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Professionalism & etiquette


Appropriate to the occasion. This is what professionalism and etiquette both mean. 


Professionalism communicates respect. It is communicated in the way you present yourself, the way you carry yourself. how you interact with others using social courtesies and good manners.

Respect is communicated through verbals and non-verbals.  Even through social media we present ourselves as professionals. Or not.

The word "professional" has three facets:

Expertise | Ethic | Personal Brand


The term “professional” is a stamp of credibility. Credibility is your ethos.


Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 pillars of public speaking Andrew Dlugan on Aristotle's Elements of Persuasion


Credibility is the reason we listen to people, the reason we hire them, the reason we like to work with them. We expect them to hold competencies at a level most people don't. Professionals are the best in their field--the elite--the highest paid. 

There is no fast track to expertise. As the legendary basketball coach, Don Meyer, used to say, "Everyone has to pay his dues." The anything…put time into training and learning. Even child prodigies typically have early access to the piano, the ice rink, etc. and put in long hours of disciplined practice.

Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, says in a Leading at Google address on YouTube that to achieve expert status takes 10,000 hours of practice over 10 years. These numbers originated from an ongoing study at a university in Miami. Malcolm Gladwell also refers to this study in his book, The Outliers.


Sometimes the term "professional" is used to describe strong character or work ethic. Yet many a professional athlete or musician has behaved in an unprofessional manner. A person can achieve expert status and still fall short of the high behavioral standards expected of their influential role.

Still, in many cases, to refer to someone as a consummate professional is to say he or she is above-board, honest, and respectful. Your personal level of integrity is the truest reflection of your character and stems from your values. 


Know how older generations define "work ethic." Values can vary. If you want to make a good impression on people who have the power to help make your career aspirations come true, you must understand what their definitions of appropriate are, and not rely solely on your own.

Many of today’s employers bemoan what they consider to be a lack of strong work ethic among young people. Here are three paradoxes Tim Elmore, of Growing Leaders, says are characteristic of millenials: they are generous, yet self-absorbed; they are visionary, yet vacillating, and their orientation is high achieving, yet high maintenance.


These qualities, together with a high degree of distraction (continual need to check phones), have led some older workers to conclude that many young people have a low work ethic. Again, if you want to make a good impression in the work place be reliable. Keep your word. Realize that “on time” means early. Don’t try to change the rules. Focus on the work you’re doing for your employer while you’re on their clock.


Act like you own the company. The secret to making a great impression on company leaders is to have the same mindset as the company leaders. Focus on solutions, not problems. Pick up trash even if its not in your job description, to make spaces nicer for all. When you assume the mindset of leaders, you inevitably start making the leaders' jobs easier, which in turn makes you a highly valued employee. 

Personal Brand

Finally, to be considered a "professional" is simply to look and act the part. Long before you gain expertise status or prove the integrity of your work ethic, you can be viewed as a professional through impression management. 


Appearance and dress. Consider the clothes you wear and how you wear them...your grooming choices...your posture and non-verbals. 

When you are intentional about your personal brand, it can ensure that the first impression others have of you is the one you want them to have. First impressions are incredibly accurate, probably because in the earliest days of survival, we had to quickly determine if new people we encountered were friends or foes.

Mila Grigg, local owner of MODA Image & Brand Consulting, says your clothes, your jewelry, your purse, your shoes, your facial hair, your tie, your socks, and your posture are all talking. Are they saying what you want them to?


Want more clout? Stand up straight (US News)

Personal branding and impression management can seem shallow and manipulative. Character is the real you, not the outer packaging. But when a stranger meets you for the first time, they make assumptions about you based on what is most quickly evident to them.


Business Professional means a suit, conservative grooming and accessories, and modest hemlines and necklines. Professional clothing need not be expensive, but it should fit you well and be in style.


Business Casual means dress slacks/skirts paired with collared shirts (men) or workplace appropriate blouses (women). It may or may not include jeans depending on the industry or company. Jackets, ties, pocket squares are always a nice touch, but may not be necessary for business casual.


Some companies have strict expectations on things like shoes and sleeveless blouses. Respect company dress policies and dress for the job you want. When you dress and groom yourself in a way that makes you feel confident, that confidence shows.


Interesting note: shoes get noticed! So buy the best, most stylish shoes you can afford. 

Reputation. You are building your good name through habits, choices, and behaviors of excellence. The Bible says even a child is known by his reputation (Proverbs 20:11). 


The story of Ruth is a powerful testament to reputation. When Boaz saw her working in the field, he said, “Who is that woman?” Someone answered, “Ruth. Naomi’s daughter-in-law.” He’d heard of her. He’d heard of her loyalty and dedication. And as a result of her good name, he told his workers to treat her kindly. It led to her becoming his wife.


Our reputation can precede us, live beyond us, and linger long after we are gone. So it pays to be intentional about it.

Social Media. Since social media is often how we form our first impressions of others in today's work world, you should present yourself professionally through your each of your social media channels. Use quality photographs, correct grammar, and post items that add value, not things you would be ashamed for your grandmother or a potential employer to see.

Recruiters will search out your LinkedIn profile and your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook contributions. If it’s your habit to be crass, rude, risqué, or critical of products, services, companies, or others’ opinions, none of this will bode well for you in the job search. It's a better career strategy to be classy and professional in every post, sharing positive, insightful information that benefits others.



Once again, both professionalism and etiquette mean “appropriate to the occasion.” If ever in doubt about proper rules of etiquette, just ask yourself if your behavior communicates respect.


Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington, writes:

“Etiquette used to mean ‘keep off the grass.’ When Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered that the aristocrats were trampling through his gardens, he put up signs, or étiquets, to warn them off….

Gradually, the meaning of etiquette was expanded to include the ticket to court functions that listed the rules of where to stand and what to do. Today, I tell my students that good etiquette is, indeed, your ‘ticket.’”


If you don’t have a good basic understanding of etiquette in the areas listed below (or others, this list is not exhaustive), you owe it to yourself to do some additional research.

Emily Post website

The Etiquette Guy, Jay Remer website

The Art of Manliness, has some great style & grooming tips



Seven tips for dining:

  1. BMW: bread, meal, water. Your bread plate is to the left of your meal; your water glass to the right.

  2. Pass food counter-clockwise (to the right).

  3. Pass the salt and pepper together. (They are married.)

  4. Scoop soup to the back of the bowl.

  5. Place your napkin in your chair when you’re coming back, and to the left of your plate when you’re finished.

  6. Set fork and knife in the 10-4 position when done. (Cross them when resting.)

  7. Keep all personal items (purses, phones, notebooks, elbows) off the table.


Top 10 dinner etiquette rules (Own the Dollar)




Your clothing choices communicate respect, for both yourself and others. Dress appropriately for church, funerals, weddings, black-tie events, etc. If an invitation says “Business Professional” wear a suit and tie.




This is a request for a response whether you’re attending or not. Let planners know how to plan.


Social Introductions


Introduce the lower ranking to the higher ranking. Shake hands web to web, solid but not crushing.




In meetings, put your phone away. It’s rude for you to check it while someone else is talking.


If you’re on your phone while walking down a hallway or sidewalk and you pass someone, acknowledge them in some way. Lift a hand or your head, or smile at the very least.


Never be on your phone in a restroom where others are present.



It’s important to be responsive to others’ emails, to acknowledge them.


Click here for more on email tips.



Don’t hide behind texts or Facebook in dating relationships. Don’t break up that way. Have the courage to have those conversations face-to-face. Treat others the way you want to be treated.



Label your food in the pantry and fridge. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. Don’t drive others’ crazy with the movies you watch, the friends you invite over, your smelly pet whose litter box you infrequently change, or the music you listen to.

Work Cubicles


Respect those around you by not having loud personal conversations where they can hear. Keep your area clean and professional.



Many offices have dress codes, smoking policies, personal cell phone and computer use policies, and in-company dating policies. Don’t make someone in HR have to have an awkward conversation with you.


Formal Occasions


Respect the requested attire. RSVP. Show up on time. And don’t be the last to leave.


Sporting Events


Don’t be obnoxiously loud, offensive, or spill your soda or beer on the people around you. Don’t block their view.


Movie Theaters 


Stop checking your phone during the movie!




Know what appropriate tipping expectations are, and tip accordingly. In the U.S., people who provide ongoing customer service (hair stylist, local barista, etc.) depend on tips to supplement their regular pay.


Tipping expectations in other countries may differ., so research tipping norms before you travel.

Additional job search skills Content

Career Planning

Portfolios & Performance Evaluations


Cover Letters & References


Pitches | Networking | Social Media

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