Why Changing Jobs, Changes How You See Yourself
Sarah Wittman

Making a career change is important because outside of sleep, work is where we spend the greatest number of hours over our lifetime. Work plays a huge role in shaping our identities, relationships and sense of belonging.

On today’s podcast, we are joined by Sarah Wittman, Assistant Professor of Management at George Mason University’s School of Business, who has conducted research into how work shapes our identity. In her article for Harvard Business Review she shares how thanks to major shifts in the labor market, workers are switching organizations, functions, and even industries much more frequently than past generations. Consequently, our sense of self at work is constantly changing too.

We do tend to be on these career treadmills. What can I get? What’s the next position? All of these other things. And even when we’re jumping industries, we say, okay, this is a great opportunity for me. I’m going to be increasing maybe my status, my pay, maybe my work-life balance. But when we really get down to it, I think we need to take into account that identity long angle. Identities, if we want to define them, are these self-definitions; what we use to describe ourselves. This can be personal characteristics, such as, I’m hardworking.  Or it can be role related. I am a professor. I’m also a spouse, I’m a teacher, I’m a mentor. Or when we talk about the gender angle, it can be social identities.  When we think about what comes with us, and this is where lingering identities come in, it’s essentially what do we carry with us when we leave one job and enter another.

Managing our work identity is important, especially when you are looking to change jobs or careers.

In addition to using the VME (Value, Meanings and Enactment) framework, Sarah says there are three actions you can take to ensure your success in a new role, company, or career path:

Action One:  Understand your current work identity well enough to use it as a filtering device for available opportunities.

Action Two:  Only pursue job opportunities that offer a good enough match for your identity.

Action Three:  Understand how your identity will change in your new role.

Changing careers or jobs can be difficult. To give yourself the best possible chance of success you have to assess if the job will add to and enable your sense of self.

Sarah Wittman

George Mason University