By calling out my multiple professional identities in my job applications, I have become a stronger applicant: Sarabeth Berk, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Have you ever felt as though no one understands what you do?  You have a bunch of talents (some might even say too many), yet you find you have to compartmentalize and prioritize them because your boss, your coworkers, or your clients don’t see how they all fit together.  You feel like you have to be one thing because the world won’t understand if you show them everything you’re good at.  Well, I’m here to tell you this doesn’t have to be true.

If you’ve ever felt stuck in your job and yearn to use all of your talents together, know you’re not alone.  It took me years to figure out that I can be more than my title.  That’s right, I said it, people are more than their titles. A title is just a list of words but who you are and what you do in your daily work can be much more.  My title is Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship but on any given day I’m an activist, strategist, creator, project manager, teacher, and the list could go on.

My Background

For me, I studied art and design in undergrad and grad school.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I ended up as an art teacher and worked in nonprofits doing community outreach.  I got tired of being labeled the “art teacher” when I knew I could, and was, doing much more in my job.  I was compelled to make a difference in the world, but I felt my title was holding me back. People only saw me as an art teacher, but I saw myself as a changemaker, an aspiring leader, and as a visionary.

In order to make the leap from teaching to a new career, I decided to get another credential. I enrolled in a PhD program in curriculum studies to both get the doctorate, which I knew people in my field would take more seriously, and to become an expert in teaching and learning.  Concurrently, I worked at the university and led a program on creativity and entrepreneurship for freshman students.  The combination of these two experiences were serendipitous, and they changed my life.

For instance, the PhD gave me the tools in research and in critical thinking that helped me become more analytical and persuasive in my writing and discussions with colleagues and superiors.  On the other hand, leading the creativity and entrepreneurship program gave me exposure to the business school, community leaders, and entrepreneurs.  I learned about startups and being entrepreneurial by my proximity to them, and their energy and way of working rubbed off on me.  Suddenly, I became a blend of a teacher, researcher, creative, and entrepreneur rolled into one.

The Epiphany

That’s when I had an epiphany- people have multiple professional identities. We are more than our titles.  As I spoke with others about their professions, I started to notice that many people were using more than one professional identity within their role, but no one was aware of it.  It wasn’t common to talk about, and therefore it went unnoticed.  Once I paid attention, I started to see this phenomenon everywhere.

What I’m about to tell you has forever changed my career and made me more successful at landing jobs. By calling out my multiple professional identities in my job applications and cover letters, I have become a stronger applicant.  By describing how my professional identities fit together in a unique way that offers great value to the company I want to work for, they see me as a huge asset because I bring more to the table than they asked for.

Becoming a Hybrid Professional

Now, in my work, I call myself a hybrid professional.  I use the term hybrid as my asset.  Being a hybrid professional means that you have more than one professional identity and you integrate your different identities together to create unique value.  For instance, I combine my artist and researcher identities together to look at data and see patterns that others don’t see, and I’m able to create data visualizations that other people would not have.  I combine my best skill sets and abilities and become better at my job. Being a hybrid professional makes you stand out and differentiates you from others.

If you think you are a hybrid or want to explore how it could help you get a new job, here are my tips:

  1. Bring awareness to your top talents and skills: What are the things you are really good at and love doing?  Make a list.  Then, narrow this list to the top three or four identities or talents that you use the most and love the most.
  2. Start adding your top talents together: Looking at your list, if you added two of your professional abilities together, what would they amount to?  Look at it like a math problem. Don’t be afraid of creating a new professional identity.
  3. When talking about career, talk about how you are more than your title: When someone asks what you do, don’t just say your title. Instead, list your professional identities and explain how you use those identities in interesting combinations to excel at your work.  This is a more engaging way to sell yourself and get people to be interested in you as a future employee.

If you want more tips, visit my website, and learn how being a hybrid professional is a better way of branding yourself in your career.

Dr. Sarabeth Berk is the Director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative at CU Boulder, a cross-campus effort to bring more entrepreneurial thinking into university experiences for all audiences. Sarabeth obtained her PhD in curriculum studies and instruction from the University of Denver, and has focused on innovation in K-12 and higher education throughout her career.  She considers herself a hybrid professional and identifies as an artist/researcher/teacher/designer.  She has degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Rhode Island School of Design.  When she isn’t transforming education, Sarabeth is a council member on the Denver County Cultural Council to support nonprofits across the region, and she plays in the outdoors as much as possible.

By calling out my multiple professional identities in my job applications, I have become a stronger applicant: Sarabeth Berk, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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