Becoming a Professional
Four vital concepts for those new to their jobs or careers or striving for promotion
During my senior year of high school, a local businessman visited to talk to us about job interviews and the professional workplace. He advised dressing appropriately and, “for the job you want; not the job you have.”
He also discussed office etiquette, including treating everyone in the office — from the CEO to the cleaning crew — with respect and dignity, being a team player and avoiding gossip.
While I’ve sometimes failed at that last one on the list (it’s challenging to completely avoid office gossip), I’ve adhered to the advice.
If you are new to the workforce or your position (meaning you are a recent graduate or have been in your profession or job for one to three years), this column is for you. For those who are mid-career or veterans in their field, consider this a refresher.
Dress to Impress
Wearing appropriate attire doesn’t stop after the interview.
With so many business casual or casual dress codes however, it can sometimes be difficult to discern how to dress for work. Ask about the company dress code. Emulate the attire of the most successful people in your company. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, especially if you are vying for a promotion.
Show up every single day dressed to impress and dressed for success. Even if you work in a casual office where everyone from the top down wears jeans and T-shirts, wear the best, most stylish version of that “uniform” within your budget. This principle shows respect for yourself, the job and the company. It’s also a great confidence booster.
There are no small jobs
Years ago I served as the press secretary and speechwriter for a governor’s wife. Often we’d enter through the service doors and kitchens of event venues. If she had visited even once before, she would remember the names of everyone she encountered, as well as details about their families. It was uncanny and impressive. Genuine hellos, hugs and inquiries were dished up with warmth and ease to executives, security personnel, celebrities, wait staff, doctors, maintenance workers, receptionists and former presidents. It was the same when she’d stop by our offices at the Capitol.
If decency doesn’t sell you on the concept, remember this tidbit that every savvy businessperson knows: Receptionists are the gatekeepers and can make your life better or worse — your choice.
There’s no ‘I’ in Team
From projects and parties to contests and team-building exercises, there are countless opportunities to illustrate you are a team player. But you get your work done well and on time, right? So why should you have to go to the conference room for the latest gathering ‘round the sheet cake or participate in the quarterly contest?
Because the CEO of your company thinks it’s important.
If you aren’t present — and you don’t have a legitimate reason — someone will take note of it. As odd as it might sound, even the office social events can impact your movement and growth in the company. Participation shows you are invested in the company culture.
Gossip Girl (and Boy)
There is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that we should all have tacked to our computer monitors: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Gossip is intriguing and also, sometimes a person truly just needs to vent. There is a fine line, however, between venting and creating a toxic atmosphere. Assume that it will get back to the other person. Assume that your office walls are very thin and everything you say can be overheard.
The best rule to follow is one that I learned in my first newspaper job: Don’t say or write in an email (or text) anything you wouldn’t want splattered on the front page of the daily paper. (Replace paper with news website or Twitter, if that makes it sounds less antiqued.)
Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to