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Professionalism Matters in the Job Search

October 26, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Would you consider yourself professional? Out of all the things you're worried about when it comes to landing a job after college in a difficult economy, worrying about how you come off to employers may not be at the top of your list. But a recent study by York College in Pennsylvania may have you thinking otherwise.

The purpose of the study from the school's Center for Professional Excellence was to find a measure of how professionalism factors into the hiring process, to define "professionalism" when it comes to recent college graduates, and to determine the role colleges should play in developing professionalism among students. The study's findings? Students aren't behaving as professionally as their employers would like them to.

The study surveyed more than 500 human resources professionals and business leaders, and suggests that students need more guidance in college before going out on job interviews. An Inside Higher Education article last week describes the findings as a "gap between employer expectations and student realities." But the article also looks at whether the findings could be partially explained by the trouble an older generation has of defining appropriate behaviors of a younger generation.

So should you worry? It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's tough out there right now. A recent opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the additional obstacles of students entering the job world today - high unemployment rates and the tough decision whether a lower paying job outside of a graduate's interest area is better than no job at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is about 15 percent. The National Association of Colleges and Employers claims that just 20 percent of those who graduated this year did so knowing they had a job waiting for them once they received their diplomas. So it probably wouldn't hurt for you to do what you can to stand out at that job interview, and wow those employers who apparently feel that many of the candidates they see exhibit unprofessional behavior.

The study's findings included the following:

  • Personal interaction skills, the ability to communicate and a work ethic that includes being motivated and working on a task until it is complete were included as the top characteristics of the professional employee by employers.
  • The most frequently cited unprofessional traits or behaviors were appearance, which includes attire, tattoos, and piercings, poor communication skills, including poor grammar, and a poor work ethic.
  • More than 37 percent of the respondents reported that less than half of the recent graduates they have hired exhibit professionalism in their first year.
  • Nearly all of the respondents (97.7%) stated that their assessment of how professional an applicant will be on the job has an effect on their hiring decision. Of these respondents, almost three-fourths (71.8 percent) indicated that 50 percent or more of the hiring decision is based on an assessment of the applicant’s professionalism.
  • About 33 percent feel the prevalence of professionalism has eroded over the past five years.


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