By Amber Alarid, [Joining Vision and Action]
This week, I am continuing to share career advice from myself and my fellow JVAers that we feel is most useful to young professionals. This is the advice we have received and cherish, the advice we wish we would have heard sooner and/or the advice we give to anyone beginning a career in the nonprofit sector. This week, I am combining advice I received from fellow JVAers Collin Lessing and Emily Winslow with some of the best advice given to me, which pertains to how to present yourself in a more professional manner at the office.
Don’t Walk Like a Giraffe
When asked to share his best advice for young professionals, Collin said, “Don’t walk like a giraffe.”
You may be wondering what a tall mammal that slowly plucks its food from the tops of trees has to do with the workplace. I did too, so I asked Collin to explain:
“When I was in my first job out of college and in an entry-level position in advertising, one of the more senior-level staff members had taken me under his wing and would often give me helpful, professional advice. One day I was walking by his desk and he pulled me aside and said, ‘Collin, do you realize you walk really slowly around the office? You’re a really tall guy —it stands out. You look like a giant giraffe walking around the office. You might want to move faster so you don’t look like a giraffe.’ Since then, I’ve made it a point to be thoughtful and intentional about how different aspects about the way I present myself (going beyond attire) send nonverbal messages about professionalism—which in this case means always moving with a sense of purpose.”
Purpose not Intensity
In contrast, I learned a similar lesson about the image I was presenting by walking too fast. During my first internship, I learned countless invaluable lessons about interacting with people in the workplace, whether they were coworkers, board members, donors, people who wanted to learn more the organization and everyone in between. Like most organizations, there were many times when we as a team were met with deadlines and projects that required us to work and walk with a sense of urgency; however, I quite often took the phrase a little too literally.
In all honesty, I can’t remember what had me barreling around the office at that moment, but I will always remember the advice my boss passed along to me that she said had once been given to her. She cautioned me that when you are on a mission for a client or coworker it’s always best to walk with urgency, “but don’t run, it causes panic.” What I took away from this experience is that while it’s important to make it understood that you care and that you are taking a project or a client’s request seriously, it’s also important to project a sense of calm at the same time. Perhaps this sense of urgency without panic is best summed up by JVA’s Emily Winslow, who said it’s always best to “hustle.”
By hustling to complete a task or get an answer, you are sending a non-verbal cue to the other person that you find importance in what they have asked you to do, and you are saving yourself from stress down the line when closer to the deadline. By running, I was creating more stress for myself, donors, coworkers, etc., by instilling a sense of panic rather than urgency. What I believed to be a sign of enthusiasm and vigor actually appeared as a lack of confidence that I could get the job done on time or a feeling that I had something else to do and someplace else to be. I learned that by slowing down just a bit (not losing my sense urgency, of course), I could actually give those who had assigned me a task a sense of confidence and position myself as a more collected young professional.
How are you Perceived?
So this week I challenge you to think about how you present yourself overall. As Collin states, the way you walk makes a statement.
If you have thoughts or suggestions for other young professionals on how they can present themselves more professionally, I invite you to share them in the comments section.