How To Find Meaningful Work

More and more people want a job that gives more than just a paycheck. A new breed of organizations are helping to connect workers with jobs that make a difference as well as a salary.

It’s a phenomenon that has become increasingly apparent over the last five years: For many people, the ideal job has morphed from one that offers lots of money to one that offers meaning—and a competitive salary doesn’t hurt, either. It isn’t just that people are rejecting jobs at large financial institutions with questionable morals (see this New York Times article on Wall Street’s campus recruiting crisis). Jobseekers today want a position that makes them feel good inside.

ReWork, a startup that came out of the 2011 Unreasonable Institute, may be the first company that places young professionals directly with "disruptive, world changing organizations"—including non-profits and all manner of triple-bottom-line businesses. Anyone interested in getting a job through ReWork fills out an application on the website. When a company that has signed up needs employees, they send their job openings over to ReWork before anything is posted to the public. ReWork in turn sends over a list of qualified candidates. If the company selects a candidate from the pool—as opposed to a headhunting firm or somewhere else—ReWork gets a payment.

ReWork currently works with 15 to 25 companies (for now, most are in Pittsburgh and Boulder, Colorado, but that will change). That’s a number that will expand greatly once ReWork brings on more job candidates. The startup has 130 candidates across the country in some stage of the screening process. That may not sound impressive, but ReWork just opened up for full-time placements February—and everything has been through word of mouth. ReWork expects to have its first five to six full-time job placements within the next three months.

Most of the applicants are at least three to four years into their career, says Nathaniel Koloc, co-founder of ReWork. "I’d say 60% to 70% are people who feel like something is missing from their work, and the other 40% are still trying to figure out what their career looks like," he explains.

This month, ReWork is teaming up with a handful of higher education institutions and fellowship programs, including the Monterey Institute, Bentley College, Compass Partners and StartingBloc. Anyone associated with these organizations will get fast-tracked through ReWork’s application process.

ReWork offers a unique service, but there are other resources for jobseekers who want to do good. Idealist offers job listings for people seeking meaningful careers (many of the organizations that post there are nonprofits). Sites like Greenbiz and Green Job Search have more environmentally focused job listings.

"The conversations we have with people are very, very emotionally driven, and I don’t know that 10 years ago there were as many opportunities to fulfill these feelings, or how many companies had the balance of income, viability, meaning, and value of work," says Koloc. "It definitely feels like something is happening with this right now."

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  • ReWork Team

    Hey everyone, thanks so much for your feedback and suggestions – it's always great to hear different perspectives and these conversations help us get better at doing our jobs. We appreciate your support!

    The ReWork Team

  • MTM Careers

    Doing well by doing good is not a new goal for professionals.  But today
    there are more opportunities to do so than ever before!  I have been
    helping students and working professionals do just that by successfully
    competing for careers in CSR, social enterprises and sustainable
    business since 2004.

    But as long as universities and their career centers don't know that
    these options exist and set up programs that help their students and
    graduates successfully compete for these types of opportunities, many
    values-driven emerging leaders will have a job search that is harder and
    longer than it needs to be.

    Our social enterprise, More Than Money Careers, focuses on training
    university staff and career centers to best help their students and
    graduates compete for mission-driven private sector jobs that are
    well-paid.  For more information, see our recent Good Profile on Good
    Generation -
    We are in our first year of operations, and thus far we have 13 campus partners:
    Brown University, Carlson School of Management (University of
    Minnesota), Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), George
    Washington University School of Business, Kenan-Flagler School of
    Business (University of North Carolina), Lokey Graduate School of
    Business (Mills College), Ross School of Business (University of
    Michigan), Seattle University, Smith School of Business (University of
    Maryland), Terry College of Business (University of Georgia), Texas
    State University, Yale School of Management, and Zicklin School of
    Business (Baruch College).

    Build capacity on campuses is critical, because the more university staff and faculty know that's out there in terms of well-paying high impact careers across sectors, the better their students and graduates will be able to get clear, get connected, and get hired faster for the meaningful careers they are seeking.

  • Good_Generation

    Agree that we probably mean by "meaningful" in this article those occupations that the media and general public associates the most with "doing good". As the career coaches objected, of course meaning is relative, but ReWork deals more with the "do-good" types, which is the subject of this article.

    It sounds like ReWork has a good idea but I am with the reader below who commented on the part that said "Most of the applicants are at least three to four years into their career" - that is, identified the "customer" in this case as young and entry-level professionals.

    Taking aside all those jobs that should be meaningful but DO NOT fall into the camp of CSR/cleantech/NGOs/social enterprises, for those people who DO believe that such jobs hold most meaning to them, ReWork may or may not be able to successfully place them based on where in their careers they are.

    In other words, I believe that placement of such young professionals is more likely to be successful than placement for mid-career professionals seeking a change. The salary gap is simply too large after a certain time, and the above-mentioned "do-good" jobs generally cannot even come close to matching what people were used to in their "less meaningful" occupations in general.

    We may be talking about discounts of up to 50-80% of someone's salary and for mid-career professionals starting families, this can be a tough decision to make - regardless of their ambition to do more meaningful work. To be fair, CSR and cleantech are the closest to offering "market competitive" rates and also command quite a lot of interest as a consequence because the sacrifice demanded is simply less than with a typical nonprofit organization or social enterprise.

    On the other end of the spectrum, late-career professionals seem to have it also easier than mid-career counterparts because they are likely already more financially secure and at the top levels can command good packages despite a discount to what they are used to.

    Thus, the challenge that neither ReWork nor any of the dozen or so other "good/meaningful job placement agencies" may face is how to successfully place the huge middle segment of career-changers.

    Will be eager to follow ReWork's progress and how they will deal with these challenges going forward.


  • Leonard

    A Match.com for loving your job is definitely smart. But it's misleading to think that such a designated pairing is new, or that people haven't been desperately seeking this for years or that only certain companies meet a fixed standard of meanginfulness (nonprofits, triple bottom line) and only certain jobseekers seek meaningful work. Most of my career coaching practice for 15 years has been made up of career changers and jobseekers of all ages who want more meaningful work. Typically that means they want to have some tangible, positive impact on others. But I see it as up to them--not a fixed standard--to determine what they believe is meaningful and what kind of company fits that. If the work matches their deeply held values that they've openly examined, as well as their passions, their skills and sense of legacy, then hooray! Good things will generally happen.

  • Nadine

    I totally agree with Leonard that the title of this article is misleading. As a business and executive coach I deal with many ambitious people with great careers on paper who aren't happy and are craving more meaning in their work. That does not necessarily mean they have to leave their corporate careers or give up their own businesses to work for charities, green companies or become CSR experts.
    'Meaning' can be very different things to different people, and one can find meaning in any type of company or work, as long as one is not only clear about one's core values and priorities in life, but also consequent enough not to 'sell out' to financial incentives alone.

  • Bob Jacobson

    Curious that most placements are "three to four years into their careers."  From my perspective, that makes them raw youth so far as having a clear understanding of what constitutes meaningful work or for that matter, a meaningful life.  A service that only recruits people so early in their careers is somewhat akin to the US Army recruiting youths who need structure in their lives.  Not that it's wrong, but something tells me that a service that appealed to senior talent who want to make a difference would have to do more than just be cool. But on the contrary, these alternative work recruiters react to age rather much like conventional HR managers. So you have great needs being addressed by individuals without significant experience in the world or acquired capabilities.  Meanwhile the serious latent talent doesn't get asked.  Does that sound sustainable to you?

  • Bob Jacobson

    Scot, thank you for the good faith effort.  Obviously, you're reaching the wrong people.  Anyone making a $200,000 salary in my opinion -- but of course, I'm into good deeds for their own sake -- is already in another universe.  Salaries of that nature are decreed by people who think too much of themselves.  "Market rates" these days, if I poll my friends (I'm in the 45-65 cohort, professional, all MAs, MBAs, JDs, and PhDs) are trending downwards, fast, and most of all for the work that most needs doing.  A $100,000 salary for most of these individuals would be exceptional -- not that they aren't worth it, but because there's simply no work to be found.  The jobs being created in the news are all low-level, not just low-paying but also low-rewarding. I would come out in front and advertise your pay up front.  If it's in the mid to high five figures, you should have people streaming in your direction.  

    For a project I'm doing in Sweden, where taxes consume half the compensation paid, a salary of $100,000 (after taxes) is considered quite exceptional.  American professionals are slightly spoiled, I would say.  A few years in the grey zone straightens most out.  And for most of my friends, doing good is equal to doing well.  I'm not sure what the problem is, unless there is too great a differential between management's compensation and the workers', which could be an issue among any age group.

  • Scot Frank

    Hi Bob,

    I represent a green company. We're still small (about 18 people) and I've tried to hire individuals with significant experience and abilities but had trouble; they were attracted to the job and company but we are not able to pay them what they ask for, even after taking a 50% pay cut from their $200K salary. It's a chicken-and-egg sort of problem, and I think most companies in this sector aren't able to pay market rates for the talent they may require.


  • Karen

    I know that many of our clients would like meaningful careers, but have spent so long without fulfillment in their work that they are confused about what job or organization would be right for them. Or people end up in organizations that seem great at first - but if individuals aren't clear about a career path that is meaningful and how to stay on this path - they become stressed or overwhelmed by the inevitable demands of any business - and meaningful work evaporates.

    Karen Tax

  • Scot Frank

    I don't think the nature of this article is very different from one about a company making a new type of solar panel ("an ad for a new product") or a group providing curb-side composting in DC ("an ad for a new service"). 

    In the end, if they are useful and informative to the reader and promote a positive change in life, isn't that the mission of this blog? I imagine many people reading don't know what step to take toward finding a more desirable career, and Rework may be the one to help them start off.

  • Chris Reich

    The story here is that companies, all companies, need to make work meaningful to their employees.  This is a huge failure by most employers---I know social workers, teachers and even professionals in "green" technology who do NOT feel they are doing meaningful work. Can that be?

    Adding a meaningful quotient to work goes a long way toward building a loyal and productive workforce. Everyone wants their work to matter.

    Chris Reich

  • Lotte Eppings

    I totally agree with you Chris! 
    For me it's not about Corporate Responsibility, but it's generally about where the company believes in. A bigger purpose which can motivate people and help them feeling that their job is important and part of the mission. It can be green, but it can't also. What I mean that it all depends on the management, communications and HRM working together to make a meaningful organization for employees and other stakeholders.

  • Stacy

    Love what Rework is doing!  They are on the recruiting side.  We are a job board for jobs that use a sustainable business model to address a social and/or environmental mission.  (Give To Get Jobs) Together we cover the whole social enterprise / CSR space.  It's great knowing we can help anyone who is interested in social enterprise find their dream job.  

  • Joseph Winke

    What a great idea! It's about time people and businesses focused on more than profits. I can't believe no one has done this yet. These guys are Rework are onto something big here...