March 14, 2013

By Tyler Mercer —

As college students, we should each be striving to meet a few of the same goals. First, we are all here at the University of Louisville in order to obtain a degree in the field of study of our choice. This degree will provide us with an education tailored to fit our specific needs. A nursing major will learn about anatomy and medicine while a Spanish major will learn about the extensive vocabulary used by Spanish speakers and the background of many Spanish speaking cultures. This is information that one desperately needs in order to first get a job and then to survive and thrive in the field. Without an education we would be completely in the dark.

Next, each of us is trying to obtain that degree while simultaneously attempting to gain experience in the field we aspire to become a part of. We seek out internships and part-time jobs that will give us valuable knowledge and experience within our field so that we learn how to work. The hands-on experience you get from an internship or job is supplementary to the degree we’ve paid a lot of money for.

We look to these opportunities in order to develop connections that will give us that extra edge for our resumes. A good internship will give you a stepping stone in the field and can teach you invaluable networking skills. These trade and networking skills are important and I would be foolish to discourage either, but a greater problem is lying silently underneath both.

Finally, the university encourages us to both think critically and to put our “ideas to action.” Critical and analytical thinking is very important in today’s world that is oversaturated in sarcasm and satire, and is full of hidden agendas. Critical thinking skills could provide us with skills needed to go above and beyond in the classroom, the workplace and even in our personal lives.

However, it seems that one very valuable and extremely important lesson might be missing. Maybe I have simply overlooked it, but in my experience it seems that few people are offering lessons in professionalism. A sad fact because learning how to act professionally and maturely is a lesson each student, and each future leader of this country and world, should be learning.

Lack of professionalism says a few things in particular. First, it tells those working with you that either you aren’t qualified for the position you hold or that you simply aren’t mature enough to have ever been put into that position. In the latter case, it seems that maybe someone acting unprofessionally isn’t to blame. If, truly, you lack the maturity for the job, whoever hired you is to blame and should be punished for your lack of professionalism and workplace ethics.

On television we see dramas that take place in law offices, police departments and classrooms where professionalism is either barely hanging on or absent entirely. These shows, and movies alike, are encouraging the lack of professionalism that already exists and are training the upcoming generation of professionals and those to come after.

After several years of working in various customer service jobs, varying from a restaurant to healthcare, I’ve had the great opportunity to see many people of varying rank work day-to-day. I’ve seen people in managing positions who should have known what it means to act professionally simply ignore what they should have learned from years on the job and I’ve seen people who are at the bottom of the totem pole act with ethical standards and a professional attitude that truly amazes me.

Knowing that, I’ve come to believe that the ability to act professionally doesn’t necessarily come with time or experience. It is a lesson that one either knows by the time they get to college or they need to learn it before they leave.

I feel as though it should go without saying, but I’ve realized it doesn’t, that in order to act professionally, you need to adhere to a few personal policies. The first of which is simply to treat people the way you want to be treated. You should really be doing this anyway with every aspect of your life, but people slip and that’s okay. If everyone treated everyone else correctly, we wouldn’t have half of the problems we have today.

Next is a lesson my own mom repeats to me constantly and it’s something I take to heart. When making a decision you should ask yourself three vital questions: Is it legal? Is it moral? Is it ethical? If you find yourself in a circumstance where professionalism is needed, ask yourself those questions before acting or responding. If you answer no to any, rethink your plan of action.

Finally, my final factor to acting professionally is to question whether or not you would say or do something in front of a panel of interviewers. Imagine that you’ve just been told you have an interview for your dream job. We’re talking corner office with floor to ceiling windows, a desk that you could rent out for Derby housing and some really neat green plants that say, “Life is fun.” If you wouldn’t do something in front of them, for fear that you won’t get the job, then don’t do it anywhere else either.

It’s really as simple as that. So, where is professionalism today? I’m beginning to think it’s on its way out the door if we don’t both encourage today’s students to learn how to act professionally and introduce professional behavior to students before and during the college process. The ability to act and think professionally has gone by the wayside, but it is important that we bring it back to the center of attention and begin stressing its importance once again.

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Photo: courtesy of leadingwithtrust.com 

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