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January 14, 2022

Professional Polish, Part 2: Appearing and Acting Like a Professional

Webinar Tackles the Issue of How to Elevate your Professional Comportment, Appearance, Mindset, and Confidence. 

By Danielle DeGroot, University College Writer

We have all heard the age-old saying, “there is nothing like a first impression”, and there is some definite truth to that statement. Appearing to others as a polished professional is something that we are not prepared for in the college classroom, these are skills that are developed and honed over a lifetime. This webinar presented by University College is hosted by Maureen Breeze, founder of Cultivage. Breeze is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate trainer, author, and University of Denver adjunct professor who works with leadership fellows through the Denver Metro Leadership Foundation. In this webinar Breeze delves into why professional polish is so important, what it means to appear professional, offering some guidance on how to improve your professional polish and presence.  

Why Focus on Professional Polish?   

Professional polish makes a big difference in how one is perceived; it is directly related to how employable someone is. These skills are harder to teach and often take years to fully develop. As we grow professionally and personally, this polish should improve. Polish is important to focus on because as Breeze explains, it is easy to become invisible if one lacks professional polish. Colleagues will not take you as seriously, and something may feel off if they do not trust your appearance of professionalism and polish. This webinar provides tricks to boost professional polish both in-person and online. Breeze discusses communication skills, professional appearance, emotional intelligence, and the factors that help form the image we project to others.   

There are four main focus areas that Breeze discusses that contribute to professional polish. Professional Polish Part 1 focused on how you think and speak. Part 2 touches on how you appear and act.  

  • How you think.  
  • How you speak.   
  • How you appear.  
  • How you act

Appearing Like a Professional  

Breeze shares the people make a first impression of others between 6 and 11 seconds from first seeing them. How you appear informs how you are perceived by others, and it takes a lot of work to change that initial first impression, so it is very important to be mindful of how you appear. In many cases, job candidates are hired over other candidates simply because they appear more professional upon first impression. Keep the following points in mind when working to bolster your professional appearance:  

  • Have energy, energy reads, and people pick up on yours. Have a certain level of excitement and energy because it is infectious and can influence how others feel about you. Energy boosts quality, passion, and enthusiasm, always be mindful of the energy you bring with you.   
  • Dressing and grooming are important, be professional and wear appropriate clothing. read the cultural norms of the industry or organization you’re going into when it comes to determining what kinds of clothing or styles to wear. Dress up, meaning dress for the job above yours, this is a really good way to exude an air of professionalism, and show that you are looking to move forward with the organization or industry. Clothing in the professional arena should not be a costume, it should enhance the role you are in or want, not to distract from that.  
  • Online appearance is especially important right now as a good majority of business is taking place online. Breeze emphasizes that it is vital to remain professional online, treat it as if it were an in-person interaction. Dress professionally, be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Be mindful of your resting face, your background, lighting, and positioning on the screen.  Speak professionally, and avoid distractions like kids, pets, and other activities.   

Acting Like a Professional  

Acting like a professional focuses mainly on how your actions and behaviors demonstrate professionalism. Breeze encourages thinking about behaviors that will show you are a polished professional. Engaging in behaviors that show readiness to learn and to deliver. Breeze points out that mindset is a pivotal part of acting like a professional. It is hard to change your mindset from college to professional; in college classes, the focus is all about your potential going into the job force and what you have the potential to do. When you get into the job force the focus is on the potential you possess to add value to an organization. The more you show readiness to grow, the more you show you have value potential and professional polish.  

Body language can be a game-changer when it comes to acting like a professional. Just standing up tall and big and creating a bigger physical presence for yourself in a room is going to increase your professionalism. Breeze refers to the work of social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy, who studies body language, and her powerful Ted Talk about how body language shapes who we are. Cuddy explores how body language helps us change other people’s perceptions of us. One area Cuddy focuses on is posture, and how standing tall, making yourself big, creates a strong physical presence, and makes one feel more confident. This is the idea of presence, and using one’s body language to create a bigger, more impactful presence, projecting confidence.   

“I would say that presence is your understanding of your authentic self, your access to your authentic self, and your ability to bring forth your best qualities, your knowledge, your expertise when you most need to. When you most need to is normally under very high-pressure situations.”    

Amy Cuddy

Creating a polished professional presence requires a blend of all these elements, as well as a bit of work on emotional intelligence. Understanding one’s own emotions, recognizing others, and knowing that actions, words, and appearance all play a role in creating the sense of self we project are skills that we work to perfect over time.  Creating a strategic vision for yourself, then committing yourself to master what it is you need to know to make that vision a reality. These things can make an impact right away, helping to establish and cultivate that sense of professional polish that one wants.  

Breeze closes with this advice about staying in a growth mindset:   

“As you are looking to launch a professional career; I would challenge you to stay in a growth mindset as much as possible. There are going to be ups, there are going to be downs, you are going to ace interviews and not get the job, you are going to struggle at interviews and get an offer. You are going to start a new job and feel like you are drinking from a fire hose and have no idea how you are going to succeed. All these things are going to happen, but if you can be very mindful and give yourself permission to grow along the way I think you’ll enjoy it more. I think you will be able to stay in that strong, powerful, polished presence as a professional.”   

The webinar offers real-world action steps that one can take to make a positive impact on how they are perceived professionally. It is never too soon or too late to take time to focus on your professional polish, and this webinar is a perfect place to start. You can watch the entire webinar, as well as other career development webinars in this series on the University College Vimeo page.  

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