Class of 2016: Searching for meaningful work

Written by Eva Kubu, director, Career Services at Princeton University

In my last blog post I shared some back-to-school-themed tips on how you can reboot your job search this fall. This week, let’s focus on the deeper questions concerning what really matters most to you and why. Remember: When you’re searching for opportunities, you are not just looking for any job—you are looking for a job that will be the right fit for you!

Recently, I read an article written by Eric Barker about a very important topic for job seekers: Finding meaningful work. Barker summarized scientific research regarding the factors that lead to long-term career satisfaction and fulfillment. Essentially, this process begins with self-reflection and determining which opportunities will align well with your core values, strengths and interests. Here’s some advice based on the article about what you should consider when looking for work that will be personally fulfilling:

Money or reward? Salary is an important factor to consider, but money may not be what makes a job truly rewarding. In fact, Harvard Business Review cites the number one career regret people have is taking a job solely for the money. In terms of your job search, if you are singularly focused on looking at high-paying opportunities, you may be overlooking other potential rewards. Alumna Kate Grant *94, CEO of the Fistula Foundation, spoke about this topic in a recent interview with us.

Status or personal brand? Once on the job, studies show that we do not get a sense of meaning or purpose from the status associated with working at a prestigious organization or having a lofty job title. What does seem to matter most to us is being respected, appreciated and admired for our work and our personal brand. In his book, “How to Find Fulfilling Work, ” author Roman Krznaric asserts, “While most of us wish to enjoy a dose of social status, the feeling that we are respected by others for what we do and how we do it is one of the keys to having a meaningful career.” When searching for opportunities, consider whether you are applying mostly to large, well-known organizations or are drawn only to job titles that seem impressive. If so, you might be overlooking great opportunities that could be more valuable in helping you establish a personal brand and gain experience

Impact and making a difference. Barker cites research showing that the people who report the highest levels of job satisfaction are those who feel like their work helps society. Service has always been a central theme at Princeton and there are many examples of alumni who pursue careers in service. There are many avenues you can explore to uncover meaningful opportunities where you can have an impact and make a difference. Begin by researching how a particular role or the organization itself contributes to the social good or community.

Using your talents or strengths. In his book, “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment” alumnus Martin Seligman ’64 asserts that people who use their “signature strengths” are happier at work. A recent Gallup poll cited in the article also found that people who use their strengths are more likely to report feeling more energetic, happy, respected and like they were learning something interesting on the job. Identifying and understanding how your core talents relate to specific opportunities is an essential part of finding meaningful work. As you search for opportunities, pay close attention to the job description for clues as to whether you’ll have the opportunity to use your signature strengths, and if they’ll be valued in the organization.

Pursuing your passion. There are probably many different types of jobs that you may find meaningful and rewarding. Don’t know if you have a true passion yet? Don’t worry about it. Passion isn’t something that you are born with or something that just hits you like a lightning bolt—it is generally something that you discover through experiences and self-reflection. In his recent LinkedIn blog, “Just. Do. You.” Paul Riley, a member of the Class of 2015, shares his perspective on why breaking through other’s expectations and our own limiting beliefs helps us find our passions and the courage and conviction to go after them.

Want to invest time in self-reflection that will help you gain traction in your search for meaningful work? Alumnus Doug Stuart ’14 recently shared how our Career & Life Vision workshop inspired him to redirect his job search and successfully pursue his passion. If you didn’t have a chance to attend this workshop while you were in school, I invite you to check out our event calendar for a full schedule of upcoming programs. For more inspiration, check out these recent interviews with alumni who share their career and life lessons.

Even if there really isn’t a fairy job mother who can magically connect you to your perfect job, if you devote time every day to self-reflection and actively searching, you will be well on your way to finding fulfilling work!