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Defining Professionalism

By: Jenny Johnson, Associate Director of Career Services

Professionalism. It is a word you hear often—certainly in the Professional Masters programs, but also from employers, colleagues, and fellow students. We hear it often, but what does it really mean beyond being punctual, respectful, and dressing appropriately?

Dr. Jeff Glass, Faculty Director of the Master of Engineering Management program and Professor in the ECE Department, presented a seminar to break down the word professionalism and show what it means when applied in the workplace. He did this by using mini-stories to illustrate professionalism—both overt and nuanced.

Below I have captured several of his points from the seminar, but would encourage you to watch the entire presentation, documented in the attached YouTube video. Dr. Glass is an engaging speaker and his combination of industry and academic experience brings these thoughts “to life.”

  • Under Sell, Over Deliver: Only promise what you can deliver and in your delivery, always do or show more than you were asked.
  • Adapt Your Style: In order to be successful, you as a professional will have to adapt to different leadership & work styles. You can’t expect an organization, department, or boss to change the style they have in order to make you feel more comfortable.
  • Problems and Solutions: Don’t bring a problem to your manager without having a 1st solution ready to explain as well as potential secondary solutions. Additionally, don’t bring up problems that may be perceived to be trivial.
  • What You Accomplish in Given Amount of Time is Important: It is important to be efficient, but efficient with high quality.
  • Know Your Organization: Understanding the culture, needs, history, structure, politics, etc of an organization is key in creating relationships in an organization and avoiding unnecessary drama.
  • The Focus Isn’t on What the Organization Can Do For You, But What You Can Do for the Organization: It sounds very JFK written in this form, but Dr. Glass emphasized that it is not all about you and that students/employees should concentrate on how you are contributing to the organization. What can I do right now that the organization needs? What can I bring to the organization?
  • Asking for Feedback: It isn’t effective to wait until your annual review time to ask for feedback. There is however, also a fine balance between asking for feedback at appropriate intervals and asking for too much feedback.
  • The Blame Game: Accept your roles in failures and try not to blame it on others.

How will you incorporate these into your summer internship or full-time position? How will you incorporate them in your time while you are a Duke student?


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