You spend a large chunk of your life at work, and if you have anything to say about it, you’d at least like to enjoy some of those working hours.
Unfortunately, that seems to be more the exception than the rule. One Harris Interactive survey found that less than half (45 percent) of workers are satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. That same survey found that only 20 percent feel very passionate about their lines of work.
Why are these numbers so low? Employers have continued to rise to the demands of talent and prioritize things like positive cultures, flexible schedules, and opportunities for professional development. So why are so many employees still so unhappy?
Well, as it turns out, our satisfaction at work might have less to with Summer Fridays or ping-pong tables and way more to do with this word: fulfillment.
That’s right — we want purpose. We want meaning. We want to end our workdays feeling like we made a real difference.
Yet, a fulfilling career is deceptively tough to wrap your arms around. In fact, only a reported 38.5 percent of Americans are personally fulfilled by their work.
So, if you want to rise above that statistic and flourish in a career that makes you want to burst with pride, can you even make that happen? Here’s the short answer: yes, but it’s going to take some effort and patience. Here’s what you need to know about how to find a fulfilling career.
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Why does fulfilling work matter in the first place?
Yes, fulfillment and meaning have become buzzwords in the employment space. But, trends aside, what’s the end benefit here?
As this 2010 research states, a fulfilling career translates to numerous advantages, including increased motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, individual performance, and personal fulfillment. Additionally, it’s been linked to decreased absenteeism and stress.
There are a lot of benefits to be reaped, which explains why 74 percent of candidates want jobs where they feel like their work matters.
However, it’s important to recognize that a fulfilling career is highly personal — it means something different to everyone. Your colleague might find meaning in a role with a company that aligns with his values, while you feel most fulfilled when you have opportunities to grow.
In order to truly find fulfillment in your line of work, you need to understand what it means to you.
Tackling the job search: 6 steps to find a more fulfilling career
Every day at your current job feels like you’re slogging through concrete, and you don’t think there’s any realistic way that you can boost your sense of fulfillment in your existing role.
So, you’ve decided that you need to start your job search. But, you don’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire. You want to set yourself up for success in finding an opportunity that will have you leaving the office each day feeling delighted, rather than drained.
Here are some steps to take to prepare for a fruitful job search.
1. Give yourself some time for self-reflection
You’re eager to find your next position, and you don’t want to waste any time. But, before you jump headfirst into searching for your next job, it’s important to take some time for self-reflection.
Taking this pause to think will help you get some much-needed clarity on what you’re really looking for, so you can search through job postings with those criteria in mind.
When it comes to some of the things you should be thinking through specifically related to your sense of fulfillment, make sure to ask yourself some thought-provoking questions like:
- What type of work do you really enjoy doing?
- What projects have made you feel particularly accomplished and proud?
- What do some of your best days at work have in common?
- What do you feel is missing from your current job?
- What sort of work environment do you thrive in?
Through that process, you’ll identify some common threads (for example, perhaps you find a lot of joy in tackling challenging projects), and as a result, some things you should be looking for in your next career move.
2. Identify your priorities
If you dedicated enough time to the above exercise, then you’re likely armed with a laundry list of qualities you want to find in your next job.
Of course, in an ideal world, you’d find a role that makes you feel fulfilled, offers a flexible schedule, has great perks and benefits, and comes along with a salary that’s way beyond your expectations. But, that’s hardly ever reality.
More often than not, you’re going to have to prioritize. So, look through the list of all of the attributes you identified, and narrow it down to a few (sticking with three is a good number) that you most need to have in your next job. That will help keep you focused on the opportunities that satisfy your most pressing needs.
3. Invest some elbow grease into research
You know what you want — now, how do you find it? The great thing about job searching today is that you can learn a lot about a company or a position before you even submit an application.
Online research is going to be your best friend here. Take a look at things like:
- The company’s website
- The company’s social media presence
- Employee reviews (remember, take these with a grain of salt!)
Those can reveal a lot about what it’s really like to work for that organization, and whether or not it truly checks the boxes you’re looking for.
4. Ask pointed interview questions
Once you’ve actually tossed your hat into the ring for some jobs that seem like a good match for you, hopefully you’ll land some job interviews. Remember that these conversations are just as much about you interviewing employers as it is about them interviewing you.
Come prepared with some questions to ask to better suss out whether or not this role will give you the sense of fulfillment you’re looking for.
Questions to ask can include:
- What’s your favorite part about working here?
- Why do your employees enjoy working here?
- What three words would you use to describe the work environment?
- What efforts does this company have in place to give back to the community?
But of course, you’re free to come up with a few on your own that more directly relate to the specific attributes you’re seeking.
5. Trust your gut
It’s all too easy to get swayed in your job search. You overlook a lot of red flags because the company is a big name or the salary exceeded your expectations.
However, more often than not, your intuition is right — so make a conscious effort to trust it. If your initial read on an opportunity is that it’s not what you’re looking for, that should carry some weight.
Don’t ignore that gut feeling just because the potential perks seem to overshadow it. That’s exactly how you’ll find yourself in another position that leaves you feeling empty.
6. Be patient
The job search takes time — especially when you’re looking for something as specific and intangible as greater fulfillment.
So, be patient with yourself. You probably won’t find the perfect opportunity overnight (if you do, you’re really, really lucky!). You need to be prepared to invest the time if you really want this next step to be the right one. Good things come to those who wait, right?
Staying put: How to make your current career more fulfilling
Perhaps you’ve decided that you aren’t quite ready to hit the road. You like a lot of aspects of your current role, and you’d like to see if you can make things work there first.
Is it even possible to make your existing position more meaningful and fulfilling? Of course it is. Here are some tactics to try to make it happen.
1. Get a grasp of the larger picture
When you get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of your daily work life, it’s easy to lose sight of how your individual contributions impact the bigger picture.
A study from Robert Half found that 39 percent of respondents are only sometimes able to connect their tasks to the company’s bottom line. Otherwise, 9 percent said they rarely could and 5 percent said they never could.
But, figuring out how your own tasks serve your company as a whole is a great way to understand your impact and get a greater sense of fulfillment. For example, maybe keeping that spreadsheet of contacts updated feels like busy work — but your company couldn’t carry off their largest fundraising efforts without it.
If you feel like you don’t already have that level of transparency, have your boss help you connect some of the dots. In your next one-on-one, ask how some of your responsibilities relate to the company’s overarching goals. That’ll help you see how your work is actually making a difference.
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2. Have a candid conversation with your boss
Speaking of talking to your boss, that’s an undeniably important step to take when you’re feeling dissatisfied with certain aspects of your career. You can’t expect your manager to be a mind reader, and it’s your responsibility to loop them in on your career frustrations and desires.
Yet, a reported 78 percent of employees feel uncomfortable talking about career development and salary — so they don’t.
Don’t be part of that statistic. Summon your courage and schedule a meeting with your boss when you can discuss some of the things that you’re looking for (and currently feel like you’re missing out on).
A supportive manager will help you find ways to make those things a reality, whether it’s taking on more challenging projects, working cross-functionally with other departments, or even spearheading a volunteer effort for your team.
3. Change your perspective
Sometimes switching your outlook can go a long way. While a sense of fulfillment at work has been the subject of increasing focus, that’s not all that’s out there. Maybe you’re somebody who wants to view your career as a means to other forms of fulfillment.
What does this mean? Well, perhaps you have a flexible schedule, and that gives you the free time you need to volunteer at your local animal shelter (which is highly meaningful to you).
Or, maybe you’re compensated well and are able to dedicate some of your disposable income to causes you’re passionate about. Those things can boost your sense of meaning too — even if they don’t directly relate to your work tasks.
Again, meaning at work is important. But, just because you can’t find fulfillment in the office doesn’t mean you’re destined for an entire life that feels unfulfilling.
Fulfillment: it’s more than a buzzword
That’s how to find a fulfilling career!
If you want a greater sense of fulfillment from your job, you’re certainly not alone. The good news is that you can make it happen — provided you’re willing to take some accountability for your own career and invest in the reflection, time, and effort to make some positive changes.
Use this as your guide, and you’ll be one step closer to a job that fills you up rather than depletes you.
Want even more resources to take your career to the next level? Check these out:
- Your Guide to Career Goals Statements (and Why You Need One)
- How to Change Careers: Key Tips for Making the Switch
You can also try our range of Soft Skills courses to boost your career today!
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