People First! Sarabeth Berk, "You Are More than Your Job Title"

Morag and Sarabeth Berk discuss why you are more than your job title!

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Sarabeth Berk discuss why you are more than your job title!

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
1:02 - Origin Story
2:38 - Book
5:17 - Intersections
7:22 - Swiss Army Knife
9:35 - ID v PID
12:45 - Make a Difference
16:15 - Implications for Marketing Yourself
19:00 - The Future is Hybrid
22:15 - Final Thoughts
23:05 - Wrap

TedX Talk:

- [INTRO] Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First with Morag Barrett.

- Dr. Sarabeth Berk is a hybrid professional who researches hybrid professional identity. Sarabeth calls herself a creative disruptor because she blends her artist, researcher, educator, and designer identities. And after Sarabeth underwent her own professional identity crisis, I look forward to learning more about that, Sarabeth, she learned that she was a hybrid and that concept revolutionized her career path. Now she's obsessed with changing the way that we see the workforce and helping professionals realize that their unique value lies at the intersections of their multiple identities. So Sarabeth, welcome to People First.

- Oh my gosh, thank you. I'm glad to be here.

- Oh, I'm looking forward to exploring the concept of identities and hybrid professionals. But before we dive into that, your origin story. When you were back at elementary school and the teacher said to you, Sarabeth, what do you think you're going to be, what are you going to do when you grow up? What was your answer back then?

- I probably would have bounced between two answers. One was a veterinarian because I just loved pets and animals, and the other was a ballerina because I was really into ballet and dancing. And so that was where I started as a little girl.

- Do you still dance?

- I did ballet for a really long time. I wish, in some way, I'd stayed up with it, but I don't. I do more yoga and just that kind of movement now.

- Still dancing, but just at a slower pace.

- That body memory is still with me in ways. Like I know how to hold my arm and pose, but my body is different.

- As my friend, John Baldini, would say, you have grace. So leadership grace. It's what I try and channel when I'm doing my ballroom dancing. So it's funny, asking you your origin story made me laugh this morning as I was preparing for the interview because it ties so nicely with the title of your book. And certainly I know in my career when people said, Where do you see yourself in five years time, the expected answer is a job title. But as you and I know, especially in the 21st century, job titles are coming and going all the time. And so that question never really made sense to me. And I know with your book, the title being, More Than My Title: The Power of Hybrid Professionals in a Workforce of Experts and Generalists, you must have had a similar epiphany. So tell me more about your book and the inspiration behind it.

- Yeah, you mentioned this in the bio introduction. I literally had a moment, well, actually it's happened a couple of times, but I was going through a professional identity crisis. I just didn't know how to answer that What Do You Do question. It plagued me. It was the question I looked forward to least because I was doing different things but I never knew how to put it into a package where it made sentence. So depending on the person, I'd be like, Oh I'm doing some teaching, or, Oh, I'm working at the university, or, Oh, I'm helping with some design thinking strategy. But that was fragmenting myself. I could never kind of explain me in a total holistic package. And so I was working on my doctorate at the time because I was trying to build another credential on my reputation, kind of figure out my next career step. I thought the doctorate was going to be the thing, but that was the moment when I was, you know, struggling the most and thought everyone else had it figured out and knew they were going to graduate and get a job and move forward. And I got introduced to entrepreneurship around that time, and my whole background had been in art and design and education. So being with startups and people that were action-takers and problem-solvers and just dived right in, I was like, I want that energy. So suddenly I realized there are people out there that are able to connect these dots in ways that I hadn't learned were, you know, feasible in the education circles. So I started this as my dissertation project. I started understanding more about professional identity and how do other people define themselves? And so the baseline was, people are more than their job titles. A job title didn't mean anything when I dived into the research and interviewed people. But what I did find is people had multiple identities that were hidden and sometimes they could explain it like, yeah, I'm, you know, partially doing curriculum design and partially I'm a classroom manager, but I also counsel students a lot, and I also do my own jewelry making on the side, and they didn't even know how to talk about those parts. So I was sensing that there's this whole way of being, of integration that's showing up in their work and that those are these intersections, it's intersectionality. And that discovery, when I saw it in other people, I realized it was happening to myself, and this concept is what I call hybridity. You can be more than one thing simultaneously and we don't talk about integration as a competitive advantage. Whereas other people just list all their identities. When you can define who you are in the intersection, that's your power spot. It's you feel your best, you're in your zone, you're engaged, and that realization just changed my whole sense of myself and my career.

- So what are organizations and what are we, as individuals, missing out when we aren't focusing on that intersection as you described it?

- Yeah, so I have this framework that talks about three types of professional identity, and I really think we've only focused on two types. So essentially people can have one professional identity. I call that singularity and those tend to be experts. You can have many identities and I call that multiplicity, but you're only one of those identities at the time. It's like the Uber driver who's driving, and then at home is, you know, doing some computer programming, and on the side has another side hustle, but they're never really weaving those identities together. So then the third type of professional, the one we've been missing is the hybrid, where those circles, those different identities intersect. And so I think as society, we get stuck in these binaries of you're either an expert or a generalist, someone that does one thing or someone that does many things, and we can't make sense of people who do them together at the same time, that combination. And so I think this is literally the tipping point we're at in society where there's a segment of the workforce that is this hybrid professional group who needs language to describe themselves, who isn't even aware that they can be a hybrid, versus the rest of the workforce that's still in expert and generalist mode. So we're really at this moment of like things are colliding and new professionals are emerging.

- I love that. I think what some of it is that we're stuck in that 20th century mindset, as your book has describes with the job title. And if I use myself as an example, people see me now as an author, as a speaker, as a leadership expert, and maybe you can help me understand , but what they don't see from that or those job titles is the 15 years in finance that I bring, and then my ability and understanding of what makes for a successful business. And so that's where in my experience job titles alone limit us and limit the opportunities because we don't see all of the different skills that we can tap into. Now, I know you use the analogy of the Swiss army knife and the Camelback as another way of just helping us to understand the difference between the expert, but also the hybrid professionals. So can you say a little bit more about that?

- Yeah, thanks for bringing that up. I think analogies are so important, because people really show up to me and they're like, I'm a hybrid, and then they describe what they do. I'm like, you're not quite exactly a hybrid. So essentially a Swiss army knife is a tool that has many little tools in it, but you still use one tool at a time. You pull out the little knife and you put it back, and the screwdriver and you put it back. A Camelback is a whole new product, right? It's a combination of two other products, of backpack and water bottle. And the company came up with a whole new design where the water bottle is infused and totally integrated into the backpack design. You can't separate one from the other. So that is a whole new type of product, and that's what's happening to us as professionals. Like my career history was teacher, and then program manager and program director, and yet I'm really this artist, designer, educator, researcher, combination and I didn't have a term for that. So I talked to people a lot about creating their own hybrid title, a name to give all of your identities, and mine is creative disruptor. Because when I looked in the intersections I found these common themes and patterns. I was pushing the status quo, challenging things, coming up with new ideas, and creativity always underpinned that. So that term, creative disruptor, represents me in my best way and it's the title I use regardless of what other job I have. Like, I use them in tandem. Like, I'm Sarabeth, I'm the program director of X, and I think of myself as a creative disruptor. That's the more intriguing part that people ask me about than just, Oh, you're a program director, because it shows my value. So there's a lot more about the terms. But yeah, thinking about what is the new combination of yourself and what are you going to call that is kind of the Swiss army knife versus Camelback idea.

- So I love that. That's how you answer, what do you do, creative disruptor. But how does somebody like myself or someone listening to this podcast start by getting clear on both the difference and the intersection of identity and professional identities.

- Oh my gosh, it's a huge topic. Identity as a spectrum. We try and label people and put each other in boxes, and the truth is we're all gray in this messy space. So first of all people have many identities that are socially identified as, you know, race, class, gender, ability, age, any of that. I just focus on one of the dimensions, which is your professional identity. Who are you at work? And professional identity is anything you do that you call your job, whether or not you get paid for it. So if you're on a board and it's a volunteer position or you're doing a volunteer job, maybe that's part of your work too. And so unpacking all of these veins of different ways you show up at work is where I ask people to start doing a lot of deep self-reflection. Usually people can't even list their identities up first. They sort of start and stop, they tell me the things they don't want to be doing that they're doing. And I'm like, no, we don't want to focus on that. And we generate a list. I try and get them to really think about what they do and convert that back into nouns. So if you're doing a lot of marketing, are you a marketer? If you're doing a lot of sales, do you call yourself a salesperson? Maybe you call yourself, you know, a negotiator instead of a sales person. There's all this language. And then we move from the identity words to narrowing those to your core ones, the ones you use every day that are really your best and most unique and we create a Venn diagram out of those. So mine is a four-circle Venn diagram and I do a thing called professional identity math where we dive into the intersection. So who am I. I'm the artist and the educator, or the artist educator researcher, and we start to like, think about that. It's really hard work to think who you are at the intersections, and my trick is to back into it by thinking about feelings. What are you doing, going back into your memory bank when you light up, when you feel amazing and there's a flow and everything just is easy and you're finding all that joy, it's effortless? In those moments, you're in your hybrid zone and you don't even know it. So we focus on that and then we start writing down what you're doing and we start to notice patterns. There are certain words and things that are coming up again and again, and those become themes, and those themes then inspire your hybrid title. It helps you literally see, you know, through all like the forest through the trees. It just becomes crystal clear.

- I love that because, in our emotional intelligence programs that my team and I share with our clients, we talk about the Feel, Think, Do triangle, and that ultimately is who we become. So their feelings, the emotions you've just talked about, the behaviors and skills that we're demonstrating to manifest that, the Do, the results that we're able to get all impact our reputation and our influence. And you're just coming at it from a slightly different angle to help us understand, as you say, when we're in flow and our identities. So I know in the book, you've got loads of stories and case studies of people who've gone through this, who've identified their hybrid identity and work personas. So share one of your favorite stories of how this has made a difference for somebody who was title-cast and then worked on their hybrid understanding.

- Yeah, there are so many stories and I keep meeting more and more people. I think, I mean, just a recent person that I was coaching, she is in her fifties and going through another career transition. She had been consulting. She had worked in full-time roles. She showed up and she's like, I just don't know how to kind of get my career back online. I really don't know how to describe myself or pitch myself. And she had worked with three different resume writers over her journey and didn't feel like that got her anywhere. And so as we did this work, I said, Okay, tell me about yourself and what you do. And she told me things like, I'm a leadership, you know, developer. I do organizational transformation. I'm a problem-solver and a relationship-builder. And these are all great terms. There's nothing wrong, but they're very basic and generic. It didn't help me see her differently than 12 other people that could have been in the room. And so we went further and further and I heard moments of how she facilitates and how she'll go up to the whiteboard and call attention to certain words and make these mind maps in ways, and then other times where she was making really great introductions that were just the right person and the talent that changed the deal. And this term of being a highlighter really came up in that work, that she's the person that highlights very specific and important details that other people are missing, and her strategic side was really coming through. So her hybrid title became strategic highlighter, and when she and I were working together and this sort of surfaced, she just had that moment of awe. And she's like, that's it. You know, this is what I've been trying to say all this time, but I didn't realize this is who I am and this is what I'm doing. And I think she just felt so good about it. And so she's been already testing it and putting it into her new career path. And it's just these little moments where I could tell that clicked. And another gentleman I worked with recently, similarly, we were going through the process and he had come up with something around tension and adjusting tension between people doing the wrong work and the process being off and like finding how to manage that tension. And he was doing some interviews and said, You know, I call myself this tension adjuster because I'm able to recalibrate, you know, people and products and processes. And the people in the interview said, wow, we've never heard that before but we get it. That's exactly what we need in this role. And he got the job. So I'm just getting more of these stories where it's these tweaks and understanding and deciphering and articulation that people were missing. And I know it just sounds like language, but this language matters. It's unlocking your truest self, and more and more people are just telling me how important it is for their self-esteem, feeling empowered in their career, and then getting them opportunities that they didn't see before.

- It's that moment of clarity, and it's almost like a personal tagline, but deeper, one that piques their curiosity, but to your point, connects the value I can bring in a different way, or connects what may appear as disconnected skills in a different way. But you also touched on an important point that I'm thinking here that you talked about in the interviewing and going on a job search. What's the implications then of the idea of your hybrid professional for how we currently market ourselves, i.e. the resume and the job search process?

- Yeah, it's such a strange time right now. I mean, so many people are unemployed and it's such a competitive marketplace, but we're still using AI to screen applicants where you have to match keywords because that's what computers do, and the workforce is on the cusp of being ready for more hybrid roles, except they're not realizing they are. So a couple of thoughts on this: First in terms of the job description, there are hybrid jobs that are appearing in, you know, different job boards, and they use, sometimes I've seen the word hybrid show up, where they realize they need someone who does internal, external, or cross-functional team management, and other times it's just kind of a nuance where they're like, we need someone who can do this, this, and this, and you're like, Oh, that's a multi-dimensional hybrid skillset. And there's a report by Burning Glass about hybrid jobs and the job market. They say that these jobs are growing twice as fast as traditional work because they can't be automated. It's kind of the combination of human and technology, or human-computer interaction. So, so that is all coming, but it's not in our full awareness in the workforce yet. Then there's this idea of people being hybrids too. So the work can be hybrid, but the people doing it are blending identities. And so they have to have self-awareness and be able to talk about it and bring it up in an interview. So I educate people of like, if the world or your future employer doesn't understand what a hybrid is but you feel you are one, you need to tell them what that means and why it matters and how that's a value add so they get it, because we're just in that space of training and showing. But I think for the future, it really is about having those three types of professionals. It's not like one is better than the other, the experts, the generalists, and the hybrids, but we're just at the beginning wave where hybrid talent is being seen more, it's being valued more, and people are realizing how they need it. They work in the space, usually, in between different departments in between different domains and disciplines, in between hard and soft skills. Anything that's an opposite, a hybrid is usually the glue, and you need a person that is the connector, the translator, the pattern finder, those are the strengths of a hybrid.

- So I love that you touched there about that desire for many to be seen as the expert, because that means you've reached the top. When you are seen as the expert and the go-to person, then you're obviously smart, you're obviously successful is the underwritten story that goes with that. But you're saying different, and that the future is definitely hybrid. So say a little bit more about that.

- Yeah, it's this idea that jobs that exist today didn't exist 10 years ago. So social media manager is just taken for granted now. Every company needs to do social media. But 10 years ago, that was a brand new role that was radical and that was this whole skillset of understanding marketing and digital language and combining audiences and promoting all of that. Well, now that skill is baked into like multiple people's roles. It's not always just one person. Many people could be doing it. So I think the idea of hybrid, is anytime we're blending industries or combining and solving for new things that are at the intersection, Lululemon's a great example of a company. You know, the athleisure market didn't exist. It's taking athletics and then the leisure idea and moving into clothes and active wear, and people didn't know they needed that. So the world is constantly going to be coming up with new solutions and then people themselves are going to be bringing multiple backgrounds because of the non-linear career path. There's this notion that you don't go to school anymore and get a degree and come out and work for 50 years and retire. A great strategist talks about that. Her name is Heather McGowan and she wrote The Adaptation Advantage. Really what's happening in society is you get your first credential, you have some skills, you get a job. but then you go back, you need to learn again, whether that's upskilling or a micro-credential, and then you might get into a different industry because people are changing 10 jobs in a lifetime over four different industries over their careers. And so really it's just about how are people making sense of career paths that are so disconnected on paper, but really the person is just evolving and growing and they don't know how to put that into something that makes sense and is marketable.

- Yeah, I think that's one of the most exciting things about the 21st century, and certainly, when I did the research for The Future-Proof Workplace oh no, I've got to lean the other way, that way. The Future-Proof Workplace with Dr. Linda Sharkey, your very point there about people changing careers 10 times in a lifetime, well, I'm on my fifth career and I read an article this week about Google and their six months certifications, and they're recognizing those rather than an undergraduate degree to give more of a nimble, just in time education to expand their workforce. And whilst I think the four-year degree has a place, I want my brain surgeons to have, you know, plenty of training, but for the rest of us, there is so much information available to us at the fingertips. It's not just what you know and book smarts, it's how you apply it, and to your point, connect different dots, to be the oil, to be the glue, be whatever that connects the two for a more creative outcome.

- Absolutely. Yeah, we need people that can span multiple dimensions and depths of knowledge. And this has been talked about for ages with weird terms like the T-shaped person, or the pie-shaped, and cone-shaped. And honestly, I don't want to introduce myself as Sarabeth, the comb-shaped professional--

- You're the Venn-shaped.

- I know there's X now. There's like every letter and shape out there. I'm not a shape, I'm a hybrid, and let me describe that to you, and then that's sort of how the introduction starts.

- I love it. So Sarabeth, as we come to the end of our time together, what final thoughts do you have for our listeners and where can people learn more about your work and the book?

- Absolutely. I think one of the key takeaways I want to just impress is that being a hybrid means you are still an expert, but you are an expert of your own hybridity. At the center of all those intersections, you are this whole new type of talent that only you are good at, and that's your value. So that's why it's so vital to be able to describe it because people ask me all the time, I can't be an expert anymore. No, you're an expert of something entirely different. So that point is just important. My website is You can follow me on social and I have a newsletter and I'm giving tips on really clear action steps people can take to look at their professional identity and even just start to understand what does it mean to be a hybrid?

- Well, Sarabeth, I thank you for sharing your insights today. I encourage everybody to go watch your TEDx talk, but also I'll make sure that contact information is in the show notes around this video. Wishing you ongoing success and look forward to our next conversation.

- Wishing you the best as well. Thank you.

- [Announcer] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show, please like and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learn something worth sharing, share it. Cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something. Be sure to follow SkyeTeam and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle, interviews we should do, or if you yourself would like to be on the show, drop us a line at That's Thanks again for joining us today, and remember, business is personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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