How to find your place in the purpose economy

Team of young coworkers working together at night office.Young woman using mobile laptop at the table, workaholicWe’re all looking for a little more purpose in our lives.

Even more so with the uncertainty that currently swirls around us on a daily basis. In fact, a strong desire to make a difference within their professional lives is one of the key reasons that two thirds of women say they want to substantially shake up their career in 2021.

The great news is that there’s rarely been a better time to find your place within the burgeoning ‘purpose economy.’ A perfect storm of climate change, changing consumer priorities and COVID-19 has driven more and more businesses, across every sector, to revaluate their own engagement with the social and environmental issues we all care about. One survey of 150 execs by Porter Novelli back in September 2020 found that 88% of top business leaders now understand, more than ever, that companies must lead with purpose. That means more roles, better remuneration and more opportunities for growth.

So, how do you take advantage?

Well as I explore in my new book, Good Work: How to Build a Career That Makes a Difference in the World, “as with anything worth doing in life, building a career with impact for the purpose economy takes effort, and the more you put into the process, the more you get out of it.”

That means, first things first, make sure you understand the lay of the land. The idea of the ‘purpose economy’ can feel slightly nebulous at times, with a huge diversity of opportunities. It’s vital that, from the outset, you know what it is that stokes your passions, and what particular roles your skills could align with.

For example, do you want to help a traditional company become more sustainability orientated, or boost the revenues of a sustainability-centric company? Is your background better suited to an NGO that zeros in on one single issue, such as carbon or social justice? Or could you see yourself thrashing out the details of policy in a government department? Put together a long list of potential opportunities and the skills they require, and then match this up against a list of your own values and skills.

Next, put yourself out there. Start close to home, by flagging your interest with your colleagues or superiors. But then step outside of your current comfort zone too. Make the most of professional social media platforms, and sign up to plenty of relevant physical or virtual events. Yes, that means networking and yes, I know it’s something most of us dread. But remember, it’s about creating relationships, not swapping business cards (check out more detailed advice here).

Now, collate a list of links to relevant job boards and schedule in some time each week to take a proper look through. Impact investment specialist, Impact Engine, and social purpose corporation, Moving Worlds, are both great starting points to help you build your list. Plus, for an idea on which roles are burgeoning during COVID.

And when you’ve found the ideal role? Well, it’s time to ensure your application sits at the top of the hiring manager’s pile. Tempting as it can be, don’t rush off a generic CV. Take the time to unpick the job description, carefully linking your skills and experience to the criteria, and reflecting back the key words and phrases used to describe an ideal candidate.

Adopt the same strategy in an interview. Thoroughly research the hiring company (annual reports, websites and mission statements are a great way to identify their values) and the interviewer. Then, draw up a list of potential questions and practise, practise, practise. Grab a friend or family member to play the part of the interviewer and get their feedback. Recite your answers into the mirror. And always ensure each answer delivers on the Situation Action Results (SAR) method: describe the Situation, what Action you took, and what the Result was to ensure you’re covering all the bases.

Follow these steps and you’ll be off to a great start when it comes to securing your first (or next) foothold in the purpose economy. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard work. Yes, there are a growing number of purpose-led roles but there’ll still be many, many applicants for each role and you’ll need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. But trust me, it’s worth it. Those that secure purpose-led roles are happier, more fulfilled and more productive than anyone else.

To drill down into much more detail on all these steps, and countless other useful strategies when it comes to building a career with purpose, check out my practical how-to book Good Work, available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Shannon HoudeAbout the author

Shannon Houde is the author of Good Work (Kogan Page, Feb 2021) and Founder and Managing Director of Walk of Life Coaching, an international career advisory consultancy focused on sustainable business, environmental, impact investing, international development and corporate responsibility. A speaker, consultant and certified coach, she works with clients around the world, across brands ranging from Google and Deutsche Bank to Virgin Airlines and the UN Foundation.


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