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​I've often heard the phrase: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Early on in my internal audit career, I took this advice to heart through identifying successful, experienced auditors within my internal audit department, often those at the senior in-charge or manager levels, and studying how they presented themselves. It went beyond dress to items such as their communication styles, how they interacted with others, and how they carried themselves.

Further, when I am visiting with students on campus as part of college recruiting, I'm often approached with questions regarding appropriate attire for internships or entry level positions. Given that each organization will likely have different dress codes a​nd norms for what is suitable attire, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. With this in mind, I'll advise them to dress more conservatively on the first day. In the days to follow, I coach them to identify the rising stars in the department and organization, and use those individuals as a benchmark for not o​nly appropriate work attire, but also how to conduct themselves in general. 

I can't underestimate the importance of this practice in my ongoing career growth and development. In many ways, it is all about professionalism. It's not necessarily about trying to imitate the CEO when you're 25, but rather looking to those who are on the path to increased responsibility within your organization and identifying and emulating some of the characteristics that may be contributing to their success.

While technical skills are critical for internal auditors, just as important are soft skills, some of which I would classify as skills related to professionalism. These include skills such as punctuality (both starting and ending on time), advanced planning and preparation, demonstrating respect for those whose ideas and opinions differ from our own, and accountability for keeping our commitments. In this regard, another item for contemplation is how we handle stressors and complaints. In my view, those who exhibit professionalism look to identify potential solutions to the stressors and complaints that they are faced with, versus looking to their managers to find and implement a solution.

While appropriate attire may vary from organization to organization, I argue that basic attributes related to professionalism will be fairly consistent across organizations. As we further develop our technical learning through continuing professional education and on-the-job training, just as important is continuing to turn the dial on our skills related to professionalism.

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