I’ve been learning in my own career (I’m an author, you can read more about that here) that people will give you a lot of slack and help you out even when you are a complete newbie in your field IF you act professionally. People want to help others and pass on their wisdom, but there’s plenty of potentials out there in the world who need advice and guidance so you have to stand as a person people actually want to work with to get that mentor.
A professional looks professional. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’ve been surprised by how many internships and short term jobs I’ve gotten (because I’ve only been applying to short term work to pay the bills while I build my author career) and just looking like you understand you are at work makes a huge difference. You don’t necessarily have to wear a full suit for every job out there, but at least wearing cardigans and trousers elevates my pretty tees enough that I look like I’m at work even though I feel comfy and confident in my clothes. A minimum requirement is always to follow your job’s dress code if you aren’t sure how much you need to dress up. If you don’t have a dress code, or you are self employed or work at home, then just make sure at a minimum you don’t wear pajamas on the job!
Walking with confidence through your building will help you get noticed even as a brand new worker. Be polite and well-spoken and that might be all you need in most jobs to be considered for a raise beyond an entry level job or internship. Putting on a calm face even when you are freaking out is a great way to upgrade your calm face too.
As a professional, you will be counted on to find a way to get the job done. Responding to people promptly and following through on promises in a timely manner is also important, and if you are self employed it means you’ll be more likely to get other professionals in the field to work with you again. This is also super important if you work in a creative job as being reliable can be the best way to stand out in an industry flooded with creatives who fall a little short on the business side of their work and lead to a reputation that all workers in their industry are doomed to be starving artists- you don’t have to starve, but the best way to avoid that and still do the job you love is to get your act together.
Professionals need to be good at what they do, whether you put outfits on the runway or record music. Even if you start out in your career as merely mediocre, if it’s something you are serious about doing as your career that pays the bills you have to at least continually strive to improve and grow as an individual. Take courses online or live classes, go to networking events and workshops, do what you need to do to become better at your job.
Everyone knows professionals such as doctors, lawyers and public accountants must adhere to a strict code of ethics. Working in a creative job doesn’t let you off the hook, though. You need to keep track of copyright and make sure you know the difference between being inspired by other’s work verses stealing it. Additionally, if you are working with freelancers to do some of your job- in my case commissioning covers or a narration of a book- the right thing to do is to pay anyone creating a product you are going to use the going rate for said product. Obviously there will be some variation in how much you pay based on their experience, the difficulty of the task and time involved in making it, and other factors, but just as you value your work and want to be paid for it the right thing to do is to actually fairly pay people working for you.
A professional should keep pushing forward. Whether your specialty cake designs aren’t selling at a time when all the other bakeries in town are selling them like mad or your movie is a flop you need to dig in and figure out what went wrong, how to change it in the future, implement those changes on your next project, and keep moving forward. It’s definitely not very professional to give up at every little road block that comes along, and that’s a sure sign you probably will eventually give up on your dream job and settle for an office job you hate if you don’t have the gumption to push forward when things get hard- if it was easy, everyone would do what you are doing instead of traditional office jobs.
Correspond like a Boss
I think any industry involves communicating with other people, but it’s super important when it comes to a professional job. This might mean you have to answer dreaded phone calls, or even write snail mail, as well as keeping on top of email. Make sure when you are directly talking with someone for your job that you don’t ramble, use a bunch of emojis, or use a lot of jokes or cursing until you know the person you are communicating with better and have proof that they enjoy conversations like that. To stay on the safe side just be sure to look up outlines and tutorials to make a professional email, snail mail letter, phone call, or even DM in social media.
I realize I just talked about what you shouldn’t do when you communicate with others, but you still should allow some personality to come into your conversations. This is doubly true if you are doing a live meetup or networking event. Your tone should be polite and formal and you should avoid crass or crude comments, but it’s also best to speak without being “stuffy.” It’s a fine line to draw but with practice you can figure it out.
A professional can quickly and easily find what is needed. Your work area should be neat and organized. I realize this is an almost impossible task for many professionals, but I promise you that organization can be learned by people who aren’t naturally talented at it. I’ve learned over time how to maintain a filing system, make an editorial calendar for my two blogs (thank you time on my college’s newspaper!), make an hourly schedule for my days, and even put stuff away in my space so that I can find them again. It can be a hard skill to pick up but it can be learned, and it makes life so much easier once you’ve learned it.
Professionals are accountable for their actions at all times. If you make a mistake, own up to it and try to fix it if possible. Just being transparent and telling other people where you are at can lead to them cutting you some slack on some of the mistakes you are bound to make early in your career. This isn’t an excuse to whine, no one wants to hear your sob story about how you aren’t selling enough yet and you are broke and going to die alone or whatever, but just tell people any pertinent info that directly relates to your work together in a factual and professional manner and you will do much better.