There is something so warm and cozy and friendly about being considered nice. It creates a warm fuzzy glow about the heart. Being called professional on the other hand seems a bit stand-offish, a bit more reserved and severe. But it is not necessarily so.
I am in the process of submitting proposals for crochet designs and articles for publication. The targets of my proposals include print magazines, online magazines and yarn companies to date (and if any other type of organisation is paying to publish patterns or articles - I'll take their number, too!) A recent submission call by a yarn company attracted over 400 submissions for approximately a dozen openings. The yarn company's call for submissions had noted the date by which decisions would be made and by which they would inform designers regarding whether or not their designs had been accepted. They followed through on their stated terms and in the days leading up to the notification date, designers started receiving acceptances and rejections (mine was a rejection... *sniff*). In the submission call thread on the Ravelry Designers Group, some folks commented how nice it was that they informed the rejected designers. I countered that they had said they would, so it was thoroughly professional of them to do so, not necessarily nice. I somehow think that some people felt I was offering a downgrade on the company's performance. Actually, I was offering them a higher accolade.
It was nice of them to promise notification on all designs. It was professional of them to fulfil the policy they had stated. Having contact with a wider range of potential employers recently, I have experienced varying degrees of nice-ness and professionalism in various encounters.
My favourite permutation combines both nice and professional. This would include yarn companies who offer to inform all applicants, and do so. It would also be seen in online magazine directors who suggest meeting up at a local knitting group, while promptly sending clarifications of offers and sample contracts for review - taking the process from decision to signed contract in under a week. Aditionally, it would be in print publication staff members who respond to queries regarding lost or misdirected article submissions or submission call requests promptly - even taking time out from their holiday in one case - and offering alternatives to ensure that things get where they need to go. To be honest, I am happy to say that most of my recent dealings have fallen into this category.
Next on my list comes pure professionalism. Some of my dealings have been pure business, without chit-chat or frills. Prompt responses to contract negotiations that encourage getting things clear from the outset. No-nonsense confirmations of receipt for requests or submissions. These interactions have tended to be short, clear and to the point. Pure professionalism might see a magazine admit they can't respond to all applicants and therefore enumerate a clear policy of when submissions can be deemed rejected and released from exclusive consideration by the publisher.
Then there is nice all on its own. Nice promises to contact all submitting designers about the status of their submission in a timely fashion. "But wait!", you say, "You've already covered that one." Alas, without professionalism to back it up that nice promise is only words on the wind. Nice accepts designs and chats with designers promising to follow up with details soon. Without professionalism to back it up, that promise is foam on the waves, slowly losing substance as days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months. Nice on its own could be fun to be friends with, but doesn't help establish one's business.
Luckily I have not yet personally encountered nasty - whether professional or unprofessional - though I know some who feel they have. The less of that permutation we have around the better off we all are for it, I say!
So, while I wish that I could be perceived as and encounter potential employers who universally embody both nice-ness and professionalism; if I have to choose only one of those accolades to be applied to me as a designer or to apply to someone I work with, professional will win out every time.