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Professionalism in the US Workplace

Cultural differences and the workplace culture of your employer will have a big role in your employment. Below are some general tips on professionalism in the US workplace to help you as you get practical experience in your field.
  • Take time to observe and learn the culture of your new workplace.
    • Ask your coworkers and supervisor for questions you may have about how meetings, breaks, time off, sick days, etc. 
  • Be consistent:
    • When you learn a new task, remember how to do it for next time. You can take notes and save them on the computer if you’d like.
    • At work, the quality of your finished work is important. This might seem different than in class where effort is also really important.
    • Consistently completing tasks well at work is important!
  • Take initiative:
    • Taking initiative can mean volunteering for a new project or helping out a busy coworker when you have time. Just as extra credit work can help you in a course the willingness to go “above and beyond” at work is important.
    • This can help people see you as a “can-do” person who truly cares about your work.
    • This doesn't mean doing new things without asking your supervisor. Clear and regular communication is important, especially before trying a new task or starting a new initiative. You want to ensure the work you are doing is in line with the goals of your department and position. Your supervisor can help you evaluate this.
  • Try it first:
    • This is a great way to learn and become resourceful about finding answers on your own. You might be surprised at how much you were able to figure out on your own!
  • Dress and appearance:
    • Workplace dress norms can differ by office. It's okay to ask your supervisor before starting work if it is "business casual" or a more formal environment.
      • You can find examples of "business casual" and other styles of work outfits online.
    • Your dress an appearance are thought to be an expression of your professionalism.
      • Shows appreciation and respect for the meeting/conversation.
      • Shows situational awareness - you might need to dress differently for different work sites due to safety, client meetings, etc.
    • Some work places will talk about appropriate dress requirements in their employee manual or employee handbook.
  • Punctuality and being on time:
    • The US is a monochronic culture meaning being on time and respecting time is very important. Most people will arrive a couple minutes early or exactly on time for meetings and appointments.
    • Different workplaces may have different expectations around punctuality.
      • Be sure to arrive early or exactly on time when you are new employee and observe the office culture to see what other employees are doing.
  • Showing interest:
    • The US style of eye contact is to have pretty consistent eye contact during a conversation. This communicates confidence and that you are engaged and interested in the conversation.
    • Nodding your head as someone is speaking and summarizing what you've heard are also ways to show you are interested in the topic.
Your Unique Professional Identity
As an international student, you bring a unique professional identity to the workplace. Here are some questions to help you reflect on your unique identity and how you show up in the workplace.
  • What identities are most important to you?
  • What would your "authentic professional self" look like?
  • What hinders you from being your authentic professional self?
  • What allows you to be your authentic professional self?