This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
According to Gallup, more than 50% of U.S. employees are actively or casually looking for new job opportunities (Gallup, The State of the American Workplace Report, 2017). This suggests that the majority of us are navigating or have recently navigated some type of career transition. The good news is that we currently find ourselves in a candidate-driven job market. In other words, unemployment rates are low and there are more open jobs than people to fill them. This puts job seekers in the driver seat. As recruiters compete for top talent, candidates can be more discerning. Job seekers are more likely to have multiple options, allowing them to optimize around whatever criteria is most important to them. Salary, location, and flexibility are typically at the top of this list, but there is one criteria that is too often overlooked: purpose fit.
You have probably heard of the term “culture fit”. It refers to the degree to which a candidate’s personality, values, and demeanor are aligned with that of the organization. A candidate may appear to be a perfect match on paper, but if the hiring manager can’t imagine themselves grabbing a drink with this person or sitting next to them on a long flight, they’re out. Culture fit has received some criticism over the years, because it tends to result in a more homogenous organization, but the original intent is a good one. Recruiting, training, and retaining talent is extremely costly. As such, it is understandable that a company would want to ensure that a prospective candidate will feel at home in their new work environment before making this type of investment.
Purpose fit is the candidate’s equivalent of culture fit. In essence, it measures the degree to which a job opportunity enables you to be fulfilled at work. While this may not be important to everyone, data suggests that the majority of us are increasingly looking for meaningful work. In fact, in a recent study by Better Up, more than 9 out of 10 employees were willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. This held true across all age and salary groups. Unsurprisingly, a positive purpose fit has the potential to benefit the employer as well because happy, engaged employees are more productive and less likely to turnover.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of U.S. employees still admit they are not engaged or actively disengaged at work, which suggests that purpose fit is not always a priority for job seekers. For starters, it can be hard to get a real sense for what the job will entail during the recruitment process. But another, more easily addressable, obstacle is related to measurement. Unlike salary or job title, purpose fit is a lot less tangible, after all.
Culture fit is most often measured by asking a question like, “would I enjoy drinking a beer with this person” or “would I want to get stuck in an elevator with this person?” Yes, it’s extremely subjective, but finding the right candidate — like finding the right job — is an art. There is not a single, replicable formula. Rather it requires a combination of hard and soft data points. Measuring purpose fit is similar, but you need the right guiding question.
When considering a new job opportunity, the fastest way to evaluate a potential opportunity for purpose fit is to ask yourself: Will this job allow me to apply my superpowers to a cause I care about?
Let’s unpack this question. First of all, your “superpowers” are your god-given talents as well as your hard-earned skills. These are the activities you excel at; the things people often compliment you on or ask for your help with. Moreover, it’s worth noting here that your “cause” does not have to be a global social challenge or non profit. If every single one of us dedicated our career to eliminating poverty, for example, we would have a very dysfunctional society. Your “cause”, in this context, can refer to any way you want to serve the people or the world around you. Your cause can be empowering wealthy individuals to make better-informed decisions about how to invest their money; it can be creating beautiful logos that allow startups new startups to stand out and reach their audience; or it can be developing delicious recipes to help new moms feel good about themselves and their bodies. You get the gist.
Of course, there will be lots of jobs that allow you to apply your superpowers to a cause you care about. That’s exactly why it’s an art form. The point is not to sacrifice your desired income or location for purpose. The point is that purpose should not be an afterthought; it should be considered alongside these other common evaluation criteria. Otherwise, you can quickly become disillusioned by a role when the honeymoon period inevitably ends.
Millennials’ propensity to “job hop” every 2.4 years is case and point. By proactively asking yourself whether a particular job will allow you to apply your superpowers to a cause you care about, you can drastically increase your chances of a successful (long-term) match (and decrease the job hopping effect). And as a reminder: in today’s job market, you have the luxury of choice. So don’t buy into a scarcity mindset. There’s a job out there that satisfies all your requirements, including your desire to make a meaningful impact.