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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 and 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?