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7 Tips for Choosing a Career with Meaning

Check out these seven steps to ensuring your job provides personal fulfillment and makes a difference.

7 Tips

By The TFA Editorial Team

December 14, 2015

For many college students, the anxiety around landing a job after graduation is matched only by the nagging uncertainty over whether it will be the right job. Will it be meaningful? Will I work for a cause I hold dear or will I be a cog in the wheel? Will my first job set me up to make a lasting impact? The good news is these questions are totally normal. Even better news? There are several steps you can take to ensure that your first job after college provides personal fulfillment, and yes, even makes a difference.

Here are seven tips for choosing a career with meaning.

Identify what you want to accomplish. According to Nathaniel Koloc, the CEO of ReWork, “people are fulfilled most quickly when they first prioritize the impact that they want to have.” Koloc suggests letting the concept of “legacy” or a higher purpose, mission, or cause drive you. He writes, “This means knowing that in some way—large or small—the world will be a better place after you’ve done your work.”

Play to your strengths. Think about the moments in school when you’ve been happiest—and, yes, the most miserable. Do you thrive staying up all night writing papers but balk at the idea of doing group presentations?  Once you start to identify where your strengths and interests intersect with your values, you will be in a strong spot to make confident work decisions.

Consider a job in service or working for a nonprofit. Teach For America is one way you can make an immediate impact from day one on the lives of kids in low-income communities, but there are many other public service opportunities available to recent college graduates. If you’re not already, test the waters by volunteering with local chapters of national nonprofits or organize a student group dedicated to a cause you’re passionate about. You’ll gain experience navigating organizational culture, while also honing in on your own passions.

Focus on what you know. A close cousin to “playing to your strengths,” this tip is all about you—and focusing on what you know about yourself. Do you have certain non-negotiables when it comes to work? That’s okay! It’s better to know and own those things now, before accepting a job. Too often college grads jump into a career because they think it’s the path they should be on, without considering their short- and long-term needs.

Be honest with yourself. It’s time for real talk: Do you have certain lifestyle aspirations? Do you want to live in a certain city or travel the world? Again, all is okay, but it will save you a ton of time and disappointment if you identify those needs ahead of time and steer clear of discounting them. Ultimately, you even may decide that making an impact right now is more important than any personal sacrifices.

Talk to your friends and family. There is no better resource than those who know you well. Close friends and family can offer the perspective of experience—and may have lessons learned that can inform your path—as well as provide insight into your strengths that you may not have considered.

Value what you learn. Even if the first job you accept after college ends up being a mismatch, you’ll still gain valuable skills that you can apply to your next opportunity—hopefully one that is more aligned with your values. As Koloc writes, it’s time to “let go of the idea that careers are linear. These days, they are much more like a field of stepping stones that extends in all directions…The trick is simply to move to stones that take you closer and closer to what is meaningful to you.”

Inspired to embark on a career with meaning? Learn more about Teach For America’s mission to make a great education a reality for all children—and start an application today.