Bring Your Most Professional Self to Work

This is a guest post by Dee Ann Pizzica.

No matter the culture in your organization, there are ways you can show up at work as your most professional self. Even if you’re just getting started as a software tester, you know that fulfilling the requirements of your job and doing your best work are to be expected. But when you also act professionally, you gain respect from your colleagues, subordinates, and higher-ups that will help you succeed at any stage of your career.

There are certain basic behaviors that you are expected to have on the job. These are the good habits that, when ignored, become the things that bug people and diminish their view of the work you do. By being your most professional self, you protect your sterling reputation. Let’s look at some of the behaviors you should display.

Show respect and appreciation

This is one of the easier behaviors to neglect, but it’s also one that can take you a long way. Being respectful and showing gratitude have a big influence on how your coworkers think of you — including how responsive they are to your defect reports or suggestions to changes in your team’s release process.

Please and thank you

It may sound silly, but the rules you learned in kindergarten still apply at work. No matter what your status is, you will do well to show respect, kindness and appreciation to those you work with.

This extends beyond title and job description. Some people will use the excuse of hierarchy to treat those they outrank poorly, but this is unacceptable. As a working professional, it is vital that you treat others with the appreciation that you would hope to receive.

Start by making liberal use of the words “please” and “thank you.” A sincere thanks goes a long way toward showing that you respect and care for the work and success of those around you. The fact of the matter is, people do better work when they feel they are respected and appreciated. This is especially important if you’re in a leadership position, as you set the tone for how people treat one another in your organization.

Support others

It’s important to show support for all of the people in your organization, regardless of title or position. People who have worked in hierarchical organizations may have encountered a lack of support more than in flat organizations, but as a leader, it takes very little effort to help bolster a feeling of being supported.

Early in my career, I was the executive assistant to the CEO of a small tech company. I was the youngest, lowest paid, and least experienced person on staff. Despite this, when my boss spoke about me to others, he referred to me as his colleague. My boss was elevating me by using a term that included me as a peer rather than an inferior. This simple act made me feel important, respected, and valued, and my work was stronger as a result.

This is why I don’t refer to the people who report to me as resources. I work with human beings. They are valuable experts in their field. They are not tools to be tossed around. By supporting and elevating those we work with, we create environments where people will do their best work.

Give credit and attribution

We’ve all had that teammate — or worse yet, boss — who stole your idea and then acted as if it were entirely theirs. Nothing alienates people quite like taking their ideas and presenting them as your own. When you’re working as part of a team, it’s important to give credit to the colleagues that helped you along the way. If you’re going to build off of someone else’s idea, then find a way to mention that person and give them the credit they deserve for the work they have done.

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Be responsive

If you have ever worked on any kind of collaborative team, especially when you don’t all work in the same space, you know how important it is to get answers to your questions.


Read and respond to emails within 24 hours, even if it’s just a basic acknowledgement. Many companies no longer rely on email like they used to, but that’s no excuse to ignore email messages. Unless the sender has indicated that they do not require a response or they have provided a different timeline, it’s best to acknowledge messages within a day of receiving them.

You may not be able to fully respond to the inquiries and information, but often it’s a good idea to at least reply to the most urgent questions and let the sender know that you will follow up as soon as possible.

Calls to action

When you send an email, indicate if you require a response and provide a deadline. Businesses move at a fast pace, and most people you engage with are balancing a large number of concurrent tasks. You gain the appreciation of your colleagues as well as increase the chances of getting the response you need by being clear about what questions you require answers to as well as when you need that information.

If an email is very important, it helps to include something in the subject line to indicate that a response is required. It doesn’t hurt to set this expectation with your colleagues first, so that the word “required” doesn’t come off as threatening and they understand that you include this in order to help them process messages.

Slack messages

If you have a question that you need to post to a team channel in Slack, try tagging the person or people you think would be able to answer you. There gets to be a lot of noise on Slack, so it’s in your best interest to get the attention of someone who can help.

If you see someone post a question on Slack, answer if you can. Sometimes someone who is looking for help may not know exactly whom to ask. Don’t assume someone else will find the question and respond later. Remember that you’re part of a team and you’re all working together to help your organization be successful. So while it’s probably not helpful to say “I don’t know,” saying “I don’t know, but @John might” could get the original poster the information they need more quickly.

Think about how others see you

Your habits and how you present yourself make a difference in how people perceive you. It’s important to consider what your coworkers may see and hear (or overhear).

Your employee profile

Your profile photo should be a nice headshot. It should show you in a professional manner and provide a clear picture of your face. While you may love that glamorous photo from your wedding day, this should really be a photo that represents a normal version of you.

Ideally, this photo also should reveal a little something about your personality, but remember that your profile photo exists to show you as a professional. This means that it’s not a photo of your kid, or you with your family. It’s not your dog or your cat. It’s also not your favorite cartoon. A good profile photo helps people who may not know you very well identify who you are.

Personal tasks and calls

We all have personal tasks that need to be accomplished during business hours. Most employers understand this reality and are unlikely to have strict rules, leaving you to make responsible decisions. Even if your employer is flexible, many managers don’t want to witness their staff taking care of personal business on the job.

If you are using your work computer for personal tasks, it’s best to keep your web browsing limited to an online profile that is separate from your business accounts. In the best case, this aids in creating boundaries for yourself. If you keep that personal browser window minimized unless you absolutely need it you aren’t as likely to stumble upon distractions. In the least, you’ll avoid showing off your Amazon and social media tabs when you’re screen sharing your entire desktop in a zoom call.

Now that many of us are working remotely all the time, it may be tempting to abandon some of the boundaries we might have held when we worked in an office space because there’s less oversight. Occasionally you’ll have no choice but to make that call to schedule your dog’s appointment with the veterinarian in the middle of your workday. Other times you may find yourself interrupted by a call from a friend. Remember that a phone ringing is just as disruptive in a zoom meeting as it was in the conference room.

Most importantly, personal calls and tasks can disrupt the rhythm of your work, make you unavailable for your colleagues, and expand your workday in order to make up for lost time.

Be considerate of shared office space

You might be working remotely now, but sooner or later many of us will return to offices again. Until then, let’s indulge in some nostalgia and talk about the office break room because your behavior in shared office space can be the subject of all kinds of petty gossip if you’re not careful. While these lessons speak to how you use any common office space, let’s focus on the kitchen, since it’s the place of so many epic battles.

Don’t cause a stink

If you have a variety of options to choose for your in-office lunch, try to remember that this is a space you share with a number of people. I love seafood, but I will never forget the day my boss microwaved leftover salmon in the office kitchen. When he realized how bad the smell was, he retreated to his office in hopes that no one would notice who was to blame. The whole office stank. Everyone who tread near the kitchen exclaimed their horror. Do not be that person.

Many office kitchens are also near where people sit to do their work. Of course you’re entitled to eat whatever food makes you happy, but be aware when you’re in a common space that your choices affect the well-being of those around you, and it’s not like people working in a city high rise have the option of opening a window.

Replace things when you use them up

Whether it’s coffee or the paper towels, chances are the replacement item for the thing you just emptied is somewhere you can access. Is it “your job” to keep the kitchen tidy? Maybe not. But you owe it to yourself and those around you to be polite and considerate. No one gets paid to clean up after you. So if you take the last of the sugar packets, refill the container. It only takes a minute, and the people who visit the coffee station after you, will appreciate it.

Don’t leave food in the fridge

Your office kitchen is not the place for conducting science experiments. Label your items in the refrigerator and keep track of them. When you come into the kitchen to heat up your lunch, make sure you don’t have any old containers sitting around, and clean out anything that you’re not going to use.

And while we’re on the topic of labeling food, this really feels like something no one should ever have to say, but …

If it’s not yours, don’t touch it

If you find something in the kitchen that seems enticing, you must resist all urges to help yourself. The office is not like visiting your parents’ house, where anything you can find is fair game. Taking someone else’s food can escalate into snarky emails, suspicion and arguments.

Rinse your dishes and put things away

Once again, no one in your office has time to clean up after you. Your office manager is not your mom or your maid, and the office cleaning staff has better things to do. If you’re using shared dishes in a common kitchen, be sure to clean up as much as you can. The protocol may be to leave dishes in the sink for someone else to load in the dishwasher, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wipe things off first. If you have the opportunity, clean and put anything you use back where you found it.

Be aware and be kind

The most important lesson to take from any of these anecdotes is to know that your behavior matters. It’s not enough to be great at your job; you also have to treat others around you with kindness and respect. It’s as easy as thinking about the effects of your choices, having some awareness and striving to be considerate.

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Dee Ann is a passionate and curious software tester. She has over 15 years of experience in support of small and enterprise-scale custom mobile and web applications with highly complex business logic for clients across a wide variety of industries. Dee Ann is currently working as the Director of Engineering at BRD where she collaborates with a talented team on a cryptocurrency wallet app for iOS & Android.

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