Defining Professional Identity

As the market place of work continues to both create and destroy jobs, companies and products, there is something that tends to endure in the midst of all of that swirl – professions. This is why I ask my clients to complete an essential but awkward assignment: defining their professional identity.

Definition of Professional Identity: Your persistent, distinguishing essence or character as a worker that makes you not like others. It is different from your personality in that it focuses not on your psychological essence but your occupational essence.

You have a professional identity as a one-person value delivery system. Not as job or title holder. Not as someone with a specific academic degree or credential. Not as a licensed member of a profession. You are a person who persistently delivers certain value to others in a way that is slightly or significantly different from others who are also professionals.

Your professional identity is you – stripped of all your job titles, awards, certificates, licenses and rank – delivering value to customers or clients in a way that causes them to see you as not like other people. This identity is integral to career management because it is what you pursue and develop regardless of how your work is packaged (job, contract, free-lance, company owner) and how it is titled (Project Manager, Program Manager, Finance Director, Chief Technology Officer, Mom).

You may want to use words related to:




Results delivered


Impact on others

Kathleen had been an internal trainer and OD professional at Nike as well as a consultant in the apparel and sustainable materials. She contemplated redesigning her service delivery model and weighed the benefits of going internal or staying as a consultant. Here are a few aspects of her professional identity that she distilled. Notice she didn’t refer to any of her job titles:

  • I have a farmers mind. I am a systems thinker. I see how everything is connected and value the relationships between things.   I can see and track patterns. I prefer to own the whole of an effort to ensure it’s moved forward.
  • I see process as necessary glue that holds things together. Understanding how an effort needs to move and connect with all the pieces is key to its success.
  • I am a tapestry weaver. I naturally look for the threads emerging then weave those threads according to outcome sought which gives rise to an emerging picture of place and direction.
  • I hold a Line of Sight to the efforts aim, helping ensure everyone’s work and focus is moving toward it and ensure all get to the needed end goal.
  • I am a creative collaborator. I do my best work with others and navigate working together in a way that brings out the best from the group.

Now that you’ve seen what it looks like, try it for yourself. Ask yourself, “What makes me unique from other people who do the work or have the same job as I do? What is the coolest observation or feedback I’ve received that surprised me? Focus on the value you deliver rather than the activities you engage in at work.

Your professional identity is that sense of your Self that helps to propel you along your career path toward best work. Being clear and articulate about your professional identity is what allows you to introduce and position yourself in networking situations without using the narrow and limiting terms of a job title. You might want to work on this instead of polishing your resume for the 240th time. It will help you stand out in both networking as well as job interviews.


BruceHazenheadshotsmBruce Hazen, MS
Three Questions Consulting
Bruce is a career and management coach working with professionals who are at career crossroads and wanting answers and action strategies for one or more of The Three Career Questions:

1. When is it time to move up?
2. When is it time to move out?
3. When is it time to adapt my style for greater success?


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