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Professionalism: The Essence of a Successful Career

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Education and experience alone do not make a professional. You are a professional when you project a number of precise qualities which have been well developed and well integrated so that together they constitute a personal state of mind. It is a state of mind which allows your abilities, expertise, and strength of character to be on full display without constituting a threat or a source of discomfort to another. The qualities of professionalism are entirely acquired and can always be improved: Empathy, confidence, organized action, and personal style. Two of them are deeply internal to the professional person - empathy and confidence - while two are more externally perceptible - organized action and personal style.

Empathy: The core quality of professionalism and most deeply a part of our personal being is empathy.

It is the imaginative projection of your own consciousness into another person's mind - in career terms, into a company and its needs. As such it is the most profound form of listening. Etymologically it means to "feel with" another person. Not to feel sorry for another (sympathy), but to profoundly feel and understand the other person's point of view, convictions, philosophy, etc. To listen this intently requires great effort and a good deal of practice. It requires setting aside your own personal pride to the point where you can be truly sensitive to another person and understand (not necessarily agree with) his or her viewpoint. True respect for others requires a perception of their individuality, and understanding the ways in which each of us is different from all others. This is undoubtedly difficult, for it is easier to categorize others and deal with their similarities. We find it even more difficult to deal with the differences in group personalities; and perhaps we Americans have an unusual difficulty with this. Our reluctance to perceive cultural differences is the most important source of the "Yanke Go Home" epithet.

When a person is looking for a job, the standard recitation of background information is, by implication, an insult - as if to say, the employer's company closely resembles other companies which formerly employed you. It is accepted because this is the standard job-hunt system. But every company (just like every town, section of the country, culture) has its own "personality," goals, hopes, aspirations, and language. It is important to learn about them and adjust to them. We must identify what really is true about the organization, as opposed to what we hope or expect is true.

Confidence: A professional person displays an open-minded willingness to hear the thoughts of others and to project his or her own without being threatening. It includes a venturesome attitude, visible self-respect, and a carefully courteous form of tenacity.

We respond most strongly, perhaps quite unconsciously, to empathy - a sincere interest by others in us. But real empathy requires strong confidence, which is more readily perceived by others. Employers hire and promote confident people. We usually can appear confident only when our experience supports our application for a given job along the same line. If we can be confident about our ability to be successful in a given position, even if we have no direct previous experience in that kind of responsibility, we can be serious contenders, and we will be taken seriously.

Organized Action: Consistent marks of professional people are that their goals are clear, they are organized in their approach, precise in their methods, and they never fail to follow through on an activity once it has been initiated. Professional "self-marketers" will, in similar fashion, identify their precise goals, organize their approach to the companies involved, hone interview techniques and methods, and be carefully courteous in follow-up procedures. A professional will not play (or at least will not depend upon) the numbers game of responding to ads, disseminating resumes, and registering with agencies.

3. Voice: Properly modulated, regulated and inflected, our voices convey many unspoken messages. It is important to speak naturally, unaffectedly and comfortably.

Nervousness can lead us to speak too rapidly, and at too high a pitch. Or, aware of the problem, we might slow down and speak too ponderously. Again, enlist the help of someone and/or use a tape recorder for self-critique and improvement. Proper rehearsal helps us to relax and to be ourselves.

Observing and using these concepts out of a motivation of respect for and courtesy toward others allows for the development of the most professional form of human rapport. Their practice prepares us, both physically and mentally, for the best possible self-projection in an interview, and they enable other people to be at their most receptive.

These concepts are the direct antithesis to some rather awful business philosophies which some people seem to admire. There are those who seem to believe that the way to business success is to intimidate others. Books have been written on this subject. A fairly recent thesis appears to be that one must learn to swim with the sharks and become adept at their methods. It is, of course, true that we have the right to defend ourselves if someone attacks us. It is a good idea to understand the methods of the "sharks" so as to effectively cope with them. But it must be remembered that we only win a few ''battles" with such means. The "war" is won only when a significant number of people want us to win, or are at least willing that we do so. We can elicit this kind of support only with a professional approach which includes empathy and sincere human respect and concern. Professionalism always wins.
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