What is behind the work persona?

My role brings me into contact with many people from different parts of the world who are striving to attain the next step in their career. This may mean getting on to a PhD program at Leicester, elsewhere in the UK or somewhere overseas; It may mean moving on to a “post-doc” or “early career position”; It may mean moving on to the next stage of a research or academic career; it may mean moving out of the world of academia/research to work in a different sector; it may mean moving on within one’s sector; it may mean changing sectors etc… You get the idea.

The commonality I see across all of these contexts is that within this process people seek to present what they believe to be their ‘best’ self, or perhaps I should say their most appropriate self. They present that self which they believe is what the employer wants to see. How close is this ‘best’ self to their authentic self? Who knows? However, it is worth considering the factors which mediate the closeness of this ‘best’ to the candidate’s authentic self.
Is it the self that the profession wants? Whatever that means. Often I hear people speak about being ‘professional’. I am never quite sure if this means being the best they can be, in a professional context or if it is living up to some ‘ideal’, the shape of which may well be unclear. Is there a gap between the true self and the ‘professional’ self? If no, not a problem. If such a gap exists, how wide can it be and what might it look like. Most importantly, how incongruous do the professional self and the true self have to be before the person begins to feel unwell?

Is it the self the employing organisation wants? Employee-organisation fit is important. However, it appears that on occasion fitting in with the organisation norms supersedes both the true self and professional expectations. Success appears to stem from ‘networking’ taken to an extreme, where knowledge, skills and abilities are secondary to ‘having coffee with the right people’.

So, for any young professional the question may appear to be: ‘how do I mix my professional standards and effective networking?”. However, the appropriate question may be: ‘how far am I prepared to drift from my authentic self?”

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Martin Coffey

About Martin Coffey

Career Management Skills Developer, Researcher Development Team.

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