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Erin Justyna, Texas Tech University

Erin Justyna.jpgIndividuals enter the advising profession from many different paths and for many different reasons.  Many advisors admit they stumbled upon advising, got to work, and never looked back.  Whatever the path that leads individuals to advising, it is important to consider the direction that path will take in the future.  Advisors should ask themselves who or what they want to be and do, and create an intentional plan to get there.  NACADA has championed advising as a profession, but many advisors have not solidified their individual professional identity.   

One way that advisors can explore their professional identity is through the lens of brand identity.  The American Institute of CPAs published a 2012 article titled, “Five Tips to Branding Yourself,” which recommends that professionals brand themselves before someone else does.  The article suggests that creating a personal brand is a way to stay current in one’s field, open doors of opportunity, and create a lasting impression on those with whom one works (American Institute of CPAs, 2012).  The article asks individuals, “What is it that you want to be known for?” and suggests personal branding as a way to “define ourselves in the work space while also incorporating the personal elements that make us who we are” (American Institute of CPAs, 2012, p. 1). Individuals with a personal brand have control over the initial and long-lasting perceptions people have of them

Step One

The first step in branding oneself is to define the brand and become an expert.  Advisors should take some time and consider who they are and what makes up their brand as a professional.  One approach is for the advisor to begin listing illustrative words, such as collaborative, genuine, ethical, caring, reliable, intuitive, creative, etc., to describe their persona, culture, and outlook (American Institute of CPAs, 2012). Professionals must also reflect on how the brand they develop fits in with the mission of their institution and avoid establishing expertise that is irrelevant in that context.  Some advisors will find defining their brand difficult, and may first need to find their voice through exploration, conversation with trusted others, and professional development.  Ken Robinson is a great resource for those who are trying to find their “element” (Robinson & Aronica, 2009).

Step Two

The second step in branding oneself is to establish a presence. Advisors should ask themselves whether people know who they are and whether their work is visible on campus and beyond. No matter what the answer, advising professionals should volunteer for campus committees and task forces, and attend events facilitated by other departments, such as the Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center and Human Resources Department.  Individuals should say “yes” to activities that fit their brand and “no” to those that do not. 

Advisors should also consider their online presence. People are searching Google to see what they can find out about colleagues, friends, and yes, even their advisors.  Individuals can ensure the content being viewed speaks positively to the brand they are trying to portray by building a basic online presence through websites and blogs (American Institute of CPAs, 2012). Pushing out content is a sure- fire way to build a positive brand, stay relevant, and grow in the field of advising. Advisors can participate in listservs, post relevant articles to various social networking sites, and comment on professional blogs. 

Step Three

Once advisors have defined their brand and established a presence, they must generate brand awareness through networking.  Networking is one of the best ways to become known in any industry (American Institute of CPAs, 2012).  Advisors can connect with other professionals in advising by interacting during events hosted by their campus and professional organizations and utilizing social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.  Members of NACADA can seek connections through regional and state activities, the Commission and Interest Group Division, and advisory boards and committees.  These connections will facilitate partnerships with colleagues and push advisors to consider alternative forms of professional development.  As advisors build their networks, they should be prepared for questions and critics and seek out champions and cheerleaders. Professional mentors are extremely important for advisors who are attempting to brand themselves.  It is very beneficial for advisors to seek out and utilize mentors on their own campus and outside of their campus. NACADA also has a mentoring program, the Emerging Leaders Program, which encourages members from diverse groups to get involved in leadership opportunities within the organization. 

Step Four

The fourth step in personal branding is to remember the three Cs of branding: clarity, consistency, and constancy (American Institute of CPAs, 2012).  Advisors should be clear about who they are and who they are not, and strive to be intentional about the process (American Institute of CPAs, 2012). Professionals must chart a path by generating a vision and taking steps to get there.  The tools for doing so are abundant: journals, vitaes/resumes, paper/digital portfolios, LinkedIn, and web-based project management applications, such as Tracky or Trello.  Advisors must not let their professional development end with each NACADA conference, but rather should constantly seek to build their reputation and that of advising as a whole. 

“When [what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine] come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.” (Collins, 2001) 

Step Five

The final step in branding ourselves as a professional is to get feedback from those who know us best—at work, at home, anywhere (American Institute of CPAs, 2012).  This feedback can come in many forms: one-on-one through mentors, students, colleagues, friends, and loved ones, from campus surveys, or within professional evaluations.  The feedback that advisors get through their professional networks and portfolios can both highlight and drive their work in the field of advising. Areas for growth can be identified, which can then inform the types of opportunities to be sought in training and development. 

“Your unique brand message differentiates the best you have to offer, gives a good indication of what you’re like to work with, and shows how you make things happen” (American Institute of CPAs, 2012). 

According to Daniel Pink in Drive (2009), people are much more likely to report having “optimal experiences” on the job than during leisure.  Ask any long term advisor why they love what they do, they will likely tell you about one or more of these optimal experiences in their careers.  Advisors with a strong professional identity have the power to increase their satisfaction and effectiveness. Creating a brand can help advisors take control of their careers and design a path to personal and professional fulfillment. 

Erin Justyna
Assistant Director
Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement
Texas Tech University
[email protected]


American Institute of CPAs. (2012, March 30).  Five tips to branding yourself. Retrieved from http://www.aicpa.org/interestareas/youngcpanetwork/resources/career/pages/fivetipstobrandingyourself.aspx.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't. New York, NY:  HarperCollins.

Neumeier, M. (2006). The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design.  Berkely, CA: New Riders. 

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


Cite this article using APA style as: Justyna, E. (2014, March). Developing a professional identity. Academic Advising Today, 37(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2014 March 37:1


# Kimberly
Thursday, June 14, 2018 3:16 PM
I found this very helpful. Thank you!

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