career decisions / career development

How to identify jobs where you can make a difference

Has the whole university experience of COVID and Lockdown left you feeling that there must surely be more to life? For many of us the pandemic has provided a stark reminder that life is fragile and finite. More people have started to take stock of their careers and explore whether a different kind of job would provide them with the opportunity to make a positive difference through their work while providing greater personal fulfilment. Are you one of them?

What does ‘making a difference’ mean to you? It’s an abstract concept that can benefit by being put under the spotlight with a series of concrete questions. There are infinite ways you can find meaning and make valuable contributions. The following are by no means an exhaustive list; feel free to add you own ideas to those below.

Ask yourself

1. Why do you want to make a difference?

Think about what presses your buttons and ask yourself: ‘what makes me angry or upsets me?’ This will highlight your values and where you may be willing to invest your time and effort.

2. Who or what do you want to make a difference to?

Consider whose lives you want to improve. For example, the young, the sick, the elderly, the marginalised?  Perhaps you want to focus on animal welfare, the safety of others, on health, education or the environment?

3. What role do you see yourself playing?

When you imagine yourself ‘making a difference’ do you see yourself:

  • As an educator
  • Organising events or people
  • Persuading others
  • Counselling and offering support
  • Advocating for others
  • Mentoring those with less experience
  • Giving advice
  • Caring for others
  • Undertaking research?

4. What skills and strengths do you have?

If you can identify what you’re good at and enjoy, it will be easier to identify where you can apply your skills and strengths.  Do you prefer to:

  • Apply your skills and energy directly to the people you want to make a difference to… for example, front line delivery of aid in war-torn countries, applying medical or therapeutic skills
  • Campaign through fundraising
  • Advocate for prisoners,
  • Get involved in local or national politics
  • Use your practical skills to build sustainable housing or dig wells to provide water
  • Use engineering or design skills to invent devices that make a difference to the lives of others
  • Undertake research into the causes of poverty, conflict, unemployment
  • Develop life-saving drugs
  • Apply your professional skills to making a difference- an accountant working for a charity, a consultant working in the education sector, a teacher
  • Develop strategies by working for a policy unit or think tank
  • Analyse and interpret Big Data to shape the policy decisions of governments or NGOs?

5. Where do you want to work?

You may or may not be constrained in terms of geography. Visualise your work environment. Do you see yourself working:

  • At home
  • Outdoors
  • In an office
  • Overseas
  • On the move

6. How do you want to work?

  • As part of a team
  • In a professional setting
  • In the public eye
  • With a high degree of autonomy
  • Regular or irregular hours
  • Under pressure
  • Project-based
  • Working behind the scenes?

7. What are you willing to do to make your career more fulfilling?

You may feel the urge to reinvent yourself, engaging in a course of further study that’s different to your first degree or taking a job which doesn’t seem related to your degree. The good news is that in the UK the vast majority of recruiters don’t mind what your degree is in, unless the role requires a very specific subject such as engineering. For some, volunteering for a charity or worthwhile cause in your spare time may provide payback and meaning.

8. What do you talk about and read?

What subjects do you get drawn into passionate conversations about? Look at your bookshelves. What kinds of books do you read? Which online articles hold your interest? Where you invest energy may give an insight into potential career choices.

9. Who is doing a job you envy?

Talk to friends and colleagues and search on LinkedIn to identify someone you could connect with to find out about their job and how they got into it. Use Warwick Alumni LinkedIn to source potential connections. Most Warwick alumni will be happy to connect and have a conversation with you.

10. Where can I find out more?

Use resources such as Prospects to find out more about the jobs that interest you and how to get into them. We all have a different perspective on what it means to make a difference. Use these questions to help identify how you might make your unique contribution.

It is better to have a meaningful life and to make a difference than to merely have a long life‘. (Bryant H McGill)

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