The Art of Professionalism

Dress code

I had a meeting today so I opted for some fancier duds. You don’t have to spend a fortune to dress like a pro! Jacket and top: Banana Republic factory store; Pants: Gap factory store; Shoes: Nine West at TJMaxx.

What is professionalism? Well, let’s start with the definition of a professional. A professional is someone who is an expert at his or her work. So, with that in mind, what is professionalism and how do you measure it? How do you know if your appearance is perceived as professional or unprofessional?

The concept of professionalism has been on my mind a lot lately. Thinking of various observations of unprofessionalism and my own personal faux pas over the years, I wondered how one learns the art of professionalism? Thankfully, I have had many great mentors since joining the professional workforce to show me the ropes… Bosses that have been brutally honest with me while at the same time forgiving me for my missteps. I am so thankful they guided me then, and I am thankful of the new mentors who guide me now as I navigate issues more complex than ‘what shoes are appropriate for the workplace.’

On the topic of workplace dress code, something I revisit pretty regularly as an HR professional: What is appropriate and what is inappropriate attire for the workplace? For those with more relaxed workplace dress codes, the answer can be complex. When anything goes, it can be hard to determine what to wear and what not to wear.

My workplace has a very casual dress code. We are, after all, in the recreation business. I can wear jeans and flip flops every day in the summer if I want to and nobody will look at me funny. It’s completely acceptable. With that said, would I wear jeans and flip flops every day? The answer is probably not, and I’ll tell you why: I want to be perceived as a professional. I don’t need validation from anyone, as I am fully aware of my capabilities and knowledge. But I want to be seen as creditable by staff, colleagues, bosses, and the general public who I may encounter at any time, and I think appearance plays a big role in how I am perceived by others.  And, perception is reality, right!?

So here they are… My thoughts on appropriate workplace attire:

  • If a serious issue comes up, I want those I am interacting with to have confidence in my response. I think that looking put together goes a long way in this scenario and will gain me creditability. But, if I look like I just rolled out of bed after an all night rager… It might leave some to question my experience or judgment, and think I am not qualified to make decisions of authority.
  • Approachability is key. I am a firm believer in being approachable and whether one is perceived as approachable hinges largely on appearance. What’s the point in having an open door policy if I am unapproachable? Attitude is a huge factor. Appearance is too, particularly to complete strangers.  This could apply to being underdressed as well as overdressed!
  • Eye contact engages people. I try to remove sunglasses when speaking to others, and although I don’t wear hats to work… if I did I would make sure my eyes are clearly visible. I still think hats should come off inside or at least during meetings, even for the ladies!
  • Shorts and skirts should pass the fingertip test. Call me old fashioned, I don’t care! I swear by this rule. Furthermore, leggings are not pants. (Warning: DON’T get me started on pajamas in public). While lounging on the weekend, I think leggings are totally appropriate. I wear them myself! But, at work, I do not think that leggings have a place unless they are worn under a dress or skirt. Those miniskirts or cute tee-shirt dresses that don’t pass the fingertip test can be worn with leggings underneath. Perfect! My rule… if your top doesn’t cover your butt, leggings are not appropriate.
  • I like to be prepared for whatever is coming my way. I tend to dress a little more business casual, except for the occasional dress-down day. I do wear jeans to work but I usually dress them up with a nice top, cardigan, and flats, or something along those lines. When I am getting ready in the morning, I check my work calendar and the weather, so if I have an important meeting or event, I can skip the jeans and tees and go for something a little dressier. I also keep extra sensible shoes in my office. I recognize that I may need more appropriate footwear to help assist guests and staff during a crisis, so I have a Plan B in place to permit trekking up or down the mountain if needed.

Dress code is just the tip of the professionalism iceberg, so this post will be a two-parter. Stay tuned for more professionalism tips for YPs in my next post!

2 Responses to “The Art of Professionalism”

  1. Claire DunleavyMay 5, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Outstanding article! As an HR professional I couldn’t agree more! Well done.

    • BethMay 7, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

      Thank you, Claire! I appreciate your feedback.

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