How to find your place in the purpose economy

by Shannon Houde

We’re all looking for a little more purpose in our lives


Even more so with the uncertainty that currently swirls around us on a daily basis. In fact, a strong desire to make a difference within their professional lives is one of the key reasons that two thirds of women say they want to substantially shake up their career in 2021.

The great news is that there’s rarely been a better time to find your place within the burgeoning ‘purpose economy.’ A perfect storm of climate change, changing consumer priorities and COVID-19 has driven more and more businesses, across every sector, to revaluate their own engagement with the social and environmental issues we all care about. One survey of 150 execs by Porter Novelli back in September 2020 found that 88% of top business leaders now understand, more than ever, that companies must lead with purpose. That means more roles, better remuneration and more opportunities for growth.


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

So, how do you take advantage?

Well as I explore in my new book, Good Work: How to Build a Career That Makes a Difference in the World, “as with anything worth doing in life, building a career with impact for the purpose economy takes effort, and the more you put into the process, the more you get out of it.”

That means, first things first, make sure you understand the lay of the land. The idea of the ‘purpose economy’ can feel slightly nebulous at times, with a huge diversity of opportunities. It’s vital that, from the outset, you know what it is that stokes your passions, and what particular roles your skills could align with.

For example, do you want to help a traditional company become more sustainability orientated, or boost the revenues of a sustainability-centric company? Is your background better suited to an NGO that zeros in on one single issue, such as carbon or social justice? Or could you see yourself thrashing out the details of policy in a government department? Put together a long list of potential opportunities and the skills they require, and then match this up against a list of your own values and skills.

Next, put yourself out there. Start close to home, by flagging your interest with your colleagues or superiors. But then step outside of your current comfort zone too. Make the most of professional social media platforms, and sign up to plenty of relevant physical or virtual events. Yes, that means networking and yes, I know it’s something most of us dread. But remember, it’s about creating relationships, not swapping business cards (check out more detailed advice here).

Now, collate a list of links to relevant job boards and schedule in some time each week to take a proper look through. Impact investment specialist, Impact Engine, and social purpose corporation, Moving Worlds, are both great starting points to help you build your list. Plus, for an idea on which roles are burgeoning during COVID.

And when you’ve found the ideal role? Well, it’s time to ensure your application sits at the top of the hiring manager’s pile. Tempting as it can be, don’t rush off a generic CV. Take the time to unpick the job description, carefully linking your skills and experience to the criteria, and reflecting back the key words and phrases used to describe an ideal candidate.

Adopt the same strategy in an interview. Thoroughly research the hiring company (annual reports, websites and mission statements are a great way to identify their values) and the interviewer. Then, draw up a list of potential questions and practise, practise, practise. Grab a friend or family member to play the part of the interviewer and get their feedback. Recite your answers into the mirror. And always ensure each answer delivers on the Situation Action Results (SAR) method: describe the Situation, what Action you took, and what the Result was to ensure you’re covering all the bases.

Follow these steps and you’ll be off to a great start when it comes to securing your first (or next) foothold in the purpose economy. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard work. Yes, there are a growing number of purpose-led roles but there’ll still be many, many applicants for each role and you’ll need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. But trust me, it’s worth it. Those that secure purpose-led roles are happier, more fulfilled and more productive than anyone else.

To drill down into much more detail on all these steps, and countless other useful strategies when it comes to building a career with purpose, check out my practical how-to book Good Work, available from and

This article was originally published for WeAreTheCity and can be viewed here.


You may also like...

sustainability catalyst
How to be a ‘sustainability catalyst’

Stephanie Cárdenas has had an incredibly diverse career. Self-identifying as a “sustainability catalyst,” she has shaped sustainability strategies for international clients at Deloitte, worked as a green finance consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank and developed farm to fork systems as sustainability manager at Baldor Speciality Foods in New York. Now, in her latest role as forest manager at nonprofit CDP, she’s part of the mission to get companies to disclose their progress on reducing corporate impact on people and

By Shannon Houde
The Marine Stewardship Council’s Angelina Skowronski on selling sustainability, the upside of being an extrovert

Like so many sustainability professionals, Angelina Skowronski’s career trajectory hasn’t been linear. After several years working in the seafood industry, building sustainability programs from the ground up and leading Fishpeople Seafood to maintain B Corp status, Skowronski took a sidestep into the adventure sports industry before returning to the sector in her current role as commercial manager at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In this interview, she discusses how she came to that decision, the massive challenge we all face

By Shannon Houde
Carving out your sustainability career in the private sector

When Lindsay Vignoles joined skincare company Rodan + Fields in 2018, she didn’t wait for the right role in sustainability to appear — she set about creating it for herself. Now overseeing environmental, social and governance functions at the San Francisco company as director of ESG, Vignoles talks candidly about how she formally created that role within the business, how to create buy-in from leadership when a company is early in its sustainability journey and how she sees ESG evolving

By Shannon Houde
Insider sizes up fashion’s fair labor problems

Prior to accepting a position with Zalando in early February, Christian Smith was partnerships and stakeholder engagement lead at Fair Wear Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve conditions for workers in garment factories. Previously, he spent years working to make changes from within the apparel industry, with roles at Tesco, ASOS and TOMS. Here Smith explains how working with an NGO compares with working for a brand, how COVID triggered a new understanding of the systemic problems within global apparel and what Fair

By Shannon Houde


Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon