Building and Refining Your Professional Identity

What is a professional identity, and why is it important?

Your professional identity encompasses all the goals and ideas that you have for yourself regarding your career path. According to Career Trend, you can develop your professional identity by “assessing who you are and what you have to offer” as you progress through your education and career journeys. As a student who is constantly gaining new experiences from classes, internships, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and other opportunities, you can build and refine your professional identity by reflecting on those experiences and determining how well they align with your career goals, interests, and values.

Building your professional identity—and refining it as you gain more experience—will help you develop your career goals and identify the personal values that are most important to you in the workplace. Building your professional identity will also help you discover careers and workplaces in which you can achieve your goals and incorporate your values at work. Whether this is your first time considering your professional identity or you are refining it to incorporate more recent experiences, take some time to:

  • Identify your goals
  • Evaluate your skills
  • Seek out opportunities
  • Tell your story

Identify your goals

By reflecting on past experiences and researching future opportunities, you can identify and clarify your career goals. Career goals are a foundational component of your professional identity and are important to consider as you seek out internships and post-graduate employment. To help you identify and clarify your career goals, try:

  • Thinking about a past or current experience, such as a class or internship
    • What did you like about the type of work you completed, and what didn’t you like?
    • Would you like to work in a field or job that requires that type of work?
  • Researching future opportunities, including fields of employment and specific employers
    • Does this field or employer’s work align with my interests and values?
    • What skills does this field or employer require me to have?

Identifying and clarifying your career goals is closely connected to evaluating the skills you develop in your educational and work experiences.

Evaluate your skills

By evaluating the skills you have and identifying the skills you want to gain, you will have a better understanding of the contributions you can make to specific professional environments, which is another important component of your professional identity. To evaluate your skills, try:

  • Identifying your most developed skills
    • How do these skills align with my career goals?
    • How would I talk about these skills in an interview?
  • Identifying skills you want to develop
    • What opportunities can I seek out to develop these skills?

Seeking out new opportunities can help you develop new skills to help you reach your career goals.

Seek out opportunities

The more opportunities you take part in, the more experiences you will have to reflect on as you work on building and refining your professional identity. New opportunities give you the chance to identify and clarify additional career goals, apply your skills and develop new ones, and broaden your network of professional contacts. Internships, extracurriculars, and volunteering are excellent examples of opportunities that can help you build and refine your professional identity. You can also seek out new opportunities by joining a professional organization that aligns with your area of study.

Tell your story

Building and refining your professional identity helps you decide where you want to go next in your career. It also helps you get there by making you stand out to employers at the application and interview stages. Your career goals, skills, interests, and values are all part of your “personal brand,” the unique way in which you present yourself in professional settings. When seeking employment, you have many opportunities to express your professional identity by telling parts of your story, including:

  • In your cover letter
  • In a brief “elevator pitch”
  • In your interview

If you are looking for guidance on how to communicate your professional identity and personal brand in each of these formats, we recommend that you schedule an appointment with a Career Counselor. We are happy to help you prepare at every stage of the process.


Lo, Mika. “How to Develop a Professional Identity.” Career Trend, Accessed 17 Nov.  2022.

“15 Personal Brand Tips to Help Your Career (Plus Benefits).” Indeed, Accessed    17 Nov. 2022.

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By Nina Burris
Nina Burris Career Ambassador