Work experience and professional conduct

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If you’re a trainee with little experience of work places, or doing a voluntary work placement, will employers and colleagues expect you to conduct yourself professionally?

Quite simply, yes!

Just because you’re new to a situation or working there temporarily does not mean you shouldn’t act in a manner that is respectful towards your employer and your colleagues. But what exactly is professional conduct and how do you make sure you’re on top of it?

It’s an essential and easily mastered skill, says recruitment consultant Nicola Shellard at Morgan McKinley. “Being professional is something that your employer will automatically expect from you on your first day at work, as well as throughout the interview process.”

Felicity Shakespeare, HR secretary/administrator for PEM, a Cambridge-based accounting firm that employees AAT trainees, agrees, particularly considering that even very junior staff will interact with clients, in or out the office, and therefore represent the firm at all times: “Professional conduct is at the heart of our firm’s culture and trainees are expected to project a professional image at all times from day one, in the way they dress and interact with others. PEM is very much a Cambridge firm with values focused on specialised and personalised service and working relationships developed over time.”

Val Mitchell, group HR & training coordinator for accountants MHA MacIntyre Hudson, another AAT employer, says that professional conduct is key because “clients need to have confidence in the service we provide and our reputation relies on good professional conduct. The firm’s culture is based on our values of service, teamwork, attitude and relationships (STAR), and all staff are encouraged to embed these into their everyday work life.”

Furthermore, it not only supports your firm’s reputation, which in turn will benefit you, but it will affect your career directly. “Behaving in a professional manner should be the foundation of your professional life, as it helps build up your reputation and in turn will ensure people remember you for the right reasons,’”says Shellard.

Additionally, creating a positive image of yourself can not only add to your chances of promotion and salary increases, but they can help safeguard you against difficult times. “If you are positive, if there was ever a situation of redundancies or restructures then a positive member of the team will be less likely to lose their job,” says Sonia Khanna, a recruitment consultant at Investigo.

And something that should never be forgotten, and which should underpin your professional conduct, is that positivity in the work place can also lead to you being happier in general, says Khanna.

Becoming professional

At its most simple, professional conduct means dressing smartly in business dress, being polite and courteous towards colleagues and customers and using appropriate language, says Victoria Starr, a senior manager at Page Personnel Finance.

“This is very important in order to progress your career. As a trainee, you want to make a good impression on your colleagues and managers in two ways – by always giving 100% and asking for help where required and also by being a pleasant and polite colleague to be working alongside,” says Starr.

“You can do this by making sure you always ask for feedback, perhaps from your manager, but perhaps a mentor that may have been in your situation not too long ago.

There are several more points to consider below from Morgan McKinley’s Nicola Shellard, but a key thing to remember is that if you’re not sure of something, whether its what clothes are acceptable or how to talk to clients, just ask someone.

Professional pointers

  • Punctuality – Turning up to work or a meeting late can be seen as rude, so try and arrive everywhere five minutes early.
  • Be respectful – Politeness and consideration for your colleagues and everyone you come into contact with can go a long way.
  • Organisation and preparation – Where possible try and prepare for meetings with clients/colleagues – this shows your commitment.
  • Use your initiative – If you identify a problem or recognise that something may become problematic, forewarning your colleagues will be appreciated so that possible issues can be addressed.
  • Honesty – Admit your mistakes, apologise for them, and learn from them. Alternatively, if you are falling behind with a deadline, then it is better to tell someone sooner rather than later so that you can implement a course of action with your manager.
  • Recognition – Don’t take credit for work that you have not done. Acknowledge the contribution that your colleagues have made (even if they have only assisted you with a project).
  • Positive attitude – Approach every day, and every piece of work positively. If you are pleasant to be around then people will enjoy working with you and want to work with you again.

Photo: Kizzy Atkins always had a fascination with numbers and considered the university route a waste of money, time and precious life experiences. She is studying for her AAT qualifications via the apprenticeship scheme and working at Mazars. 

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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