Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Get Your Identity Capital!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Get Your Identity Capital!

WRITTEN BY: Marta Switzer

We build our identity capital by doing things like volunteering for a cause we are really passionate about, joining a niche club, taking a job in an exciting field, or traveling to a less trodden destination. There are endless ways to build identity capital, but all of them have to do with “getting involved.” I know that is an overused phrase especially in student life recruitment, but here’s why it’s important for you:
Earlier this year I was contacted by an employer through LinkedIn who was really interested in my previous involvement in sport. Before being contacted, I had been questioning whether or not to keep “gymnastics coach” on my resume and LinkedIn profile. It had been my job during high school and I have been out of the gymnastics and, for the most part, sport world for some years now. Much of the recent experience I have had during university seems to be more directly applicable to my career goals moving forward. And, I was not the only one questioning the relevance of my high school job to my current career search. After a peer reviewed my LinkedIn profile the continued inclusion of the role on my profile was again questioned. However, I decided to keep it on my profile as I felt it was a part of who I am. Many of the skills I have developed about working with people were fostered and practiced during my experiences teaching gymnastics in my home town.

There are endless ways to build identity capital, but all of them have to do with “getting involved.”

But this employer didn’t know all the skills and values I had gained from the job. What he did know is that he and I had a common interest in sport and similar previous experiences as athletes. And this common interest is what drew him to my profile. This employer was interested in me, beyond the professional and volunteer experience and skills I can demonstrate.

Meg Jay, therapist and author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now (2012) coins the term “identity capital” to refer to such experiences and aspects of your life that make you interesting to important people. My previous experiences as a gymnast and gymnastics coach are identity capital for me. Jay writes, “Identity capital is our collection of personal assets”; it’s “how we build ourselves – bit by bit, over time” (6, 7).  Jay encourages us to build our identity capital in the opening chapter of her book in an attempt to motivate us twentysomethings to take action on creating our futures. Her book works to debunk the myth that “thirty is the new twenty” by sharing stories from her twentysomething clients in the areas of work, love, and the brain and the body.

Jay encourages us to take opportunities that build our identity capital. Not only will good identity capital make us interesting to employers, but it will help us network and demonstrate our value and uniqueness to the communities we influence. As students, we are lucky to have resources that support us to build our identity capital. Involvement in your lifelong hobby or exploration of a new passion are encouraged and will give you identity capital. You will not only be able to use this identity capital later in life for job searching, but you will begin to see the value of the experiences that give you identity capital in your everyday life. So, go join that club, volunteer for that event – you’ll enjoy it now and build your identity capital for your future.

Check out a Ted Talk by author Meg Jay

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade. In this provocative talk, Jay says that just because marriage, work and kids are happening later in life, doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now. She gives 3 pieces of advice for how twentysomethings can re-claim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.


Jay, Meg. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. New York: Twelve, 2012. Print.

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