Ask Alexis | How Do I Balance My Passion and My Paycheck?

sketch of a dollar sign

Dear Ask Alexis,

I’ve had trouble working in areas I’m most interested in, mainly because of a lack of opportunity and not knowing anyone in the field. This has forced me to take jobs just for a check. Now I’ve accumulated skills I don’t like, and I want to look for different areas of work. Unfortunately, I don’t get responses to my applications, probably because the organization doesn’t see relevant experience.

So, if I’m asked why I want to work at a particular place, I can’t say I’m excited about the organization because I’m just looking for a decent job, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a place that aligns with my true goals. This situation leaves me feeling like I’m between a rock and a hard place. Any advice?

Help!
Stuck in a Rut

***

Dear Stuck in a Rut,

It’s okay to apply for (and with any luck, accept) a position that doesn’t fulfill all of your wildest career dreams. We have all been there, and chances are, we’ll all be there again at some point.

Of course, when an interviewer asks why you’re interested in the position, you’re right to not want to say, “Because I need a paycheck,” and it’s also not a great move to lie and try to convince them that this is your dream position. (You can probably guess how transparent an inauthentic response sounds to a hiring manager).

So, how do you deliver a response that highlights your enthusiasm for the role while staying true to yourself and your desired career path?

Define the components and find your sweet spot

Even if it’s not your dream job, you can still find something to get excited about, even if that means you have to dig deep. If you absolutely can’t find a single, honest reason to be enthusiastic about the job in question, unfortunately, I think your time would be better spent applying and interviewing elsewhere.

But the silver lining is that almost every job—whether you’re working at a nonprofit organization, a city agency, a clothing store, a restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter—has some breakdown of the following components: social, administrative, educational, and physical. In trying to find something to be excited about as it relates to a job you’re interviewing for, taking pen to paper and listing out as many tasks and work responsibilities as you can think of (related to the job) for each of these four categories can help to shine a light on at least a few things to get excited about. An added bonus of this exercise is that it may even bring to light some things that you didn’t quite know about your professional interests.

Here are some examples of what types of workplace responsibilities might fall into each category (from a variety of jobs).

Social:

  • Working in teams
  • Customer service
  • Drafting email communications
  • Answering phones
  • Training others

Administrative:

  • Project management
  • Closing out a cash register each evening
  • Keeping a calendar/schedule organized and up to date
  • Submitting financial reports
  • Event planning

Educational:

  • Conducting research
  • Learning new systems and processes
  • Reading publications, and attending workshops and conferences in order to stay current

Physical (any aspect of the job that requires some amount of physical work/strength):

  • Setting up tables and chairs each morning
  • Setting up for events, meetings, conferences, etc.
  • Greeting clients and customers as they arrive to your office
  • Working in a sustainable garden with students
  • Leading coworkers through a morning stretch

So, Stuck in a Rut, my advice to you is: commit some time to listing as many tasks and responsibilities that relate to this position as you can think of, and put a check mark next to the items that you think you may enjoy. Don’t stop the exercise until you have identified and categorized at least 10 items.

Once you have completed your sorting, work to elaborate on why you think you’d enjoy these particular tasks. When all is said and done, you should have a solid list of things that genuinely excite you about the position that you can speak to during your interview.

Let us know how it all turns out. Wishing you success!

– Alexis

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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