5 Things Every Professional Should Do

Recently I was invited to dinner with a New York Times and Wall Street Journal #1 Best Selling Author.  After a quick introduction of everyone at the table, he told a story about a 5 second encounter with a young man that went badly.  His story about this young man drove home the importance of 5 things every professional should do.

I was honored to be sitting at the table that night.  Our host had accomplished things in his professional career that I am just beginning to work towards in mine.  I was the youngest person at the table by about 25 years, so my eyes and ears were wide open and ready to soak in all the wisdom that would be shared over a steak dinner.


Anonymous Hallway Guy

With such an age gap between me and the others at the table, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn towards the differences — or problems — with the multi-generational workforce we have in today’s world.

Our host, Ben (fake name used for anonymity), listened as others around the table talked about boomers, millennials, gen Z, etc.  After a few minutes he jumped in, “Today I was walking through the building and up to my office.  I met a young man walking towards me in a hallway, he was looking down at his phone.  As we walked closer to one another, my head was up and I was ready to speak.  As we came within inches of each other, I realized he was not going to look up…and he didn’t.  He had headphones in and I assume he didn’t hear me say hello because he didn’t reply.  I even turned and looked behind me for just a second–to give him the benefit of the doubt– to make sure he wasn’t going to speak.  Nope, he didn’t look up, let alone speak.”

Ben was upset with the young man and others at the table resonated with his story and told similar stories of their own.

I have no doubt that every time Ben sees the ‘anonymous hallway guy’ that he will remember what he didn’t do that day.  He will also remember what he did do–he left Ben with a bad taste in his mouth for him and for others who are around his age.

Don’t give people a reason to doubt, discount, or disconnect with you.  Instead, give them a reason to positively notice you!   If you don’t want to be overlooked by successful people who could open professional doors to opportunity for you, do these 5 things:

5 Things Every Professional Should Do

1. Make eye contact.

If you’re in eyesight, make eye contact and smile.

Look up from your phone, friends!  If you don’t, you’ll miss out on opportunities to build depth and breadth in your professional network.

Don’t forget to smile, too!  Smiles are contagious.  If you smile at someone, it’s really hard for them to not smile back.  And did you know that smiling releases dopamine and endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters)? [There Is Magic In Your Smile] I would make the argument that if you make other people smile, you make them feel good.  People want to be around people who make them feel good!

2. Speak first.

If you come within five feet of someone, speak to them first.

Don’t wait for them to speak to you, take the initiative and speak to them first.  You’ll exude confidence and show that you care about them.

As professionals and leaders, people are always watching what you do.  If you don’t speak, they will notice and remember that forever…just like Ben did.  Make a good impression by speaking to others first.

3. Perfect your handshake.

Shake hands often and correctly.  No matter how old, young, male or female, a good handshake will set the tone for your success.

A good handshake is strong and holds on for just long enough.  A poor handshake is weak and has bad timing and hand placement.

I believe in a solid handshake so much that I’ve taught my six year old daughter to shake hands when she meets someone new.  We were in the doctor’s office last fall where an old high school friend of mine worked.  When we crossed paths in the office, we both said hello and my daughter introduced herself. She looked him straight in the eye, told him her name and stuck out her hand for him to shake.  He bent down and shook her hand and said, “Just like a Van Hooser…always a professional.”  At first, I was embarrassed.  I took “always a professional” as a negative.  But, the more I thought about it, what else would I want to be known as?  When I think of a professional, I think of someone that is respected, always kind, smart, hardworking, accountable, dependable, and more.  I am proud and will be proud for me and my children to be dubbed “professionals”.  What will ‘they’ say about you after shaking hands?

4. Know your audience.

There are some things that are appropriate to say to your friends at work, but are not appropriate to say to the CEO of your company.

You should always be aware of who you are with and who is watching.  You should adjust your actions accordingly.  This isn’t being fake, this is growing up! #adulting #professionalism

By learning to adapt, you will maintain the highest level of respect, integrity, and credibility from others at all times.

5. Initiate small talk.

Small talk doesn’t have to be a big deal — relax!

The best way to start a conversation or keep one going is to ask questions like:

“What do you do for a living?”

“Where are you originally from?”

“What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”

Once you know a little about them, then you can talk about what they like to do.   Don’t let awkward silence linger.  Professionals know how to small talk.


Maximize Your Influence

Professionalism is a choice — a choice in how you carry yourself, how you act, what you say, and who you are.  If you want to maximize your professional influence and impact, never forget the importance of these five tips.

Alyson Van Hooser
Author: Alyson Van Hooser
Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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