Jun 3, 2021

The term “professional” has several nuanced meanings. It can be used to differentiate someone who is paid to do something from someone who is not e.g. a professional musician. It can also be used as a complimentary term for someone is very good at their job e.g. she is highly professional in the work she does as a gardener. In the recruitment and vocational sectors it is most generally used to indicate that someone is a white-collar worker with a recognized qualification.

The Australian Council of Professions gives the following definition:

A Profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education, and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.

Professional is as professional does

No matter what work we do, most of us would like to be considered professional in our work. The majority of people want to be good at their work, and be recognized for it. Up until a couple of decades ago that recognition usually came in the guise of promotion. Employed by the one organization, you would work your way “up the ladder” through your employed lifetime, hopefully retiring with a gold-watch and a sizeable amount in superannuation. Although this is not completely dead as a career path, it is less and less common. Employment is often precarious, and employees are more willing to change employers, or even careers.

How then do we develop our professionalism, gather the evidence, and gain recognition for it?

With rapid changes in many industries, both in terms of technology and process, old jobs disappear and new ones take their place. Even twenty years ago, nobody called themselves a user-experience expert. Now, they are in high demand. This constant state of flux means more than ever that professionalism revolves around a set of flexible, generic or portable skills, and broad knowledge. Rather than last-quarter’s increase in sales giving you leverage for a promotion at X company, it becomes evidence to Y company that you have business-development skills.

The modern professional portfolio

So in this insecure, flexible, ever-changing environment, what makes a professional? What are these portable skills that employers and clients are looking for?


Professionals get the work done in a timely fashion. This isn’t about rushing but more about having a realistic view of the time needed to complete projects or tasks. It’s also about only making promises you know you can keep. The old adage “under-promise and over-deliver” is one that the modern professional would do well to heed! If you think task is going to take you a day to complete, then promise it for two-days’ time. You should be able to give quick and accurate estimates of completion times.


Employers spend large amounts of money on training, but also expect professionals to take agency over their own learning and development. Take advantage of any professional memberships you have, and actually attend workshops, or check out their on-line training. Speak to your HR or training manager, and when you have a performance review coming up, go in armed with some professional development you wish to undertake.

Drive to improve

Along with more formal professional development, garner as much informal and incidental learning as you can. Don’t ask for feedback on every email you send, or contribution you make in meetings. But certainly seek it out on larger, more important, or less familiar tasks you undertake. Peer review is a great way to gain insight into your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn to take negative feedback well and to ask for guidance in areas where you are less confident.

Customer-client focus

Richard Branson once said, “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business”. Conversely, take care of your customers and clients, and the business will take care of you! Customers and clients are your organisation’s income. Focusing on their needs is focusing on your employers fiscal bottom-line.

Industry knowledge

Flexible though we now are as professionals, we still tend to work within one broad industry, or maybe two (either concurrently or XXXXX). Keep learning about your industry as a whole, rather than just your role within it. Industry association membership is a great way to do this, along with subscriptions to industry newsletters, many of which are free. Make sure you actually read some of the articles! You don’t have to sweat over hours of research every week, but keep abreast of developments and changes.

Creativity/creative thinking

Difficult to define, creativity and creative thinking are highly sought-after. Creative thinking can be referred to as:

  • Thinking outside the box
  • Lateral thinking
  • Innovative thinking
  • Unorthodox thinking

Even though lateral thinkers are often born, rather than made, this type of thinking can be developed. There is a wealth of exercises available on-line, as well as short courses. Practicing and applying this approach to problem-solving will add significantly to your status as a professional.

The modern professional takes responsibility for their own learning and growth, engages with new material and new approaches, and keeps abreast of developments in their chosen industry, and the broader economy.

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Intrinsic Learning provides a new way to track and manage Continuing Professional Development using mobile technology and innovative solutions. Contact us today if this is of interest to your organisation.


Have questions?

Contact Mark Keough
[email protected]