02 Jul

What does ‘professional’ mean?

This post leans slightly towards my last post, on tone of voice, as – if your organisation has a strong brand identity – things like choosing the font you write in might be taken out of your hands.

But, for the purposes of this post, let’s say your company affords you the luxury of writing your emails – whether internal or to clients/supporters/donors – in whatever font takes your fancy.
If that happens to be the case, which font should you write your emails in?
Is there any font – outside of Chalkboard and Comic Sans – that could be considered ‘unprofessional’, or is that just nonsense?

In many organisations, the default font (whether using Outlook or another provider) is already set.
Sometimes it’s Calibri, sometimes it’s Helvetica, sometimes it’s Garamond.
On a personal note, I hate sending emails in Garamond, as it makes me / the organisation look old-fashioned or – dare I say it – a tad boring. It’s too ‘traditional’ – it looks like the front cover of the Daily Mail, or like an email written by a letterpress printing house.

If using a cheap-ish PC, or an iGel (used by quite a few charities), the screen resolution is often poor, and writing in Calibri – unless making it huge e.g 16pt – leads to typos.

I tend to write my emails in Arial (11pt).
Arial is the I-didn’t-know-what-else-to-use-so-I-used-this font.
It’s a no-frills font. It’s inoffensive.
It’s also really easy to read (no fussy serifs)… and surely, above all else, you want your email(s) to be easily read by the recipient.
Yet, bizarrely, I was pulled up on this a couple of years ago, while working as a full-time, in-house copywriter: I was told that my use of Arial font made my emails come across as ‘unprofessional’, and I should stick to the default font (Calibri).
I’d never had a single complaint about my emails up until that point – not from peers, senior stakeholders, trustees, donors, or corporate sponsors.

I ignored the comment, and carried on writing emails in the font of my choosing up until I left the role.

I find a lot of comments like this – about what is and isn’t professional – quite odd.
For example, I still hear people saying that calling from mobiles / on a mobile number comes across as unprofessional (I think Vonage are currently running radio ads that say this).
I actually expect calls from mobile numbers more than from landlines, no matter the size of the company / the level of seniority of the person calling. It tells me that person / company is ‘on the go’, that they’re busy, and that they’re easily contactable.
If they’ve got a landline too, that’s just a bonus… although I’d expect a large national company to have a landline for reception / a switchboard.

Similarly, I’m not sure why dress code denotes a level of professionalism in any way. You wouldn’t expect a barrister to turn up to court in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, but other than that…

The point I’m trying to make is that email fonts, phone numbers, and dress codes don’t tell me whether someone is professional or not.
The things that tell me whether they’re professional are; their number of years’ experience doing what they do, their subject/industry knowledge, their ability to get a job done (and get it done within a certain timeframe), the way they speak to me and others around them, how they’re viewed by fellow colleagues and industry peers.
And when I say ‘the way they speak to me and others around them’, I don’t mean their accent or whether they use colloquialisms (or even swear) – I mean: does what they’re saying make sense, does it show deep knowledge/insight of the issues at hand, and does it provide some kind of solution.
Many people mistake ‘straight talking’, ‘saying it like it is’, and swearing for ‘unprofessionalism’, when – in reality – what’s just been said probably makes perfect sense.

Professionalism: what does it mean to you?

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