In search of the purpose-driven career

Job seekers attend a state-sponsored career and job resource fair in Denver, Colo.

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Tess Vigeland: Get a job doing what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life. That's a tough sell even in a good economy; much less when unemployment hovers near 10 percent.

And when job openings are scarce, it might be tempting to apply for anything -- and everything -- in sight, just for the paycheck. But Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports a better approach might be to keep your high standards in place.


Eve Troeh: Around 10 a.m. on a Monday morning, Dali Colorado goes for her second round of coffee.

Dali Colorado: This will bubble and pop.

She's been up a few hours, seen her husband off to his job, straightened up the house. When the stovetop coffee maker goes off again, it's time to work.

Meaning, look for work. Colorado's been unemployed about seven months. She feeds her dog, a rescued boxer named Lizzy, and heads for the computer.

Colorado: It's her least favorite time of the day because she knows I'm gonna be on there for a couple of hours, so she knows she's not gonna be able to go outside until I'm done.

She starts clicking away at online job boards.

Colorado: Start my search log for the first quarter of 2011.

Colorado is 34. Unemployment for people like her, with a college degree, is the highest since 1970, at about 5 percent. Colorado used to work at a music company, managing and promoting bands. After being laid off, she thought about what she'd love to do, and tried to pursue that.

Colorado: I actually want to move into nonprofit work, specifically with animals.

She's applied for jobs in that field, also in the music industry, and in the field where she worked before music: marketing. She's sent out about 200 resumes.

Colorado: I've had a couple interviews. Let's see how many have I had -- four? In seven months.

Frustrated, Colorado started applying to jobs well below her qualifications, including administrative assistant.

Colorado: That was one of the first jobs I had out of college, so I'm finding myself back to that place, which is really difficult.

Lots of job seekers have done the same, and they're flooding the inboxes of hiring managers. Kaye Sterling is a corporate recruiter in Minneapolis. Here's what her Monday morning is like.

Kaye Sterling: Open up a job you posted over the weekend and there are 500 new applications.

She has to narrow 500 down to three or four candidates. But, she says, that's not actually that hard to do, because she sees a lot of resumes from people like Dali Colorado: aiming below their experience level, and far from their interests. Sterling says they're among the first to get cut because if she hired them...

Sterling: Within six months they're unhappy, they're making the rest of the department unhappy, because they don't like being the gopher of the department. You know, so even if they don't leave, they just become unhappy.

She says it's a buyer's market for employers, and they'll only hire the person who exactly fits their needs.

Sterling: You are better off as an applicant finding one or two jobs you are truly qualified for, and spending all your time and energy applying to those jobs.

Sterling wants to tell applicants: it's not a numbers game. Applying to hundreds of jobs doesn't improve your chances of getting one.

Job counselor JT O'Donnell agrees.

JT O'Donnell: That's by far the most popular method right now, and it's failing 99 percent of the population.

O'Donnell runs a website called Career Realism. She says blanket-applying is popular because it's something for unemployed people to do with all that time on their hands. But, she says, instead of constant clicking, they need to take a deep breath, and a new approach.

O'Donnell: You are a business of one. We have to know how to market our business of one. You need to have special skills, you need to define your potential, and brand that. And that goes completely in the face of what people think.

Pursue jobs like they're your personal clients, she says. Identify companies you admire and figure out what they need. Take classes and workshops. Because the big-picture goal should still be to find work that suits you, she says. That's better for job seekers, and employers.

O'Donnell: That's when people are most satisfied, most happy, they do their best work, they're their best people.

When I tell all this to our job seeker, Dali Colorado, she says she doesn't feel like she can stop applying to lots of jobs. She says that would feel like she wasn't trying hard enough. But, she is thinking about re-training, in a field she's seen popping up a lot online.

Colorado: When I've been looking specifically in the animal nonprofit sector, there's a lot of positions open for vet tech -- a lot of them.

So she's set up an appointment with her dog's veterinarian to talk about training as a vet tech.

Colorado: This might be a good time for me to go back to school, probably in the fall.

Colorado says she could see herself working part-time in retail as she prepares for school. And just thinking about that is helping her make sense of the chaos of being unemployed, because at least it's a path ahead.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace Money.


Vigeland: Tell us what you think is happening to the purpose-driven career. Post your thoughts on our Facebook page.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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