How to Find Your Career Purpose, with Erin Thomas

Listen On:

Figuring out the next step on your career journey takes energy and focus. If your strategy so far has been to apply everywhere and see what happens, getting clear on your purpose has powerful benefits. Find Your Dream Job guest Erin Thomas says you need to know exactly what type of job is going to leverage your unique talents and strengths. Erin also shares the five-step process she uses with clients to get clear about who you are and about what matters most to you in a job search.

About Our Guest:

Erin Thomas is a career and leadership coach, organizational development expert, and human resources professional. Over the past 15 years, Erin has worked with hundreds of people from all around the globe to uncover their unique leadership stance and voice, putting them in the driver’s seat of their career and life.

Resources in This Episode:



Find Your Dream Job, Episode 197:

How to Find Your Career Purpose, with Erin Thomas

Airdate: June 26, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every Wednesday on this show, I interview a career expert. We discuss the tools you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Erin Thomas about how to find your career purpose.

Erin Thomas is a career and leadership coach, organizational development expert, and human resources professional. She’s worked with hundreds of people across the globe.

She joins us today from Seattle, Washington.

Erin, welcome to the show.

Erin Thomas:

Hi, Mac. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s a pleasure to have you.

Now, Erin, why do people need to be clear about their career purpose and have job search goals at all? I’m thinking about the typical job seeker. Shouldn’t we just keep our options open and apply everywhere?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, it’s such a great question and it’s a question I get often from folks that I work with. So, when we’re in job transition or when we’re realizing that we need a new job for whatever reason, this is a highly stressful time. You know, there’s actual research out there that shows, when you’re in this type of transition, your stress levels are similar to your stress levels when enduring say, a divorce or say, a cross country move or other really big experiences in our life. So, you know, it’s a stressful time and so my main message to people is, use your time wisely.

We only have a limited amount of energy to expend every day so the key is to really be strategic about how you’re utilizing your energy. If we just jump into the job search without doing a little bit of the exploration beforehand, oftentimes, we’re looking actually for the wrong jobs and when we find the wrong job, usually we don’t realize that, or when we land, rather, in the wrong job, usually we don’t realize that until we’re not reaching success. Until we’re actually in that job and we’re not reaching the success we know we’re capable of.

To prevent this haphazard approach to just sort of finding a job and trying it out, there are ways, there are tried and true ways, to really strategize a little bit more, to ensure that when you do go into the job hunt, when you do start looking for those jobs on the job boards, you know exactly what type of job is really going to leverage who you are and who you’re meant to be.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to listeners, Erin, who might say, “Well, I’ll use the job search process to figure out what I want and if I go on enough interviews and apply for enough positions, I’ll eventually find the right job and I’ll know it when I see it.”

Erin Thomas:

I mean, I think that approach might work for some and it requires a good level of intuition and self-awareness. I certainly think that the job search is one data point that we can collect to understand really how we’re going to leverage our whole self and our careers as well as interviews. We learn so much in interviews on what’s important to us, how we communicate, what we’re looking for in an organization by the questions we ask and that’s just one data point.

The goal is to get as many data points as possible so that you can be making the best decision possible and many of those data points are external, like what you’re seeing in the market or what you’re experiencing in interviews and many of them are internal, sort of the wisdom that is within us.

That’s really what my work revolves around, is accessing some of that data that is within us, that is really hard to track or to hear or know.

Mac Prichard:

Do you find in your work with your clients, Erin, that people struggle to get clear about that career purpose?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, this is, it’s just amazing how many people feel that little itch, and when I say that itch I mean feel that they’re not totally feeling it in their current career or they know they’re meant for something bigger or something more but they just don’t know what or even goals, career goals. They know they want to hit a certain level but they’re just not sure how to get there or something continues to get in their way.

Many of my clients and folks that I talk to about this subject, there’s just a big…it’s just all blurry and so, you know, there are ways that we can start to clarify all these buckets of work, or as I said earlier, data points so that then when you’re really in the job hunt and ready for your next move, you have a real clear plan of how to get exactly what you want and not only how to get what you want, but how to ensure that you’re really going to succeed in that type of role. But it is totally aligned with your strengths, your values, your unique attributes, so that you thrive.

Mac Prichard:

I know that you have a process that you take your clients through to get clear about that career purpose. Before we talk about that, I just want to touch again on why people struggle with getting clear about a career purpose. Why is it so difficult for people to do this?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, you know, I think that from early into childhood, we are told that success looks a certain way, so many of us then sort of continue down that path, doing what we’re told we’re supposed to do to reach success and they do it, right? Then, they’re into their career, maybe 5 years, maybe 10 years, maybe 15 or 20 years, and they realize, “Wait a second, this isn’t working for me.” And so, it’s sort of an unraveling process to understand, well, what isn’t working for you and then we can start to understand the why and then what does work for you?

Every experience in our life gives us data on what is most important to us and that might look really different from what we were taught should be important to us. It’s sort of unraveling, again, those ideas that we have to then just get real clarity on, this is who I know I am and this is how I know I’m going to leverage myself.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to get started, Erin. Where do you recommend listeners begin to get clear about that career purpose and translate that into job search goals?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, so I have a few steps that I’ll talk through and I just want to say too, that it’s not necessarily, though I’m going to talk about this in a linear way, it’s not necessarily linear and so it’s really looking at what clarity do you already have about yourself and then how can we build on that?

One area that I like to dig into is values. You know, we’ve all heard about values, we’ve all learned about values, why this is important, but what I find with a lot of people is that they’ve never really internalized these values. They’ve never really done this reflective practice of understanding, “Well, gosh, what are my values and how do they show up in every decision I make and in the way I behave?”

Values are like, I like to say, values are like the foundation of a house. They are the things that are most important to us and they form the basis of our choices. If you don’t know your values one way to start to uncover these is to look at, what are some big decisions you’ve made in your life and then track those back. Well, why did you make that decision? What was important to you? What did you feel the value add was going to be?

Again, we’ve been living with our values, likely, for the duration of our lives but the goal is to actually get really explicit and clear on, well, what are those and how do those show up in my day to day life?

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so reflect on big choices you have made in your life; decisions about where you live, jobs to take, the relationships you’ve had, and then work back from them the values that mattered when you considered making those choices.

Erin Thomas:

Exactly, yeah, and you can also categorize your values. So, you know, in the jobs specific context there are 4, sort of, categories of values that I like to take my clients through.

There are intrinsic values, which are, you know, sort of, what’s important to you about your contribution to the world? How your work might benefit others.

There are extrinsic values. These are more like, what are the external conditions that are really important to you, like a physical space or location, like your salary, benefits, et cetera?

There are cultural values. So this is sort of, culturally, how do you like to interact with people? How do you prefer to communicate? What types of organizational cultures are really meaningful to you?

Then the last one is operational values, so literally, day to day operations. What are the norms, what are the behaviors, that an organization or community can be espousing that are aligned with your values?

Once you get clear on some of your broader values, you can then start to categorize them in these 4 areas to get even more focused on how this can translate to a career or job.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so reflect, categorize, write it down, and then your next step, what do you recommend listeners do after they get clear about those values?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, so this is my favorite one, and it’s a little bit hard for people to wrap their heads around.

It’s a little bit more esoteric feeling, but this is what I call our essence. So, you know, this is really the state of being that everyone has at the center of themselves. This is, or these are, the unique attributes that distinguish you from other people so the concept behind this is that we all have a unique purpose and contribution in this world and it shines from us brightly and oftentimes, other people see it very clearly.

One good way to understand what your essence is, what this light that’s shining from you is, is asking other people. One question, or one activity I have my coaching clients do is go ask 10 of your trusted people, whether those are your friends, family members, colleagues, and ask them one question, and that question is, “When I enter a room, what do you see?”

Often my clients are freaking out because they’re like, “Oh gosh, I don’t want to ask my friends and family this. That’s so awkward.” But then they do it and they come back with this huge amount of excitement and energy because all of a sudden, they see that these 10 different people in their lives are all saying the same things. Sometimes there’s some different attributes but there are some clear through lines, some clear patterns that then you can take away and then realize, “Oh wow, this is really what is shining through me.” And then, most of the time, you start to see that in yourself more, and again, with all of this work, it’s the more we understand ourselves, the more we can leverage it through our career.

If you understand this natural essence that is just shining through you, you’re going to be more able to leverage that.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so, know your core essence and I love the idea of asking 10 colleagues, or friends, or family members. I’ve gone through a similar exercise myself, Erin, and it really…it’s very illuminating, what you hear back and as you say, you do see common patterns, don’t you?

Erin Thomas:

Yes, yeah, absolutely, and it’s one of these things that is…usually what I see is that people, they have felt what they’re being told before, but they’ve sort of buried it so deep within themselves that they forget that this is a huge part of them, so that’s really exciting to be a part of that with my clients.

Mac Prichard:

Well, this is a terrific conversation, Erin. We’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’ll continue to talk to Erin Thomas about how to find your career purpose.

You meet someone who tells you they’re looking for work. What’s the first question you ask?

The odds are pretty good you say this: What kind of job do you want?

And the odds are equally good you’ll hear an answer like this:

“I don’t know. I don’t want to rule anything out.” Or, “I’m keeping my options open.”

Setting a clear job search goal is hard work. It requires self-assessment and it means making choices.

But once you have that goal, your search gets easier and goes faster.

Because you only apply to the employers who offer the job you want. And need the skills you have.

Are you struggling with your career goals? We’ve got a new guide that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Get your free copy today. Go to

We give you a four-step process you can use to set your own goal.

We ask you to think about four areas:  your interests, abilities, values, and desired lifestyle.

And we show you how to work with colleagues, friends, and family to turn your observations about yourself into a clear career goal.

To learn more, go to

Make your job search quicker and less painful. Stop chasing every lead.

Get your copy today of Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Go to

And now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Erin Thomas.

She’s a career and leadership coach, organizational development expert, and human resources professional.

She joins us today from Seattle, Washington.

Erin, before the break, we were talking about our topic this week, about how to find your career purpose and you were taking us through the process with, I believe it has 5 different steps. The first one was getting clear about your values, and the second was to know your core essence.

What’s the third step you recommend that listeners take in order to understand both career purpose and translate that into job search goals?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, so the third step is exploring your unique strengths and motivations. This is usually an easier one to explore because these are the skills in action. These are the ways of being that other people are seeing in the workplace. Your strengths, obviously, are what you’re best at. These are what you’re really good at; this is what often positively reinforced for.

Your motivations are the drivers of why you behave in certain ways. So oftentimes, your motivations and strengths are aligned and inform each other but sometimes they don’t. But your motivations are really the why you behave in certain ways. Once we know some core motivations, we can literally predict behavior. This is really important in a workplace when deciding or choosing how you’re going to be spending your time.

If you want to be spending your time doing things that come naturally to you because you’re positively reinforced through these motivations, then you need to know what those motivations are and similarly with your strengths. You know, if you want to be as successful as possible, you need to know what your superpowers are and then be able to leverage those.

A couple of different tools that I use that I really like and that I’d recommend others, if they’re curious about how to uncover some of these things. So for strengths, and some of your listeners may have heard of this one before, but it’s the Clifton Strengths Finder and this tool is really neat because it’s a quick survey or a quick assessment and then it gives you your top 5 strength areas. This, again, they’re a little bit general but it allows you to apply these broad strengths in lots of different ways, but it gives you a sense of, again, just what you do best.

Similarly, with motivations, a tool I really like to use and I use with my staff, I use with my clients, is called The Predictive Index, and this, I’ve used a lot of motivational assessment tools and this by far is the best one, in my opinion, and just spot on. It uses certain domains and assesses what different motivation levels are and then predicts certain behaviors that can be activated from those motivations.

Mac Prichard:

Good, well, I know Strengths Finder, usually, you can find at bookstores and obviously, it’s available online.

How about the 2nd tool you mentioned, Erin? How can listeners find that?

Erin Thomas:

That one, you can find consultants that use Predictive Index and so I’m sure just like a Google search with Predictive Index Consultants. I also use it, so you can find a coach that uses specific tools that you’re interested in.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, now, you’re clear about your values, you understand your core essence, you have a good sense of your strengths and motivation, what happens next? What else do listeners need to do?

Erin Thomas:

This one is, well, I was going to say this one is my favorite one but I said essence was my favorite one.

Mac Prichard:

You did.

Erin Thomas:

So I guess this one can’t be my favorite. Maybe they’re all my favorite.

Mac Prichard:

Right, you’ve got a top 5, perhaps.

Erin Thomas:


This is what I call dumping your head garbage. So your head garbage, well, we all have head garbage and these are basically what gets in our way. These are our limiting beliefs or belief systems that were created, likely at a very early age, that informs to this day how we view ourselves, how we view other things and usually these happen at a subconscious level. So, we don’t even know that we believe certain things but in fact, we do and these beliefs are directly informing our decisions, our actions, our sense of ourselves, et cetera, every single day.

Another…she’s a mindset coach that I know on the East Coast, and she talks a lot about, she calls it “Head Trash.” And she uses this one example that I love that I use with a lot of my clients. It’s around Santa Claus. Many young kids in this country believe in Santa Claus and because they believe in Santa Claus, they leave out cookies and they leave out milk for Santa Claus, and they read bedtime stories to Santa Claus or, you know, do whatever they do with Santa Claus. That belief informs those behaviors. Then when kids turn, oh I don’t know, 6 or 7 or 8, (I’m not actually sure when kids find out Santa Claus isn’t real. Hopefully, no kids are listening to this).

Mac Prichard:

If they are, they’re young strivers. They’re very ambitious.

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, the truth hurts.

Then, you know, there comes an age where they realize, actually Santa Claus isn’t real and that very quickly changes their behaviors and actions, right? So, they no longer leave cookies out, they no longer leave milk out.S, just like that, because of one small belief, big actions are changed. And that is the same with the way we believe what we are capable of, the amount of money we can make, the types of jobs we can and should do, et cetera.

It’s really important to start uncovering, what is our head garbage? And start to replace that head garbage with gold, really. With gold nuggets that will get us to where we want to go.

Mac Prichard:

Often, a form of this is called Imposter Syndrome and lots of people who are very accomplished and successful will share that they suffer from Imposter Syndrome. I’m thinking, in particular, we’re recording this in 2019, of Michelle Obama giving interviews as part of her book tour, saying that that was something she struggled with.

How do you see people get rid of this head garbage and overcome Imposter Syndrome? What are 2 or 3 practical steps people can take to overcome this?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, and I love your point about Michelle Obama having Imposter Syndrome. The point is, we all have it. Every single human has it because we have beliefs that were informed by others. So, that’s actually one way to start addressing your head garbage, is know you’re not alone. That the way you might feel about yourself or this Imposter Syndrome, where you’re feeling like, “Wait, why am I in this type of job? Why do I have this title? I’m not worthy of this. I’m not good enough.” This is normal head garbage, so just normalizing it sometimes help us separate ourselves from the head garbage.

That’s another key principle, is, you are not your head garbage. Though we feel we are at times, if you can develop a practice, and this can come through meditation, this can come through just deep thinking about these issues, separating yourself, your whole self, from some of these head garbages.

Another way, or technique, that I use with my clients is I ask the question, “What is an area of life that is just not working for you?” And, you know, most people, because I’m a career coach or a leadership coach, will talk about their career goals and not getting there or the amount of money they want to make and still not being there, or their leadership goals, around wanting to be a CEO or wanting to be an ED but they’re not sure how to get there. You know, that’s the entry point into what head garbage is floating around.

You just ask yourself, what is an area of your life that you’re struggling with and then you start mapping it out. You talk about, well, what are your belief systems? So if you want to be a CEO, what are your belief systems about CEOs? And then we start to see, “Oh, well, if you believe that a CEO is a workaholic, and that a CEO is a perfect human being, and that a CEO is the best of the best of the best, and a CEO is the smartest person ever,” and so on and so forth, well, of course you’re self-sabotaging yourself, right? Like, who is the perfect human being? Who is the smartest person in the world? This person doesn’t exist. So, if you believe these things then, of course, you’re not being able to achieve this because it’s impossible.

You start to really chart out or map out, what are your belief systems around whatever it is that you’re having a challenge with and then you demystify some of these belief systems, right? You demystify, “How do I know it’s true that a CEO has to be the smartest person in the world?”

You get really rational because head garbage isn’t rational, it’s not real, it is fake. I mean, it feels real to us but it actually is not based in reality, it’s based on emotion and feeling and false truths.

You demystify and then you replace. You replace with the belief system that you know without a shadow of a doubt is true and that you know will serve you.

Mac Prichard:

Take it from the abstract and you turn it into the practical. Well, Erin, how do you wrap all of this up? Because you’ve done the work, you’ve looked at your values, your core essence, you’ve thought about your strengths, your motivations, and you’re sweeping out all that head garbage out of your head.

How do you bring all of this together and translate it into something that is going to help you get clear about your job search goals and do an effective job search?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, so it’s the putting it all together part. Literally, you overlay all of these buckets of work or as I call them, “data points.” So, each one of these areas, you sort of overlay them and you can craft a certain story out of them. I’m a big story…I believe in story and how powerful and compelling that is and, you know, I talk a lot about personal branding and that that’s really just your personal narrative. It is the story of yourself that helps you not only understand more of yourself, and what you’re best at, and what you’re really meant to do, but also it can help potential employers understand what you do best and what your contribution is.

I have a lot of different ways I do this with folks. One way, which is sort of the most simplistic is, I start with 4 questions.

The first question is, who are you? And this is where you go back to your core essences and you craft a very straightforward and simple sentence or two narrative on what do you know now about this core essence? About these unique attribute that you have that differentiates you from anyone else.

Question 2 is, what is most important to you? This is where you outline your values, again, in a narrative way.

The third is, what are you best at? This is where you input your strengths and talents and the fourth is, when do you thrive? This is really your motivations; what conditions allow you to thrive?

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and I can imagine listeners saying, “Okay, I’ve done all of this work. What are the benefits to me when I’m sitting down looking at a job board or I’m getting ready to go to a networking event or I’m in an informational interview? How’s this going to help my job search?”

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, this gives you laser precision of what types of jobs you really should be looking for. So, this is all the heavy lifting that gives you that laser focus of exactly what job you should apply for because remember what I said earlier, we have a limited amount of energy we can put out, so we want to be using that energy in the most strategic way.

It also allows you to build this narrative into your resume, into your CV, into your LinkedIn, or other social platforms. It allows you to articulate this when you’re networking, it allows you to articulate this when interviewing. I can’t tell you, one of the most impressive things when I’m interviewing folks in my other job, when I ask them this question of just, “Tell me a little bit about yourself. What are you looking for? Who are you as a leader, etc.?”When they know with laser focus, exactly how to answer that, I can tell they’ve done some deep reflective work to really understand who they are and I can trust that they know exactly what job they’re applying to and that this is really a reciprocal matching game.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, so you walk away knowing where you want to go, what you want to do, and with a way of telling your story that puts your best foot forward.

Well, Erin, tell us, what’s next for you?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, so, as I mentioned, I do work with clients. So, I do one on one coaching. I’m also launching, this summer, an online program and so I’ve been hearing from many of my clients they want more. They also want opportunities to be able to do some of this work on their own so I’ll be launching this online training program this summer.

Then, additionally, this fall, I’m in cahoots with a couple of other coaches here in the Seattle area and we’re starting to co-create some workshops this fall. I’m not sure exactly what those workshops themes will be yet but they’ll be something regarding career development, career purpose, leadership, et cetera.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about you, your business, and your services, and your blog by visiting

Erin, given all the tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember when thinking about how to find your career purpose?

Erin Thomas:

Yeah, I think the biggest take away that I’d like to give is that we all have all the data we need to know exactly how to leverage ourselves in the workplace and the key is learning how to listen, learning how to find it, by getting reflective, asking ourselves deeper and exploratory questions, and staying curious for the answers.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, well, thank you for joining us this week, Erin.

Erin Thomas:

Thanks so much, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

So many job seekers I meet, particularly people who have just lost a position, the first thing they want to do is start sending out resumes and I think Erin did an excellent job today at making the case for why you need to invest in yourself and getting clear about your purpose and goals.

I loved her 5-step process for how to do that, so I hope you’ll keep that in mind if you’re just starting your search or if you’re thinking about making some mid-course corrections in your search and it’s not going as well as you hoped.

We’ve got another resource that can help if you’re unclear about your goals. It’s called, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

It’s a free guide and you can get it today.

Visit the Mac’s List website.

Go to

We take you through a 4-step process that will help you get clear about your own job search goal.

Well, thanks  for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest will be Connel Valentine. He’ll share what you must do before applying to any job.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.