Personal Development

Five Powerful Benefits of Establishing a Professional Identity

To know yourself is to grow yourself

Woman wearing professional attire against a wooden backdrop
Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

Life is an evolution. With every passing day, you learn who you are and what is important to you. This applies to your career life and your life… you know, the one outside of the 9–5.

I didn’t know who I was as a professional when I first entered the career world from University. I thought that I would fit myself perfectly into the ideal career that I haphazardly chose. Kind of like impulse buying a skirt that is a size too small. But the squeeze didn’t feel good or look good. I didn’t know exactly what my career would look like, and it felt like failure. But more importantly, I did not know who I was and why that career path was important to me. I picked something convenient but misaligned. I had worked part-time in a medical clinic, so I stayed there… it was the awful easy route.

As a result, it became very difficult for me to go to work and to show up as my best self. I didn’t have leaders who inspired me, and it wasn’t a workplace that was aligned with adding value to the lives of others. It didn’t help me to become a better person in my career. You don’t want to plateau in your first “career job,”, and so I made a change. I shifted to something that aligned with my personal identity. From this change, I built a professional identity that inspires me every day.

I can show up as “me” in both contexts. My professional and personal values are aligned, and they help me live a purpose-filled life

Here are some of the results of aligning my professional and personal identity:

  • I started KNOWLEJOBLE with my husband. We serve a community of people who are seeking prosperity, wholeness, well-being, and success through a powerful and purposeful career. It builds from my job as a recruiter but makes a bigger impact by answering the questions that I get from people every single day.
  • Media opportunities including features in articles, and panel discussion about the benefits of working and living in Alberta. I have had the opportunity to share my expertise in the career world both online and over video. And I will be speaking in a podcast in a couple of months. All of this from knowing who I am, what I stand for, and what my company is here to do.
  • I’ve improved my performance at work. It is much easier for me to have valuable conversations with my clients and candidates because I know who I am and I know what’s important to me. Your passions and convictions are heard in your voice. As a result, you come across as knowledgeable about your subject matter and trustworthy. Being rooted in my identity has increased my performance and increased revenue for myself and my employer. It’s an incredible side benefit to knowing who you are and what differentiates you from the people around you.
  • I was promoted and now manage a team of recruitment staff. Since leadership is part of my professional identity, I have searched for leadership opportunities (without titles) at every step of my career. I understand who I am, what I stand for, and the value that I want to add to my community of people at work. This results in being recognized as a leader and being given promotions that acknowledge that.
  • I’m confident! Confidence allows me to flourish, even on hard days. Living in a world with other humans means that sometimes you get hurt. People say unkind things, they are human after all. And it still hurts, because I’m human too. But if someone were to say something harsh, I am rooted in the fact that I know who I am at my core and I know what I stand for. And I use my professional identity to align my actions every single day.

Professional identity statements are values, skills, industry experience, and purpose wrapped up into one

Professional identity theories are taught to medical, nursing, and law students as part of their academic degrees. Service professionals benefit from understanding who they are and how they interact with others. There are several different models, but my favourite is this:

It describes that professional identity is formed in the interaction of your individual identity (knowing yourself), with your relational identity (interactions with others), and your collective identity (the identity of the groups that you identify with). All within a community of practice (the identity of your profession).

It shows that you cannot have an identity independent of your context (professional, personal, or otherwise).

Your identity will always fit into the context of your life and the culture of the era. Whether that’s your family status, your age group, your race, your gender identity, they will always interact with a greater context. Identity does not exist in a vacuum.

But you don’t need to be a doctor to get value from knowing your professional identity

Here are five powerful benefits for you:

1. You have a strong elevator pitch

Understanding your professional identity helps you when you have to sell your experience, your services, or your knowledge to someone that you’re meeting for the first time. You can do this in an interview, in an elevator (of course), at a career fair, or when you’re at a social gathering. Your professional and personal identity helps you to introduce yourself boldly. Most people don’t understand who they are, let alone how to communicate it to others. Your professional identity creates big impact quickly and sets you apart from the crowd.

2. Your identity guides your career goals and development

When I first started my career I was floating. I chose a passive fit because it was easy… because it was something I had done before. But it wasn’t aligned with what I wanted and so I couldn’t see growth opportunities down that career path. I didn’t pursue personal or professional development, I just floated along. Tired. Bored. Frustrated. 

If you can align yourself with your professional values and identity, you can seek jobs and career progressions that fit you. It will help you to pick out courses, books, seminars, and articles to read. It helps you focus on the things that you’re interested in so you are intentional with your time.

3. It builds your enthusiasm and confidence

Your professional identity grounds you and boosts confidence. You spend less time worrying about what other people think of you (which is a huge distraction from your ability to perform well).

When you receive unfounded criticism you can remind yourself of your professional identity to stay steadfast. And when you receive constructive feedback, it keeps you humble while providing a solid base to improve yourself.

4. You become “attractive” to the people around you

Not in the “physically attractive” way, but in the relaxed, self-assured, and personable human type of way. People who know their professional identity are magnetic in the workplace. You can pick them out at the Christmas party (it’s a little harder on a zoom call) and you know it by just looking at them. If you are the magnetic personality, opportunities come your way. Because you understand who you are, the people around you understand your strengths and weaknesses. It is easier for people to bring opportunities to you because the know you better than they know other colleagues. You know yourself well, allowing others to know you too.

In networking situations, people underestimate the value of the way they present themselves. They understand the importance of networking but underestimate the impact that they can have on the people in the room. You have value no matter what your job title is. You have value to add in every single conversation. You are less likely to be intimidated (but you might still be nervous) if you know your professional identity.

5. It guides your professional interactions

I was in some leadership training recently and was reminded of the importance of consistency in your interactions. As a leader, you need to be honest, predictable and reliable, which is hard if you are unsure of your professional identity. If you’re not sure of who you are and what you stand for, it is easy to make poor decisions when confronted with difficult situations. It is easy to lash out, get angry, or say something you don’t mean. And it is easy to be disrespectful or unempathetic.

But if you understand who you are and what is important to you, you will act in alignment with that. You have a built-in measuring stick to judge your interactions with others. Think of having a built-in standard that you build for yourself! This is really powerful stuff. For example, if you believe as a professional that everyone has value (from the team member working on the simplest jobs, to the interns, to the CEOs) then you can respectfully talk to anyone at any level of the organization. And it doesn’t change just because you are having a bad day!

Here is an example of a professional identity statement:

I am motivated to build a life that is prosperous and meaningful and I’m driven to help other people do the same. As a professional recruiter, manager, writer, and business owner, I seek opportunities to add value to the people I meet at every turn. My career and business advice develops strong professionals who will make a significant impact in their field. My dedication inspires, encourages, and empowers others to pursue the lifestyle that they are seeking through the power of meaningful work. I treat all people with respect, compassion, and dignity and believe that we are all created for greatness. 

If you hadn’t guessed, this is mine. 

I am writing this piece because of my professional identity

Having a strong understanding of my professional identity has revolutionized my life. It has grown a company from scratch, supported an incredible marriage, and has significantly improved our financial situation. My professional identity has given me the ability to impact the people around me. It’s the foundation for my professional growth for the rest of my life.

Without one, you can be blown away in the wind. With one, you are planted firmly and can continue to make a difference no matter how strong the storm.

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