Practice Professionalism in the Physical and Digital World
Whether interviewing or already working, put your best foot forward and march.
Being a professional in our chosen field means much more than earning a degree and wearing a suit. We must conduct ourselves professionally on all levels — from the job interview to the office, and when using social media.
Be a Professional
The true professional possesses many good characteristics:
- You know how to dress. A good rule of thumb is, “You would rather overdress than under dress for an occasion.” Look sharp and organized. The first impression is most important. Wrinkled clothing or dirty shoes will create a negative impression.
- You’re reliable and competent. Although you may have a true excuse for tardiness or missing a deadline, it’s not good enough. These mishaps should lead you to examine your organization and accountability. Although your missed deadline is due to a computer crash, for example, if you were organized, your work would have been ready before the due date. Take accountability, own the mistake, apologize, and work to improve.
- You are poised and an effective communicator. Nothing is personal, whether you believe it or not. I haven’t met anyone who started their day thinking, “I’m going to make Gina absolutely miserable today.” Keep yourself calm during confrontations. Speak in an even tone, and do not be defensive.
- You are ethical. If you have to ask, “Is this the right thing to do?” it probably isn’t. My mantra is, “Would I tell my grandma what I’ve done?” If not, the actions most likely are unethical.
You remain teachable. Get out and explore education. Continue to learn and achieve. It’s never too late to add to your stockpile of education.
Look Good “on Paper”
Another place to let the professional in you shine is in your resume and cover letter. Some people wonder whether a cover letter is necessary. What I hear from employers is, “If I request it and it isn’t there, I assume the candidate didn’t want the position as much as the next.” Google is a great place for sample cover letters.
Here are some tips to make your resume also look its best:
- Keep it simple, but descriptive. Show your accomplishments in numbers, not words. For example, instead of saying, “Reduced A/R,” you might say, “Reduced A/R by 40 percent in 90 days.”
- Highlight your daily duties. You’ve worked hard at previous employers; let the potential employer know this.
- Align yourself with professional associations. You will build instant credibility by associating with trusted institutions.
- Keep your resume in one font and use bulleted lists. A very long or visually busy document may be overlooked. Keep your resume length to one or two pages.
- Tailor your resume for the job. Create a great objective and stay away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach. For example, employers may get bored reading countless lines of volunteer activity that has nothing to do with the position you’re applying for. They don’t need to know every job you’ve ever had — only the positions specific to the job you want (you can explain gaps during the interview process).
- Be specific and look for typos and grammatical errors. Read the document from the bottom to the top to spot typographical errors. Get someone else to proof it, too.
Ace the Interview
A great interview is easy, even when the employer isn’t the best interviewer. Here are some tips:
- Bring your resume and validate it during the interview. Write down two examples of instances in which you applied your skills at work and discuss them. Be a compelling storyteller and make sense of your career moves.
- Address job changes in a positive light. Although your previous company may have had the worst management team on the planet, don’t speak poorly of them. There are many potential reasons to leave a job, but usually professional development and/or opportunity have a lot to do with the change. That’s business. Changing jobs for self-development is normal; saying you changed jobs because you didn’t like management may brand you as confrontational.
- Before the interview, read about the company on their website. The employer will be able to tell that you did your homework. Show further ambition by asking questions that the company website didn’t answer such as future development plans, community involvement, etc.
- Save compensation talk for later. Avoiding this topic lets the potential employer know you’re there to advance the company and yourself, not just collect a paycheck. Salary and compensation discussions should take place after you are offered the position, during the negotiation process.
Clean Up Your Online Presentation
With so many areas where professional etiquette can be scrutinized, the addition of digital media has made life more complex. Email and text messaging leave the door open to misconception — and they leave a permanent record. Here are some tips for using social media.
Watch Your Tone
It’s hard to convey sincerity in written words, so it’s crucial to work all digital correspondence carefully. When emailing, start with a greeting and keep your message formal. Stay away from internet slang (i.e., LOL, lmk, smh, emojis, etc.), and close with a signature. Lately, professionals add a quote to their signature. Save the embarrassment and make sure autocorrect hasn’t reworded your words of wisdom. We have all seen it, “Work harp in silence, let you’re success make the noise.” Make sure your quirky tagline and all other information is correct.
Check Your Profile
Your social media presence can result in loss of prospective jobs before the interview process. As of 2015, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates. A staggering 54 percent of employers decided not to hire based on social media profiles. Is this legal? According to Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) laws, as long as the candidate is not being discriminated by race, religion, gender, and sexual preference, it’s completely legal to pass over a job candidate due to social medial presentation. EOE laws do not expressly permit or prohibit use of specified technologies.
This news shouldn’t deter you from using these platforms, as they are very helpful, especially in job searching. They build your personal and professional brands and connect you with other people in the industry.
Some employers document a social media clause in their handbook. This clause states employees must uphold the values of the company and not tarnish it. The top four indiscretions that may lead to termination are:
- Scandalous photos
- Posting lies to get out of work
- Complaining about a colleague, client, manager, or the company
- Bullying or trolling
If you feel your social media presence may hinder your character, it’s very easy to clean. First, scope out the damage. Enter your name in any internet search engine and see what populates within the first five pages. Note the potentially “damaging items” and delete them, if you can. Next, take a proactive approach by signing up for Google Alerts. This will allow you to be notified by email when information is added or updated about you. Lastly, lock down your profile. In Facebook and Instagram, set your profile to friends only, and hide your friends list. The Facebook setting that can save your character is “untag yourself.”
This setting allows you to review all posts on your wall. You can approve material that will appear before it posts. We all had a life many years ago. Don’t be the person that has a photo posted of you from long ago that doesn’t flatter your character. This setting is also useful for friends who like to post political memes. Keep religious views, politics, and any other sensitive topics with room for argument off your profile.
Choose your profile picture carefully. It should represent you as a responsible adult. Remember, anyone can see you with a little work.
If you feel like your profile is too far gone, delete it and start fresh. If you have several profiles over several sites, use social media apps to view all social media accounts under one login. For example, Bufferapp.com allows you to log in once and monitor Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and LinkedIn.
The important thing to remember is that you should conduct yourself as a professional at every moment, not just at work. Even if your character needs work, it’s never too late for self-improvement.
Gina Piccirilli, CPC CPMA, is employed as the director of health information management for Ellenville Regional Hospital. She has served as president, vice president, and education officer for AAPC local chapters. Piccirilli is a member of the Middleton, N.Y., local chapter, and in May of 2017, she began a three-year term as AAPC Chapter Association representative, Region 2.