Professional Expectations

Long before Day One on the job, employers are assessing your ability to communicate effectively and to conduct yourself professionally in the workplace. This is why it’s so important to consider communications and professionalism during the job search phase before you begin work officially. Workplaces have expectations around employee competence, communication skills, conduct (including attitude!), and fit with the organizational culture.

We begin this module by introducing and then reflecting upon the 4 C’s of professional expectations: Competence, Conduct, Culture, and Communication. Let’s look at what each of these terms mean for you!


This refers to doing your job well. In addition to carrying out your duties, you have additional expectations as an employee, such as:

  • Managing your time and meeting deadlines;
  • Following up when you’ve completed an assigned task;
  • Advising people who may be affected if you miss a deadline;
  • Refraining from minimizing your errors
    • This means that instead of saying “My bad”, you take responsibility for your part;
  • Bringing ​your supervisor not just problems, but also potential solutions​;
  • Being resourceful – ready to answer the question “What have you tried/considered so far?”; and
  • Asking for feedback​ so you can improve​.

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Reflection #28 – Reflections on Competency

Conduct and Attitude

Professional conduct and a positive attitude are expectations of most workplaces:

  • Be considerate and polite, even when dealing with someone difficult
  • Be friendly but not overly familiar (one should limit socializing to ensure the work gets done)
  • Demonstrate an attitude that is committed, reliable, pleasant, positive, and helpful. For example, if you’re not busy, ask your supervisor if there’s something you could be working on​.

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Reflection #29 – Conduct and Attitude

Workplace Culture

Adapting to the workplace culture is a sign that you can be a positive contributor to the team and organizational goals, rather than a potential source of conflict and friction. This includes displaying a number of positive behaviours, such as:

  • Being punctual
  • Showing up reliably and making proactive contact if, for example, you are sick
  • Adhering to any dress codes
  • Following protocols, for example when and how often to check in with your supervisor
  • Making appropriate use of organizational resources​

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Reflection #30 – Workplace Culture

Consider the following scenario:

It’s Sunday evening, you’ve developed a sore throat, and you are tired. You are scheduled to work at 9AM Monday morning. You decide to see how you feel in the morning before deciding whether to take a sick day. You wake up Monday morning and your throat pain is worse. You look at the clock and realize that it’s 10AM and you’ve slept through your alarm. You pick up the phone and see there is a voice mail message from your supervisor waiting for you.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are important whether they are used with supervisors, co-workers, or clients. In most workplaces, everyone is expected to show the following behaviours when it comes to how we communicate:

  • Learning people’s names
  • Introducing yourself to people you don’t know
  • Politeness and respect toward others
  • Respecting confidentiality
  • Listening actively: seek first to understand, ask for clarification, and paraphrase what you hear
  • Handling any disagreements privately and with tact

Your workplace may distinguish between what is acceptable for internal communications, but require more formal approaches when communicating externally. For example, the use of emojis may be accepted for internal messages, but avoided when exchanging messages with a customer, vendor, or other external contact. Find out the practice at your workplace!

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Reflection #31 – Reflections on Communication

No matter whether you are looking to secure a work opportunity that is full-time, part-time, volunteer, a placement or internship, always approach it with the same a high level of professionalism.

Tips For Communicating

“Effective communication builds a positive atmosphere where teams can flourish. When communication is positive and encouraging, team members become stronger and work better together. Those who practice good communication skills make working beside them easier and less stressful.”

– Indeed Career Advice[1]

For workplaces to operate smoothly and achieve their objectives, communication is critical. This includes verbal, written, non-verbal, and digital communication on the part of both the sender and the receiver. We’ll address all of these different forms of communication in due time but, for now, let’s flip through the accordion below for some concepts to keep in mind.

Media Attributions

  • Document File via Careerspace



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