Skip to Main Content
by Aman Singh Das | May 12, 2011


USA Today recently reported that private payrolls rose in March. Wells Fargo further added that job growth continues to be mostly in small businesses followed closely by midsize and large firms.

You may have been become discouraged about the job opportunities. You may even have started you own small business but find it is not as rewarding as you thought it might be.

Or you may just be gearing up to start looking again since the news looks more promising.

While you are still thinking about it, you might spend time thinking about your criteria for a great day's work. I suggest one that is not often on the list that career counselors suggest. But it will increase your chances of greater happiness and fulfillment in your next job, whether you are working for someone else or for yourself.

The criteria: Aliveness.

How alive do you feel when you go to work or at the end of a day, week or year?

Dawn's Story: From Microsoft to Self-Discovery

A better way to job search might be to change your criteria by looking for would make you most happy as an employee

Dawn, a computer software tech, was laid off from Microsoft at the beginning of 2009. After nine months of unsuccessfully job hunting and a few contract jobs, she finally threw in the towel and started her own computer services company.

Her company helped homeschooled children learn simple programming. She liked the freedom of being your own boss and enjoyed working with kids. But she missed the benefits of a full time job and the social ambiance.

She also believed that the pay would be better, or at least steady.

Before she went back to filling out applications, attending job fairs or interviews, I asked her to do the "aliveness" exercise.

Dawn's pre-job search homework:

Step 1: Name three jobs or roles where she felt really engaged and committed, even if these represented work she did during college or part time jobs. Maybe she pushed herself hard in that role because it was challenging and felt like meaningful work.

Step 2: Reflect on those experiences and search for commonalities: Not in terms of activities or tasks, but rather what part of her got involved and grew. What made it worth the challenge?

[For example, in the three jobs she listed, Dawn had unique challenges presented to her every day. She never established a routine that prescribed her work.

She had to invent something new each time with her small and mid-size business clients. She also noticed she loved pulling in coworkers and getting them excited about the challenges, which compelled them to contribute their best.

People loved being asked by Dawn to help because they got the opportunity to team up with someone who really brought the best in them. Customers tended to be really happy because they came in with a gnarly problem and walked out feeling like winners.]

Step 3: Convert these patterns to reflect your ensuing job search: List out the tips that can be used in searching for, evaluating and accepting new positions.

Dawn's guidelines, therefore, emerged as:

  • Independence: Have independence to work with customers directly where she would have to find solutions unique to the situation. She needed a company that did not structure delegation and assignments or one that emphasized organized procedures on how to proceed on each task.
  • Flexibility: She wanted a company that designed flexibility into working with others whenever it was needed and freedom to stick with it until they got a workable answer.
  • Room for Self-Reflection: She also realized from the exercise that the role had to have lots of room for self-initiating and the ability to change its requirements and how it was carried out.

With these new guidelines in hand, Dawn's job search became much more streamlined because she now knew exactly what would work best for her skills and experience.

Job Happiness: What Does it Take?

People often equate job happiness with good companies, having a great boss or even a powerful title. But while these factors help us avoid some downsides, they are not the real criteria for ensuring a great job.

What really produces a great job is one where "a person does work that leaves him fulfilled everyday because they see the outcomes they contribute to appreciated, because others benefit deeply from their work, and because every day they learn something unique about themselves, which makes them feel alive."

Although Dawn had perfected her technical and customer service skills; she changed directions and took a job in a social media startup.

Because she understood herself, she was able to demonstrate why her skills 'fit' with the company's culture. Her excitement at the new company stemmed from knowing that her role would be unstructured enough to allow her the interdependence she worked best in.

Her new role required working with people who were just learning to help their companies build a brand with social media and it was all being figured out in "real time".

In the end, it took a combination of her knowledge, inventiveness and the ability to draw out the best in others that got her the job and ultimately promoted far more quickly than she would have anticipated.

Regardless of what the promotions offered, however, she resolved to never accept a role that took her away from her criteria of finding "aliveness" at work.

Do you find yourself alive at work?

--By Carol Sanford

Carol Sanford is the author of The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success. She speaks about and works with businesses to evolve their strategy and organizations to be more responsible universally, even in unexpected place like management practices.

Originally posted at CNBC's Executive Careers blog


Filed Under: CSR

Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume

Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews