How to find work you really love – with an ethical career

Because you can earn money and make a difference while doing so

how to find a job you love
(Image credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

Because you can earn money and make a difference while doing so

Words by Paul Allen

Want to find work that makes a difference? There’s a world of brilliant ethical career options out there, if you know where to look.

You’ll spend around 100,000 hours of your life at work. That’s a very long time to be doing something you don’t like.

How can you find a career that’s rewarding and meaningful – something you’ll enjoy today and look back on with pride tomorrow?

If you’d like to spend more time doing work that helps others or has a positive impact on the planet (and isn’t just about making someone else rich), there are lots of options out there.

How to find a job you love

Find your passion

The best way to begin your ethical career hunt is with some soul-searching. Don’t worry, this isn’t about finding your ‘inner tiger’ or hiring a life coach. You just need to make some simple, practical decisions to narrow down your options – and understand where to focus your energies.

Let’s start with your passions. Some of us have one particular cause that’s especially important – maybe there’s a personal or family connection. But for most of us, it’s not that simple.

From animal welfare to anti-poverty projects, biodiversity to green energy, there are lots of worthwhile goals you could support – and it’s worth thinking about the causes you care most about. After all, if you’re motivated by the change you’re working towards, you’ll be far more likely to love your job.

Find your comfort zone

Next, think about the different ways that you could be working. You may have some very practical considerations here – such as work-life balance, juggling family commitments, a short commute, flexible hours, and so on.

But it’s also worth thinking about the kind of role you’ll find most rewarding. For example, some jobs are on the front-line – affecting a particular community very directly and often immediately. Others are more removed from the action (and may take much longer to deliver results) but could deliver a far greater difference to a larger number of people.

Do you need to be hands on, or are you happy to take a back seat? Do you like working in small teams or are you content being a small cog in a big wheel? Once you know your ideal work environment, it’s time to start looking.

Know your options

The jobs market used to be simpler – charities did 'good' and businesses just made money. Now you have huge charity brands that feel more like multinationals than meek do-gooders. You also have socially and environmentally conscious businesses, from Lush to TOMS, Ecotricity to Finisterre, that are motivated by principles and profits. And then there are social enterprises, like The Big Issue and the Co-op, somewhere in the middle.

It sounds confusing – but it actually means there’s an ever-expanding list of ethical career options to explore.

That’s exactly what Arumza Rashid did – after quitting a promising graduate programme with a management consultancy, she helped run a sustainable technology programme for the London 2012 Games before joining BP to increase its global diversity and inclusion. Here, she’s helped oversee an increase in female representation in senior level positions by three per cent over two years. In her spare time, she’s also involved in Modern Muse, a social enterprise that gives school girls access to female role models in science, technology and engineering.

A global energy giant like BP isn’t everyone’s idea of an ethical employer, but ethics are always personal – and Arumza firmly believes big business isn’t always bad: 'I think you have to look at the bigger picture – what are they trying to do to help communities. I’ve stayed at BP because they didn’t just talk the talk – they’ve invested in sustainability projects.'

Emma Livingston-Jones has taken a different approach to her ethical career. As learning and development co-ordinator at the British Red Cross, she organises training for people who work on emergency response operations, such as the Nepal earthquake. Emma loves her role but even if she’s passionate about the cause, she says its still feels like work: 'It is a job – but since we spend so much our lives working, I’d rather do something that’s interesting and at least a bit useful.'

Arumza and Emma did it their way, on their own terms – and they’re not alone. From City-based 'intrapreneurs' – a new breed of proactive employee making traditional businesses more ethical from within – to NGO workers making a difference to people’s lives in the developing world, there are countless stories of inspiring women from every corner of the globe, who’ve successfully found work they love.

Each one has done it by sticking to their principles and finding the right path. Now you just need to find yours.

Paul Allen is the author of The Ethical Careers Guide (out now, £12.99) and the co-founder of Lark Agency.

Delphine Chui