Professionalism: Small steps equal big results

The somewhat elusive quality of “professionalism” plays a key role in landing (and excelling in) a job.


Filed to: Job search

Career professionalism
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If you were to ask any employer in the golf industry whether professionalism is important, he or she would surely respond with a resounding “Yes!” But if you were to ask that employer to define professionalism?

Pause. Crickets chirping.

How does professionalism impact hiring decisions? Is it one of those factors that’s difficult to pinpoint, but influential in tipping the scales toward selecting the winning candidate? Yes! In this month’s column, we’ll take a closer look at the meaning of professionalism and how you can exhibit this trait to advance your career.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, professionalism is “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” So, it’s a combination of know-how and actions, all packaged together. Unlike typical qualifications that job candidates can merely list on a résumé, professionalism must be demonstrated. How? Here are three strategies for showing professionalism to keep in mind on your next job search.


Is the nature of your résumé, cover letter and other correspondence suitable to the situation? Have you double-checked that there are no typos or grammatical errors in your documents? The tone and format of your documents and communication should be formal and respectful of the employer’s time, perspective and role as decision-maker. You should also ensure your communication is clear and geared to your audience and their interest in and understanding of turf management.

For example, if you are applying at a private club that has a board of directors, communicate in a manner that makes the complex business and science of managing turf understandable and relevant to them as club members.

Finally, good old-fashioned etiquette can go a long way. Use “please” and “thank you,” and carry a respectful tone in all correspondence, phone interactions and in-person encounters.


First impressions are paramount. Regardless of your credentials and experience, image and attire will often override facts and figures in the interview process.

According to the 2013 National Professionalism Survey, a poll of more than 400 employers conducted by York College of Pennsylvania, 80.6 percent of respondents rated attire and appearance as either a 4 or 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5), indicating this factor has a “great impact” on whether an applicant will be hired.

When preparing to meet face to face with a potential employer, ask yourself whether your appearance conveys that you are a professional in the golf industry and merit the employer’s trust as part of the leadership team for the facility. Are your clothing, shoes, hair and accessories appropriate and in good order to demonstrate this? If you are unsure of your answer, seek help from a mentor or trusted friend so your appearance will substantiate, not hinder, your display of professionalism.


Another look at Merriam-Webster can help us better understand the concept of “attitude,” which is defined as “a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior.”

Picture a person who has a professional attitude. Think of the person’s posture, facial expressions and approach to situations. How would a letter from this person read? What types of words would demonstrate the person’s thinking and outlook, in writing and in person? Attitude is not simply appearing happy or upbeat. Employers often interpret attitude from the standpoint of how you’ll respond in situations, from tough, challenging circumstances to big successes.

Before you hit the send button on an email to a prospective employer or finalize your interview phrasing, consider it again through the lens of attitude. Choose language as well as stories and examples from your career that shed a positive light on your thinking, outlook and approach as a professional.

The next time you set out on a job search, remember that even though employers may not be able to clearly define professionalism, it will play a key role in candidate selection. Get the results you want by taking advantage of opportunities to show this important quality.

Carol D. Rau, PHR, is a career consultant with GCSAA and the owner of Career Advantage, a career consulting firm in Lawrence, Kan., specializing in golf and turf industry careers. GCSAA members receive complimentary résumé critiques by Rau and her team; résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn creation for a reduced member rate; and interview preparation and portfolio consultation.