Are you ready to become a professional?

5 Mistakes That Can Sink Your Image at Work

by Jill Tyndale


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Congratulations, grads! The school year has come to an end and you're ready to hit the job market. But are you ready to act like a professional?

Every year, York College of Pennsylvania surveys employers about what constitutes professionalism in the workplace. The survey, which is conducted by the college's Center for Professional Excellence, queried over 600 HR professionals, managers and supervisors and discovered that employers often find younger employees' professional skills lacking.

One-third of HR professionals reported that new employees were less professional in their first year on the job than new employees were five years ago, and 21 percent of managers felt the same way.

So what makes a professional?

Over the years, the survey has found the qualities associated with professionalism have remained fairly similar. For the past three years, the number one ability that employers identified with professionalism was interpersonal skills, which included qualities such as courteousness, showing respect and appropriate behavior. Time management, work ethic, appearance and communication skills were other qualities considered important for a professional.

The study suggests that younger workers may not have the same ideas about professionalism as their bosses, as managers were most likely to list younger employees as a group that lacked professionalism.

"Current business leaders and HR professionals do not believe that the definition of professionalism should change over time," said survey researcher David Polk in a press release. "Current business leaders and HR professionals say young employees need to learn to conform to 'current standards' of professionalism rather than the standards be modified in response to larger society changes."

5 behaviors that make your boss cringe

It doesn't take a business degree to be professional at the office. If you want to fit into the work world, avoid these five behaviors that employers regularly ranked on their list of unprofessional qualities:

1. Not dressing for the job

Workplaces are becoming less formal, but the majority of employers surveyed still had a dress code (over 75 percent). In addition to guidelines for clothing in nearly all corporations with a dress code, facial piercings and tattoos are also included in dress codes in a substantial minority of companies. Want to know what you can get away with? Only about five percent of companies prohibited covered tattoos (and really, who wants to work there?).

Additionally, HR professionals identified inappropriate attire as the most common mistake job applicants make, with almost 40 percent committing this deadly sin.

2. Poor work ethic

In a market where it can be tough to land a job, just showing up doesn't seem like a lot to ask. But poor attendance was the number one reason HR professionals gave for firing employees. Poor attendance was also among the most common problems managers identified in new employees, with 22 percent saying employees arrive late, leave early or generally miss work.

3. Sense of entitlement

Over half of employers think young people feel more entitled than they used to be, although this number has gone down from over 60 percent in 2009.

What makes your boss think you feel entitled? Rookie mistakes like asking for a raise before you've earned it or turning up your nose at office tasks such as filing or organizing. It's fine to be on the lookout for advancement opportunities or increased responsibility, but asking for it before you've demonstrated you can handle your current role could rub your boss the wrong way.

4. IT abuses

Misuse of IT is on the rise, according to HR professionals, with 52 percent saying it has increased over the past five years. The biggest abuses? Employees who can't stay away from Twitter or Facebook (83 percent identified this as a common problem), text messaging at inappropriate times (82 percent), inappropriate use of the Internet (78 percent), and too many personal calls (65 percent).

Cubicles or open office concepts can make keeping your personal life private a challenge. If you need to make a personal call or check an important email, step outside or duck into an empty conference room. No one needs to hear about your latest fight with your spouse or the details of your child's ear infection.

5. Lack of urgency

Managers identified lack of urgency as the most frequent problem they saw in new employees. One-third of managers reported that new employees didn't understand the urgency motivating deadlines. Over 20 percent of managers also said lack of focus had increased over the past five years.

How does your boss identify lack of focus? Wasting time online seemed to be the biggest culprit, with 27 percent citing that as a cause. Personal or financial problems were second, with 21 percent of managers considering that a distraction, and less ownership of one's work was cited by 19 percent. If you're having trouble prioritizing your work or meeting deadlines, schedule a get-together with your boss to discuss your workload and develop a plan to help you tackle top-priority items in a timely manner.

Adjusting to the working world can take some time, but starting off with a professional image can go a long way toward getting your boss in your corner and helping you thrive.

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