When you've just graduated college or started a new position in a company, it can feel hard to to feel like you belong and you know what you're doing. That's why it's important to work on creating your career identity — your self at work that distinguishes you from the rest and gives you an exciting purpose to show up every morning. It can feel a little aimless and — even worse — rut inducing when you show up to work day after day without an actual game plan or goal to work towards.
But just as soon as you come up with an idea as to why you're in the office you are, and what you're contributing to your co-workers and to the people you're reaching with your actions, it all becomes different. You have a higher purpose, you have a direction, and you're very aware as to the value your hard work brings to the operation. It immediately becomes a whole other playing field, one where you can truly be proud of your contributions and have the knowledge that you're doing work you've always wanted to do.
But how do you get from Point A (floundering) to Point B (locking down your identity?) Below are seven tips on how to find your career identity, and take your work day to a whole new level!
1. Don't Be Scared To Try On Different Hats
Our culture is built around a fear to fail: To lose at something means that there's a fatal flaw in your character, but that's the opposite of true. To try and then fail means that you figured something out: If that job works for you or doesn't. So if you're not sure what your career identity is yet, don't be afraid to try on different hats. The more jobs or departments you dabble in, the better idea you'll have of what you enjoy and are passionate about.
Career writer Sarah Seung-McFarland, Ph.D. from lifestyle site The Everygirl pointed out, "If you take that job you are not sure of, and grow to hate it, at least you know to cross those types of jobs off your list, and focus on other job options. Instead of thinking of it as a defeat, make each failure and success mold you and push you towards the career that’s right for you." So don't be scared taking those so-so jobs as you make your way towards your dream career. You can be surprised over what you learn along the way.
2. Apply For Jobs You Don't Think You Can Get
If you want to be a go-getter and do something truly special with your career, you're going to have to take some interesting risks. One of those being applying for something you're not entirely sure you'll get, but luck might be on your side for. Sure you can keep applying for the jobs you cozily fit into, but if you want to develop your career identity and shoot right to the job you know would fulfill you the most, you need to take a leap of faith.
Seung-McFarland said, "Many people only apply to jobs they are certain they qualify for in hopes of increasing the chances of finding a job. And this certainly makes sense. The only problem is that if you don’t like any of the jobs you qualify for then you are increasing the chances you will be stuck in a job that makes you miserable." Think about it: What's the worse that can happen? You get a rejection email and move onto the next great job listing.
3. Think Of What You Offer People At Work
It's easier to develop your career identity when you know what kind of emotional appeal you offer people. You won't be so all over the place if you feel in sync with what people think of when they first think of your name. Are you super reliable? Are you the creative one? The one that's steady during a crisis, or the one that knows how to rally a team together? Figure out your emotional appeal at work, and you've got yourself your foundation for your career identity.
Megan Marrs, entrepreneur and contributor for The Daily Muse, explained to Forbes, "For starters, think broadly about your personality and how it affects the experience someone will have with you. Are you insanely organized? Do people love working with you for your killer sense of humor? Make a list of words that best describe these features of your personality." Once you know what you contribute to those that work with you, you'll make more of an effort to play into those attributes, creating a common thread in your work and interactions.
4. Decide What Makes You Stand Out At Work
We all have our own office personalities that help us stand out from the rest and form our identities. For example, you can be "the Type A, detail oriented one," or you can be "the project organizer," or "the problem slayer." Just think back to the office you work in right now and think of how you can peg every person on your team. How do you want to be presented?
Marrs offered examples, "Write down what, exactly, you do (or will do). It might be something that directly relates to your career: writing, graphic design, or financial planning, for example. Or, it might be something more broad, like Disney’s 'entertainment.' Are you a manager, a creator, an organizer? A connector of people?" Think about what use you offer people, and make that your defining trait.
5. Break Out Of Your Confining Boxes
When you were deciding what makes you stand out at work, chances are you might have kept yourself confined to a couple of core boxes. But what if you have some untapped potential that you're too scared to reach for? Just how you should aim to apply to jobs you're not 100 percent qualified for, you should work on breaking yourself out of these structured, limiting check mark boxes. For example, career writer Kathy Caprino from Forbes listed a few knee-jerk assumptions, "I need to earn $XXXXXX to live the life I want; my marriage or family won’t survive my making this change; I’ll be too old by the time I make this change; I don’t have what it takes to reinvent myself or even repurpose what I do; I’m a loser and a failure – I can’t compete; I’m too unskilled or out of touch with current trends; I have nothing important to offer."
To this I say phooey. If you really want to nail down your career identity, you can't limit yourself with weak fears and semi-cowardly assumptions. The point of taking the time to develop your identity is to help yourself become as great as you possibly can be. So when hashing it out, notice what limits you're put on yourself and see if you can lift them.
6. Find A Mentor
There are two things that can happen while trying to suss out your career identity: 1) You can feel like you're not ready for greatness and keep putting yourself down as is habit, or 2) You can feel like you're amazing and won't be able to identify the parts of your work ethic that need work. So the solution for this is to find yourself a mentor that can help you do both. Whether it's a higher up at work, an industry blogger you admire, or someone in the business you can grab coffee with or exchange emails when you have questions — having someone like that can really help keep you on track.
Caprino suggested, "Find someone today who can mentor, advise or coach you about what’s possible, and help you see what’s holding you back from identifying the power you have to make a difference, and the vast number of options that are truly available to you." When you have someone helping you see both your errors and accomplishment, the path can become much clearer.
7. Think About What You Achieve With Your Work
When in the nine to five grind, it's easy to forget why you're there in the first place when the whole shift becomes a routine of spreadsheets and meeting blocks. But if you take a moment to think about and center your actions around what you're hoping to achieve with your work, you can start to craft your career identity and stay true to it because your actions will begin to revolve around it.
New York Times best selling author Michael Port told Huffington Post, "What is your purpose? What is your vision of what you hope to achieve through your work? Remember, your work is an expression of who you are." Once you nail that down, your career identity will follow.
And once you're clear about your identity, you're able to put forth some of your most inspired, on point work forward.