How to build a meaningful career

What does it take to find a job? And what does it take to find a meaningful job? These questions are difficult to answer in any city, but it can feel especially hard in Hong Kong: With its soaring property prices and fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyle, Hong Kong is a city that can make any job seeker feel confused about work and career planning. At the same time, Hong Kong is also a city where it can be remarkably easy to meet new people, make connections, and find information about new opportunities.

As a career coach, I have the privilege of helping people develop the skills – and motivation – to plan careers that feel meaningful to them. As I tell my clients, there’s nothing wrong about wanting to do meaningful work. Building a career that feels meaningful to you is probably one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself, and to people around you. After all, we spend most of our lives working, so why not make that work meaningful? Whether or not we enjoy our jobs also influences our relationships to others. All the more reason to build your career so that it makes sense.

That said, how many in Hong Kong can really allow themselves to search for “meaningful work”? Isn’t it more important to find a job that pays the bills? These are questions many of my clients come to me with. My role as a career coach is not to offer definite answers to these questions. Instead, career counselling or career coaching is about creating structured, focused, and honest conversations about careers – conversations that help people clarify what they want, what choices they actually have, and which factors influence their choices. We then move from conversation to action – from talking to doing – and lay a plan for how to achieve the goals and aspirations a person has in mind.

That said, a discussion about Hong Kong careers – let alone meaningful Hong Kong careers – needs to start by considering a person’s life situation. Let’s look at two scenarios that illustrate this.

If you are a fresh graduate who is living at home, and have parents who are open to your trying different jobs, the ways that you can explore what jobs feel meaningful to you are relatively open. For one, you can think about applying for jobs in an industry that seems interesting and innovative. It might be worth considering industries and jobs other than those that are seen as “safe” options in Hong Kong.

Let’s say you’re into technology and innovation, and want to avoid working for a highly traditional, hierarchical company. If so, you could can consider looking for a job in one of the technology startups. Hong Kong’s small tech industry is still small, but it’s growing. In Hong Kong, there are now several job boards, such as Wantedly, Canopy and WHub, that focus on recruiting talent for the tech industry.

If, however, you are providing for someone else and paying your own bills, your strategy obviously needs to be different. It might not be feasible to change careers, let alone change jobs. For you, trying to make work meaningful might mean something else, such as creating meaningful experiences outside of work per se. One example is doing volunteer work, or starting a side project. It might mean taking up (or rediscovering) a creative, fulfilling hobby or interest that you begin to devote more time to in the weekends.

The last few examples may not not sound very dramatic. They’re certainly not as dramatic as choosing to change career paths or jobs based on the meaningfulness of a given career or job. That said, for many of the clients I help in Hong Kong, sweeping and dramatic changes are not feasible options. A realistic way to make work more meaningful is, instead, to make incremental progress towards a better life. For some, it might mean doing research on how to find a new job, but pacing that research in such a way that it doesn’t involve a lot of financial risk.

Often, it’s a question of taking your spare time more seriously, and changing certain habits so that you find time – or rather, make time – for meaningful activities. Essentially, it’s a question of establishing more work/life balance. This might sound trivial to some, but as anyone working in Hong Kong will know, achieving something akin to work/life balance in this city is a feat in itself. It requires self-awareness, grit, and a dedicated effort. You also have to be willing to acknowledge – and change – your habits for the better. I’m amazed by what my clients can do when they really put their mind to it, and the ways they manage to use the power of habit to their benefit.

This leaves with a question that I haven’t discussed in detail here, but will explore in a future blog post: What is “meaningful work”? What does the term mean, and why does it matter?


About the author

Julianne Yang is a Norwegian career coach and HR consultant in Hong Kong. She offers one-on-one career counselling for young professionals, PhD candidates, and university students who are looking to build meaningful careers. She also designs and runs career workshops and training sessions for universities, co-working spaces, and companies in Hong Kong.

When she’s not career coaching or training, she works as an HR consultant for small- to medium-sized tech companies, managing all things related to hiring. If you need help with writing job listings that attract the right talent, screening candidates, conducting interviews, and developing effective employer branding and recruitment marketing strategies, feel free to get in touch.

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