Start with Why when Exploring a Meaningful Career


Imagine this scene. You go to a networking event for social enterprise professionals. You don’t work in the space, but are keen to make a transition into it. You begin talking with someone at the event. You say, “Hi, I’m a financial analyst and want to get into impact investing. I think my strong financial modeling background could really add value to impact investors.” They look at you quizzically and then begin to ask you questions. “Why impact investing? Do you have an MBA? Are you sure impact investors need people with modeling experience?” You’re no longer networking, you’re being interrogated!

Sound familiar? Many of the professionals who I work with have a version of this story. They have great skills. They have the best of intentions. They want a more meaningful career. But, they seem to always come up with dead ends rather than opportunities when networking.

When working with these professionals, I often refer to Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Start with Why. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Sinek explains how leaders and organizations can communicate what they do more effectively by starting with why they do it. “People don’t buy what they do, they buy why you do it.”

I won’t dig into how you reframe your communication to start with “why” in this blog. Sinek does a much better job of explaining it than I can. But, I do want to share why I think this concept is so important for navigating a more meaningful career in social enterprises and nonprofits.

Clarifying Your Goals

We begin our search for more meaningful work because the standard forms of compensation don’t resonate with us. We want something more than a paycheck and benefits. But defining what exactly we are looking for is hard. Starting with “why” will force you to articulate what really matters to you in your work. This powerful insight will help you convey what opportunities you’re looking for and evaluate the opportunities that show up.

Aligning with Mission

Organizations that are driven by a greater purpose want to know that you are as well. It’s not enough for them that you’re a great functional fit for a role. These organizations want to know that you are passionate about the mission of the organization. Starting with why is a great way to articulate that.

Soliciting Support

In the scene I mentioned above, imagine that you approached the networking event differently. Instead of starting with what you do and your interest in impact investing, you say,

“Hi, I believe that the decisions we make with our money can have a tremendous impact on our world. What really excites me is how tools like impact investing are maximizing the social and financial return of the money we invest. I’m currently a financial analyst and understand how powerful this shift in mindset can be. Do you have an ideas for how I might get involved in impact investing?”

My bet is that you would get much more helpful ideas and resources with this approach than if you led with your role and interest area. When you start with why, people tend to help you explore that deeply held belief rather than assess how qualified you are to pursue your specific interest.   

Use Simon Sinek’s talk to start crafting your own “why” statement for the work that interests you. If you need help applying this to your job search, I’m happy to help. Just leave a comment or send me a note.