social media are a reflection of you, so be sure they look professional at all times.

18. Promote your accomplishments with humility

While it's good to be proud of your workplace accomplishments, you want to share them with your colleagues in a manner that's professional and humble. If you have a personal website, list your achievements there. You could also share them on social media with a brief description of the accomplishment. Be mindful of how you discuss the achievement, so you appear proud without being boastful.

19. Be willing to take some risks

Risks are inherent when you have a job. Even if they're small, it's important to take thoughtful risks to advance in your career. Professionals can analyse the risk and decide when to proceed. Hone your critical thinking skills to help take appropriate risks throughout your career.

20. Review company policies and rules

Make sure you review the company policies and rules when you begin a new job. If you have any questions, reach out to a human resources representative or your supervisor. This can help you ensure you fully understand what type of conduct your employer expects from you, so you can adhere to the rules and maintain a positive image.

What are the 5 most important qualities of a professional?

There are five additional qualities that employers often look for in professional job candidates. These qualities include:

  1. Ability to learn: Be open to taking on new projects and learning new skills throughout your career.

  2. Conscientiousness: Show empathy toward your colleagues and look for opportunities to help when you can.

  3. Adaptability: Be flexible during challenges and look for ways you can adapt to solve problems more effectively.

  4. Interpersonal skills: Hone your communication skills and take the time to get to know your colleagues, so you can develop strong relationships with them.

  5. Integrity: Be honest and make sure your actions reflect your core values. Strive to produce quality work you're proud of.