This article discusses findings from a phenomenological Australian study exploring how the professional identities of newly qualified social workers are fostered and/or eroded during the first 12 months post-qualification. A total of 17 participants each completed three semi-structured interviews. The participants revealed individual and systemic factors that impacted how and whether professional identity was fostered and/or eroded. It is proposed from the findings that a combination of multilevel approaches for sustaining professional identity could improve the experiences and retention of newly qualified social workers. The implications for action by educators, employers and the social work profession in Australia and other countries are outlined.