Tips for teens: Why professionalism sets you up for success in the workplace

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

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Marie Hall, Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA and Farmer's Markets in Carmichael, California.

Marie Hall, Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA and Farmer’s Markets in Carmichael, California.

Banana Moments contributor, Marie Hall is the founder and Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA, a Carmichael non-profit dedicated to financial literacy training and employment development for teens. BeMoneySmartUSA provides free workshops and employs teens to run the Farmers Markets in the Sacramento region.  Below is Hall’s Lesson for the Week.

Many businesses fail for many reasons, with one of them being because the people that run and work there do not show professionalism in their work, communication, or attitude when they are representing their company or organization while on the job.  These people are usually late, look strange and don’t follow through, or they make excuses. It does not matter what sort of business you are in; in order to succeed you must act professionally any time you interact with customers or potential customers. Even if you are an eccentric artist, you still have to act like a businessperson if you want people to give you their money. What makes you seem professional? Here are some thoughts.

  • Dress the part: Depending on what you do, you might not need a suit and tie. However, your clothes should be clean, well fitting, and well mended. Stick to classic, basic looks and avoid anything too trendy (unless fashion is your business) or revealing. Look at how others in your industry dress and dress accordingly.
  • Speak well: Try to cultivate a good speaking voice. Don’t speak in slang and clean up your use of “Like,” “Um,” “You know,” and “Prolly” (for probably). Don’t swear. Speak clearly and enunciate so your clients can understand you.
  • Write well: Whenever you communicate with clients in email, letters, or other documents, make sure you adhere to basic grammar and punctuation rules. Use spell check and proofread. This is not the time to send out a letter that says, “We’ll be sending your order in two farts,” when you meant to say “parts.” Even something as simple as an invoice needs to be checked. You will be judged by your written communication, so don’t blow it.
  • Be on time: If you say you’ll be somewhere at 4:00, be there five minutes early. Clients don’t appreciate being kept waiting and will find someone else who can be on time.
  • Honor your commitments: If you say you’ll have the project done by Friday, or be at work by 2:00, than have it done by Friday and be at work by 2:00. Don’t be late!  When making promises, don’t promise anything you cannot deliver because it will come back to bite you.
  • Communicate early and often: If you run into major problems with a project, or a commitment you made, first do everything you can to get things back on track without involving the customer. However, if you just have to tell the customer that it won’t be ready, then tell them early, not on the day they were expecting it due. As soon as you know there is a major problem, contact the client and let them know the situation. The client may be upset, but would appreciate your honesty and offer you a way to possibly work out a compromise. If you wait until the last minute, the client will be angry and will likely go somewhere else.
  • Mind your hygiene: Be clean and have fresh breath. Wear deodorant. If you’re working in a conservative industry, remove extraneous piercings and cover up tattoos, particularly if they are profane or risque. People find it hard to take someone with rings hanging from their face seriously.
  • Don’t make excuses: Clients don’t care why you’re having problems with their order. They don’t want to know that your kids got sick, or the car broke down, or your mother called and kept you on the phone for three hours last night. If something goes wrong, it’s fine to mention the source of the delay (unless it’s personal and then keep it to yourself), but your focus should be on fixing the problem, not relaying the excuses. You can simply say, “I’m so sorry that your order is delayed by a day, but my widget maker broke. However, I have the use of a friend’s widget maker and I will have your order to you first thing in the morning.”
  • Don’t lie: Any time you lie, you set yourself up for trouble. Whether it’s overstating your qualifications or promising something you know you can’t deliver, lying is unprofessional. Chances are you’ll be caught eventually and your reputation ruined, so just don’t do it.
  • Be polite: Whenever you speak to clients, be polite. Say, “Please,” and “Thank you.” Address people professionally as Mr. or Mrs. X, unless they ask you to call them by their first name. Use good phone manners. Don’t be rude to people and treat even the most trying client politely.
  • Don’t talk about clients behind their backs: Confidentiality isn’t just for doctors and lawyers. Keep your clients’ business to yourself. If they unload a boatload of personal problems on you, keep it to yourself. Don’t talk about clients with other clients, and don’t discuss them at industry events. This sort of thing always comes back on you and reflects badly.
  • No one wants to do business with someone who is rude, inconsiderate, always late, and who cannot communicate effectively. You may think that since your business is making crafts at your kitchen table that you don’t need to bother with professionalism, but you’d be wrong. If given a choice (and there is always a choice these days) customers will choose the business that makes a good product and a great impression. Don’t risk losing business because you aren’t professional.

Being professional is not just about what you do with your clients, but how you behave with your managers/supervisors and your co-workers.  Remember to apply these thoughts to all of your professional relationships.


Joanna Jullien (Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.


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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.