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What does being a “professional” really mean?

Many, many people refer to themselves as professionals. You can’t blame them. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a professional? It’s a really strong word, with only positive connotations. But it’s also kind of vague. What is a professional? Is it someone who’s really good at their job, like a professional stuntman? It someone who just does something for a living versus recreationally, like a professional hockey player? Is it someone who takes their job really seriously? Is it all of these things? More?

A nice healthy debate could probably produce thousands of definitions of what a professional is. Each and every one of those definitions would be valid. A large number of those definitions would probably be complex and a bit philosophical.

I have my own definition. Actually, it’s not really a definition. It’s more of a list of really simple things that I think professionals have to be. There’s no real logic or order to the list. It’s just how I am with people and how I like people to be with me.

Here goes:

  1. Professionals return your calls and reply to your emails promptly.

  2. Professionals follow through when they say they’re going to do something.

  3. Professionals are on time for meetings, calls and everything.

  4. Professionals are polite and pleasant to talk with.

  5. Professionals don’t BS you because they know BS is a total waste of time.

  6. Professionals know their stuff inside out and back again.

  7. Professionals know that if they don’t know, they should just be honest and tell you so.

  8. Professionals listen with an open mind so that they can better understand.

  9. Professionals give advice for free and don’t expect anything in return.

  10. Professionals will be disappointed with you if you’re not being fair with them in business.

  11. Professionals don’t nickel and dime people.

  12. Professionals know how to say no in a delicate way that explains their position and the reason behind the no.

  13. Professionals say yes when it makes sense, and not because it’s easier or because it avoids conflict.

  14. Professionals don’t behave in a way that requires an apology afterwards.

  15. Professionals don’t use being busy as an excuse, because everyone’s busy.

  16. Professionals deliver on what was agreed upon.

  17. Professionals don’t overpromise: they agree to do what was agreed upon then make sure to do that or more.

  18. Professionals communicate in a clear, succinct and respectful fashion.

  19. Professionals are able to back up statements with concrete examples.

  20. Professionals have a finely attuned sense of urgency and understand when something is urgent for someone else.

  21. Professionals appreciate the fact that although they know a lot about their stuff, they don’t know as much as you know about your stuff.

  22. Professionals don’t hesitate when they need to support someone on short notice.

  23. Professionals never charge for something that should be free.

  24. Professionals understand that fair pay is due for fair work and pay the people who work for them as soon as cash flow permits.

  25. Professionals know that they have to continue being professional after the job is done.

That makes 25 points. I tried my best not to be repetitive. I’m sure there are a not more out there, but those are the ones that really count for me.

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