Levett Career Center

Assessing Sense of Purpose

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In identifying your career interests, you are not attempting to name a dream job that is the only one in the world that would make you happy. Most people never settle on a single perfect job to the exclusion of all others, generally because they have broad interests that don't fall neatly into a single job title. For most, a sense of purpose is evolving, more a continuum than a stroke of lightning or before/after. Since the work world is always changing, even those who think they have found an ideal fit may discover that the realities of the job don't perfectly match their dreams for their entire career. And that's fine. Enjoying noodles and marinara doesn't mean lasagna is the only pasta dish you will ever want to eat.

Rather than trying to name one perfect job, it's actually more fruitful to find the ingredients you need in a satisfying job, using clues drawn from your past, your previous choices, and responses to experiences you have taken part in. (That's why it is very valuable to try things out!) Instead of trying to narrow your goal to a single job title, try to identify a small number of possible career fields that you think you would enjoy because they have the ingredients you want. You will find meaningful, rewarding work and will be more flexible as the work world and your interests evolve.

Step 1: Take stock of what you already know about your interests.

Describe the work setting or environment you prefer: inside/outside, formal/casual, noisy/quiet, fast-paced/moderate-paced, intense/relaxing, intellectual/physical, etc.

Name some of your talents, skills, and abilities, including those others say you have.

Name at least 3 interests that you pursue in your free time that you find meaningful, fulfilling, stimulating or rewarding.

List traits that you hope your work will include (such as writing, being active, problem solving, helping people, etc.)

If there are jobs you're sure you would not like, what traits are missing from them? (For example, if a job seems repetitious to you, enter "variety"; if one seems boring, enter "excitement" or "challenge".)

In what ways do you want to contribute to the world?

Step 2: Assess Your Career Options

Using your responses to the questions above, choose at least one trait to use as a search word to research possible career options on O*Net (or enter your clear career goal, if you have one). To broaden your options, explore O*Net's "related fields" link. Try to find 1-5 career fields that you think would allow you to use your talents, skills, interests, and abilities, even if indirectly. List these possible career options below.

For example, let's say that you love the outdoors, enjoy athletic activities, and hope competition will be a part of your job. Go to O*Net and in the Occupation Quick Search box, enter "outdoors, athletics, competition" to find examples of some fields that match. Click on these to see which ones interest you and then enter them in the box to the right: "athletic trainer, soccer coach, activity coordinator" (the latter was found under recreation worker's "related fields").


Here are some tips to help:

To explore your options:

  • Go to O*Net to compare jobs and to search for those that match your interests. Enter any job that might serve as a good starting place, and look at the related jobs that it suggests. Explore those, and the jobs related to them, until you have found a handful that you would enjoy.
  • Look for insight through the choices you've made: how do you spend your free time when you feel the time is well-spent? When have your "peak experiences" occurred, when you became absorbed by an activity because it was deeply rewarding, fun or challenging? For example, what attracted you to your major?
  • Sift through your past activities for ideas: make a list of the jobs, volunteer activities and leadership positions that you've had. For each, jot down 1) the aspects you enjoyed most about it and 2) the things you wish had been true about it (for example, if the hours were bad, note that you like flexible hours; if the supervision was poor, note that you like clear expectations and regular feedback). Comb back through your lists and choose your top 5 traits so that you're ready for the next tip:

Are you still confused?

  • Consider taking the Strong Interest Inventory, which is offered free to students and alumni by appointment (phone consultations are possible). Email the Career Center to set up a time.

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