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What Does it Mean to be Professional

Posted by Rob Riggins

What does professional meanWhat does professionalism mean in today’s cleared job market? What does it mean to you? And to the customer site where you may be working?

There are a number of aspects of professionalism, including conduct, appearance, behavior, dependability, communication, ethics, organization, and accountability. Your age and background likely determines what those qualities specifically mean to you, as well as the expectations you hold for others.

Business environments have most definitely changed, and are now more casual. Before, it was very important to look the part and attend the right school, whereas today that is somewhat less of a priority. However the defense and intel contracting business communities have changed more slowly than the rest of society, and remain somewhat more formal, but there is certainly more flexibility in hair, makeup, jewelry, and overall communication than in the past.

Denise Slaysman, Director of Talent Acquisition with Cambridge International Systems, emphasizes, “Demand for the right talent is so high now that we focus on the individual candidate’s competencies and niche skills that they bring to our customers and overlook the hair color or piercings, because they meet the job requirements. But we have to know where there’s room for creativity at a customer site and where there is not. If this person has good skills, we have to not let old appearance biases or judgment slip through without giving that person a fair opportunity.”

Communication styles also vary. Denise continues, “Everyone used to be referred to as Mr., Mrs. or Sir. We do still see that in some mid-career or senior level candidates.” Early-career professionals are typically less formal in all styles of communication, whether written or oral. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s just a change in societal norms.

Your challenge as a cleared job seeker is to be situationally aware and to adapt to the norms of the situation you find yourself in, just as you would possibly need to do in a different culture or country. If the individuals you interview with are very formal, you’ll probably be more successful in the interview if you adapt and behave to their norms.

First impressions count, whether it’s on the phone, electronically, or at a hiring event. “I am making a judgment call about putting you in front of a customer,” Denise shares. “If that judgement call is wrong, it reflects poorly on me as the recruiter and our company’s relationship with the customer.”

Do any of these aspects of professionalism hinder your job search

Behavior. “We’re looking for team members who are adaptable and trainable. We don’t like arrogance or over confidence because typically those candidates will not fit well. We need talented individuals who will work hard, be amenable and willing to learn, as well as open to feedback and constructive criticism,” Denise reveals. Often folks who exhibit these behaviors are insecure and over-correct. If you’re not sure if these traits apply to you, ask a trusted friend or confidante to give you a straight answer.

Think about how you treat recruiters, hiring managers, or anyone you have contact with at a potential employer, no matter where that interaction takes place. “If you’re rude to the front desk person, that gets back to us. That person is equal on our team. Don’t treat them differently than you do the hiring manager,” Denise emphasizes.

Communication. Be wary of oversharing and avoid topics that are not relevant to work and which are considered unprofessional topics for the workplace. This includes religion, politics, money, and sex. This stands true whether you’re at a job fair, interview, or in a professional social network such as LinkedIn or GitHub. Don’t like, share, or comment on those types of posts – it can do you no good.

For non-professional social networks, make sure you have everything locked down with your privacy settings. “I have known hiring managers that try to find you on Facebook. They will make a judgment about you, one of which is you’re not smart enough to lock it down. In highly cleared positions there is a low tolerance for inappropriate behavior, and people make all sorts of assumptions based on what they find,” Denise shares.

You must have a professional email address, typically a version of your name or profession, but it shouldn’t be a hobby or worse. “I can’t present [email protected] to managers because they immediately make assumptions,” Denise continues, “Your voicemail for your job search should be professional, just as you would have in an office setting. Your message shouldn’t be music, and you need to identify yourself in a clear, articulate way.”

Appearance. When in doubt about what’s appropriate, dress more formally. If you’re scheduled for an interview and you’re unsure what to wear, ask your recruiter what is appropriate.

“I’ve had folks show up for interviews in technical positions in jeans. If they asked ahead of time and situationally it made sense, it’s okay. Otherwise my assumption is, they didn’t know they were interviewing today. There are things you can do to put your best foot forward. Understand who you’re meeting with and plan for success,” Denise concludes.

But I want to be me

In the private sector it’s often felt that Sales people can get away with more than individuals in other departments. If you sell enough, companies often look the other way, whether that’s behavior, dress, or otherwise.

AJ Jain, Recruiting Manager with Red Arch Solutions explains, “Though I have overheard and witnessed bad language, tardiness and inappropriate attire in some, I’m unsure whether these candidates are shooting themselves in the foot in the same way they would be if they were in the commercial sector. Currently amongst the intel community and specifically Ft. Meade, there are far more openings than fully cleared candidates. So, although these traits are undesirable, that certainly does not make the people who possess them unemployable in the cleared space.”

So just as for a top-flight sales person, the impact of your behaviors or dress on your job search depends on how in-demand you are and the type of work you’re looking for. And we’re by no means suggesting you treat anyone poorly!

You may have many options available to you due to the combination of your clearance and your skills. If that’s you, what you then need to figure out is which employer and what working situation will make you the happiest and most successful, but it never hinders your job search to present your most polished, professional self to enhance and further the opportunities available to you.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 22, 2019 11:34 am

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