How to Find a Career That Makes You Happy

by Susan Muldowney
Posted: December 07, 2015

  Return to blog home


Ah, the age-old golden question - how to find a career that makes you happy. Ask yourself, what does purpose at work mean for you? Today, we’re seeing more people choosing or changing their career to find greater personal fulfilment in charities, not-for-profits and ethical organisations.

Jane Hutchison had been working as a lawyer in Sydney for more than five years when she realised that something was missing in her career. She was paid well, she liked her colleagues and most of her clients were quite pleasant, too. What was there to be unhappy about?

It took Hutchison months to realise it wasn’t the ‘what’ that was missing in her career. It was the ‘why’. She’d been going to work every day without a sense of purpose.

The pursuit of happiness

While so many of the Baby Boomer generation entered the workforce happy to have a job at all, an increasing number of younger job-seekers are looking for a career that contributes to more than their bank balance.

Fuelled by your values and driven by your passions, a career with purpose provides a sense of fulfilment, which can help satisfy one of life’s greatest desires – happiness.

Instagram: @cancercouncil / Image via 


Hutchison understands this well – she left her legal job to join Cancer Council Australia, where she helps increase the sponsorship funds that assist the organisation in reducing the impact of the disease.

“I realised that I wanted to achieve more satisfaction from my job,” she says. “I know that sounds clichéd, but it was about delivering more purpose into my career and my professional life.”

Related: A Quick Guide to Working in the Not-For-Profit Sector

What’s in it for you?

If you’re dedicating years of your life to a career, why not choose one that makes you happy? This is a recurring question within the job market. Recent research by recruitment firm Hays found that 72 per cent of Generation Y will not apply for a role with an organisation if they don’t believe in what it stands for.

Discover what careers and courses will help you make a lasting impact to the lives of others.

This generation believes more strongly than any other that a career should bring fulfillment and meaning to life

Career coach Pam Macdonald on how to find a career that makes you happy
Pictured: Pam Macdonald, Director of Career Coaching


Pam Macdonald, director of career coaching and training organisation, Broadspring Consulting, says younger job-seekers are driven by purpose because that’s how they were raised. “For many people who started work in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was a time of Gordon Gekko greed and some people found that quite unsatisfying."

"I think that generation has raised their children to believe that there’s more to life than just money. People are being driven more by altruism and wanting to give back.”

It’s not just young job-seekers who are looking for purpose in their career. David Lang, Trainer for Human Resources Management at Open Colleges, says older generations are beginning to seek it, too.

“A lot of these people have been working hard for decades and they’re beginning to ask themselves, ‘For what? What’s in it for me?’ More companies are also realising that this sense of purpose is an important motivator for employees.”

Many companies promote their own values to attract and retain employees. “There’s a lot of ways to find out what a company is really like to work at these days,” says Lang. “Some companies have YouTube channels.”

Social media allows companies to share their brand personality and to provide insight into what it’s like to work for them. Companies such as Telstra, Optus, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Myer use popular social channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to promote their brand message.

What makes you tick?

Most people know what makes them happy in their personal life. Translating this to your professional life often requires help. “What does fulfilment look like to you? Is it providing an important service, solving a problem or working for a valuable cause? These are questions you need to be able to answer so you can understand your purpose,” says Macdonald.

Before you start thinking about a specific career, work out what makes you tick. “The first step is always to ask yourself what you enjoy doing and why it makes you happy,” adds Macdonald. “Define your purpose first, then target the career that will serve it and start narrowing down the jobs.

"It may not be in the non-profit sector. You might find a more fulfilling role with your current employer. I think some people are looking at roles where they might be at the edge of helping a company to change, and that that can be a very satisfying thing.”

Volunteering can also help you narrow your focus. Last year, 31 per cent of Australians aged 18 years or over participated in some form of voluntary work. “It might even be possible to do volunteer work within your company,” says Macdonald.

“Some of the big corporates are looking at issues of staff turnover and retention, and are realising that employee volunteer programs can help with job satisfaction.”

Many happy returns

Jane Hutchison says changing careers can be a daunting task. It took her four months after leaving her legal job to find the right role. “I wasn’t really clear on what I wanted to do. I was lucky in that my husband was very supportive and I was able to leave my job without having another one to go to.”

Hutchison sought advice from a career coach, who helped her identify her purpose. She was driven to work for a cause and to make a difference to the lives of others. “I thought that I’d like to work in the non-profit sector, but I wasn’t sure of the role for me.”  

Instagram: @cancercouncil / Image via 


That role turned out to be Cancer Council Australia’s national corporate partnerships manager. “It’s a cause I really believe in. We’ve all been touched by cancer in some way, so it’s something that resonates not only for me, but for a lot of people in Australia.

"Working with other people who believe passionately in the cause also makes the job so satisfying. We have a clear purpose and we’re working toward something that really matters.”

Looking for a job that will help make a difference to the lives of others? Take a look at our courses in Community Services, Education and Childcare and Animal Care, or download a free course guide via the form below.


Susan Muldowney

Susan Muldowney

Susan Muldowney is a Melbourne-based writer and editor specialising in business, design and architecture. When she's not working she spends her time plotting her next holiday.

Get a Free Course Guide

Enter your details below to receive a free course guide and a consultation with an Education Advisor.