“Is there no standard anymore? What it takes, who I am, where I’ve been before.” ~ Pantera

Or, as defined by my dictionary:

Standard (n): a level of quality, an accepted example of something against which others are judged or measured, a moral principle of behaviour

I got into a big row about standards the other day. Work ones, primarily. It all came out as this was brought up in conversation in the context of an interview question;               “Which is more important to have, professionalism or integrity?”

Now I don’t mind admitting I was initially stumped and very glad I wasn’t in an interview at the time! Someone made the point that integrity was about being a good person and doing the right thing, whereas professionalism was simply about making it things look good. A fairly robust debate went on from there.  I do believe the phrase “you can’t polish a turd” may even have been used at some point. The main points in summary were:

  • you could display great professionalism within your work but still be a complete shit


  • you could be utterly decent and moral but be incapable of dealing appropriately with customers, clients, preparing reports etc

It made me recall a recruitment tale of a guy I knew who ran his own successful business delivering specialised training. He advertised a training post, which attracted a lot of applicants, whom he whittled down to two guys and invited them both to do a final presentation. One of these had shone from the start; his qualifications were better, his interview manner more assured, his experience more relevant. However, when said candidate walked into the room he hadn’t tucked his shirt back in properly after a nervous visit to the bathroom and half an inch of Donald Duck boxer shorts could be seen above the waistband of his trousers.

He didn’t get the job.

Now you can argue that this was a mistake, he could have been told and he probably never would do it again. My friend’s point was that this guy would be representing his business. That business carries his name, his professionalism, his own personal integrity, and his own standards meant that he couldn’t ever trust all that to someone who may flash a bit of comedy boxer-short at an inappropriate moment.*

That’s a situation that argues strongly for the importance of professionalism, not least in the sense of check your appearance before delivering a presentation. It could also be said that is basic common sense. However, if your job involves you standing up in front of a group of people then ensuring you are correctly attired is professionalism.

Integrity is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s entirely possible to end up working in a situation that goes against your own integrity but is necessary for your job. Getting on and doing it would be classed as professional but what price integrity then?

For me, I leave a little of my personal integrity at home when I go to work. However, I then pick up my work integrity. This is belief in what I do, the rights and laws that I follow and uphold. My personal and work integrities aren’t mutually exclusive but I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I always brought my own standards here.

As for professionalism? That’s a no brainer. I will always act in a professional manner to the best of my ability in whatever job I do for as long as I do it. I could never be anything less.

So, what about you guys? Where do you stand on work standards? What would you answer if faced with that initial question in an interview? And have you ever lost out on a job due to comedy boxer shorts? Thoughts on a comment box-shaped postcard, please.




*personally I’m not sure there ever is an appropriate moment for this.

2 thoughts on “Standards

  1. I’m cheating here, but I’m reading a great book, True Professionalism by David Maister, and as I read it the author is suggesting integrity is an inextricable component of professionalism. I agree with your comment that we have work integrity and personal integrity, but I believe the difference is only in the types of situations to which we are exposed; at the end of the day, one simply must have integrity or one can’t be a professional. . .or even a good person. I liked the post; it made me think, which is the highest compliment I can give. Good work!

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