Employers Pay for Professionalism

July 05, 2016


If you’re among the lucky interns, summer or new associates who just learned that your employer has increased the amount of money that they regularly deposit into your bank account, congratulations! You're the beneficiary of the first “war for talent” that’s emerged since the 2008 Great Recession.

A salary increase gives you the opportunity to retire your student debt faster and enjoy more of the perks of becoming a professional. It also ratchets up expectations. With law firms now billing new associates at $400 per hour, clients expect new hires to think and behave like established professionals from Day One. Simply put, junior employees can no longer afford to make “rookie mistakes.”

Establish your professional credentials by incorporating the following best practices into your daily life.

Know what you need to accomplish & do it

Thus far in your life, parents, teachers, and coaches have focused on helping you accomplish your personal goals. Now that you’ve entered the workforce, your attention must move from your aspirations to those of your employer and the clients they serve. This is a huge paradigm shift, and the sooner you make it the better.

Every day arrive at work knowing the discrete tasks that your employer expects you to accomplish. Start work with a to-do list in hand, and update it throughout the day. Studies indicate that if you invest 12 minutes creating a to-do list before you arrive at work, you will gain two hours in increased productivity throughout you workday mostly because you will focus on your most critical projects first.

With all of your assigned tasks, make sure that you are aware of due dates associated with a project and all of its component parts. If you can’t complete some portion of an assigned task until others provide input, stay on top of your coworkers’ progress. If you will be delayed in completing a task, inform your supervisor as quickly as possible, allowing them to adjust and respond.

By the way, if your supervisor has failed to articulate what’s most important to her and why, observe your supervisor’s actions. Where she invests her time and money is a good indication of her priorities.

Focus on client service

If your goal is to become a successful professional services provider, then get accustomed to providing your internal clients with what they want, when they need it, and in a manner that communicates, “I value and respect you.”

No one understands “client service” better than the folks at Ritz Carlton. In fact one Atlanta-based law firm has hired a former Ritz Carlton executive to train its lawyers on how to make the law firm's clients feel special.

Following are some ways that you can demonstrate client service based on four Ritz Carlton values:

  • Look at every interaction you have at work as an opportunity to build a client relationship for life. Treat everyone—from the janitorial staff, to the managing partner or CEO, to external clients—with respect, kindness, and consideration.
  • Respond to the expressed and unexpressed wishes of internal and external clients. Completing assignments on a timely basis warrants a “meets expectations” rating. Volunteering to roll up your sleeves and help with a last-minute emergency court filing that requires you to forego part of your weekend can help you to earn a “super performer” ranking.
  • Own and immediately resolve client problems. When you see a partner who is frustrated because he needs a document scanned and emailed to a client immediately and his administrative assistant has called in sick, to the extent you successfully solve the problem, you’ve become a proven performer and potentially his “go-to person” in a lurch.
  • Demonstrate personal pride in your professional appearance, language, and behavior.

Take initiative

If you entered the workplace assuming that you could just sit back and wait for senior professionals to feed you assignments, erase that thought from your brain now. Possessing a “can do” attitude, while laudable, merely “meets expectations” in a $180K-salary world.

If you want to be recognized as someone who takes initiative, look for ways to contribute without being asked, including:

  • Carry a pad of paper and pen or an electronic tablet with you everywhere, allowing you to record assignments whenever they are given. If you use an electronic device to record information, make sure that others know you are taking notes and not viewing social media sites.
  • Contribute one significant thought or ask one substantive question at every meeting you attend.
  • Don’t just complete discrete tasks and move on. Demonstrate an interest in the external clients who are involved.
  • If you uncover an error, bring it to someone’s attention. It’s easy for a harried senior associate to misremember a critically important filing date. To the extent you bring that error to his or her attention in a polite manner, you become a valued team player. When you discover that you’ve made an error, bring it and a proposed solution to your supervisor’s attention immediately.
  • Especially if you’re an introvert, avoid using work assignments as an excuse to skip the summer’s social events. Work always comes first, but recognize that building business-social relationships is a critical success factor, too.

Exhibit an “attitude of gratitude”

Rightly or wrongly, when I ask most employers to describe their Millennial employees, the one characteristic I hear more than any other is “entitled.” GE has captured this impression in a recent “What’s the Matter with Owen?” commercial. A Millennial wants a job with the Fortune 100 Company, and he also “need[s] Mondays off.”

Counteract this caricature by demonstrating that you possess an attitude of gratitude. You will never err by saying “thank you.”

By the way, a whole body of science confirms that possessing an attitude of gratitude produces important personal benefits. Grateful employees are viewed as being more productive. Those workers further report that they sleep better, have higher metabolisms, and feel substantially less stress.

Keep the following gratitude principles in mind:

  • When you express gratitude, keep it short, to the point, and sincere. One or two simple sentences will do. After a firm partner gives you a particularly challenging assignment, for example, you might say, “Thanks for your confidence. Would you like me to give you regular updates on my progress or just return when I’m finished?”
  • A genuine “thank you” will help you build relationships. In the vast majority of cases, feel free to communicate your thanks at the end of an in-person conversation or via email.
  • However, the benefits of expressing gratitude multiply when your expression occurs via a handwritten note. This is because handwriting stimulates portions of your brain that are not tickled when you speak, keyboard, or thumb. If you really want to accrue the uplift of a gratitude attitude, at the end of every week, identify one person who really helped you at work—for example, someone in the library dropped everything they were doing to help you with a difficult research project—and consider handwriting a thank-you note to that person.

What You Need to Know

Now that business entities have started to increase salaries, new workforce entrants must avoid rookie mistakes.



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