Find Your Dream Job, Episode 301:
How to Write Your Personal Mission Statement, with Greg Flores
Airdate: June 23, 2021
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You may change jobs 10 or 15 times and as you do this, a personal mission statement can help you stay focused on your long-term goals.
Greg Flores is here today to talk about how to write your personal mission statement.
He’s the associate director of career services at Portland State University. Greg helps people prepare for meaningful careers and understand the changing world of work.
He joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Well, Greg, let’s get right to it: what is a personal mission statement?
A personal mission statement is a guiding post, a way for you to have a sense of identifying what it is you want in a job. So, we all know companies have mission statements about who they are and what they do. A personal mission statement is one of those just for you. It’s for helping you clarify and identify what it is you want out of a job. What is the difference you want to make, what is the problem you want to solve in this world? And having a personal mission statement lets you look at a job, look at the work you’re doing, and decide whether it is aligned with that sense of purpose, that mission that you are on as an individual.
Well, tell us more about why it’s important to have a personal mission statement. You mentioned helping to clarify the connection between your purpose and the work you do. What are some of the other reasons it’s important to have a personal mission statement?
There’s a lot of research out there that the more aligned we feel with the work we’re doing, the more we feel like it represents our values, the more we feel good about the work that we’re doing, and the difference we’re making, the better we perform in that job. We have more job satisfaction, we put more of ourselves into our job when we have that alignment.
There was a study that just came out last week that was in the Harvard Business Review that said something like fifty percent of people said they would take a pay cut to work at a place they felt was better aligned with their personal values, their personal mission.
Is a personal mission statement the only way to get clarity about that alignment between values and work, or are there other tools that people should consider?
It’s definitely not the only way, and some people, I think because of the corporate nature of the idea of a mission statement, kind of roll their eyes when they hear it.
So, I think that “mission statement” is good shorthand and people know what you mean when you say it. But what we’re really talking about is clarifying for yourself, articulating what matters to you. Again, what is that difference you want to make? What do you want back from a job? So, it’s a lot about value. It’s about understanding what is important to you, both in the way you’re treated in a workplace, the work you are actually doing and performing, and the impact that that work is having.
You work at a career services office, you’ve been there for some time. Do you find, Greg, that most job seekers have a personal mission statement?
Definitely not. It’s hard to have clarity and vision about what we want out of a job when we’re wrapped up in a job search. So, most of the people I see are college students who are getting close to graduation, and they’re thinking about what they want to do next, and there’s not always a sense of power or personal agency in that process.
I think a lot of times when we’re job searching, we’re worried about finding work, we’re worried about putting food on the table, and so, I think it’s hard to take a step back and to actually ask that question of, “What is it that I want out of work?”
And for people that are kind of purpose-driven, people who resonate with the idea of, “What is the difference I want to make, what is the problem I want to solve?”; that kind of thinking, having a clear statement, having that mission statement, that purpose statement gives you something to hold up against an opportunity. Or to say, “ Is this job that I’m looking at part of my mission? Does this let me do the work that I know I want to do? Does this let me move closer to my goals?”
And if we’re not in that position of power, if we are in a place where we need a job tomorrow, we can put the mission aside. We can make a choice and say, “ I’m going to take this job because I need to pay my rent. And I’m going to hold on to my mission and look for other ways to engage this. I’m going to look further down the road at how I can accomplish these goals.” So, we can make that choice. We don’t always have to be aligned with that mission but the more intention we have, the more we’re saying, “This is a choice, for now. This is still important to me.” Or “ I’m going to make the choice to follow my purpose or my mission,” and maybe wait a little longer to accept a job, knowing that this one is not aligned with the future that I want for myself or the kind of work I want to be doing.
I know you talk to a lot of students and recent graduates, and I know you talk to alums too, but you also speak to employers, Greg. Do you find that employers can tell the difference between an applicant who has a personal mission statement and one who doesn’t?
I think that one way to be successful in a job search and to really reach employers, to get that interview, is to show how your mission and their mission are aligned, or how your values line up with the work of that company. Being able to say to a recruiter or in a cover letter, “I want to be part of this organization because of the work you’re doing. Because of the difference you’re making, because of how you help your employees develop, and how you treat them.” Whatever it is that has you aligned with that organization, being able to tell them, “I understand who you are and what you’re about, and I see myself working here.” Or, “I see my strengths, my interests, as aligned with your goals.” Being able to articulate that for an employer is a good way to stand out in the process and to get that interview, and get that job that you’re excited about.
I’m glad you brought up that point about standing out. I hear this from candidates a lot; they look for ways to do that. In your experience, what share of candidates do you think actually invest in creating a personal mission statement and do stand out like that?
I think that if I had to put a number on it, I would say probably about a quarter of the college graduates or alums that I see have really thought about their job in that way.
I think some people approach it as looking for kind of a puzzle piece fit; the square peg goes in the square hole. This is what I’ve been trying to do. I’m going to look for a job doing that. And then adding that layer of values on there or mission, purpose. When people stop and put the time into that, they tend to be happier with their job.
Whether that is happier with the way they’re treated at work or putting in hard work. Putting in long hours in a place is much easier when you feel confident in the goals of the organization or in, again, that difference you’re getting to make.
I want to talk to you about how to create this statement, but, one last question- what do you think stops people from doing this work, creating their own personal mission statement?
I think there are a few different layers to that. I think…I talked about when you have to find a job, when you’re stuck with getting a job quickly; there is an element of privilege in getting to step back and say, “I’m only going to look for work that I feel excited about or that I feel aligned with.” And that’s not the reality for everyone. There are situations where other responsibilities- caregiver responsibilities, lack of access to education, discrimination in the workplace are all things that could be barriers to being able to access the work that is truly aligned with your sense of purpose. So, there are some barriers and some potential things that could stop someone from getting to look at work this way.
I think the other part is that our previous experiences at work and the way we’re treated at work could have an impact on, kind of, the dreams we’re allowed to have, or how we think we get to feel about work. So, some people have never worked in a place where they felt valued, where they felt like the work they were doing was meaningful, and to kind of dare to dream to find a place where they could have that can feel too far away, can feel out of reach.
Well, let’s talk about how to do it. How to create a personal mission statement. What’s the first step, Greg?
The key first thing is if you can get a clear sense of what is important to you and there’s a few different ways of going about this, I think.
Some people are going to identify the things that matter to them, in terms of kind of a brainstorming process or thinking about what are those things that matter to you. One thing I’ve asked some people to do in workshops or kind of to think about is, if you start out just thinking about, what are the biggest issues facing your world today? And you get to define what that world is. It could be your family, your community, it could be a global issue. But what are the things? What are the issues that come to mind? When you think about it, these are problems that need to be solved or these are issues that need more people to work on them.
Let’s stop there. I want to dig into more of that. But we’re going to take a quick break.
Stay with us. When we come back, Greg Flores will continue to share his advice on how to write your personal mission statement.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s list studio, I’m talking with Greg Flores. He’s the associate director of career services at Portland State University Greg helps people prepare for meaningful careers and understand the changing world of work, and he joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now, before the break, Greg, we were talking about how to write that personal mission statement. You talked about getting clear about things that you, the job seeker, care about and your values. What would you say to someone who says, “Well, that’s good, but I also care about salary and job titles.” How do you deal with that?
That’s always the dream, right, to find the mash between those two things. I think that that is an important part of it. I think that finding a job that supports the life you want to live is definitely part of that equation.
And so, after you have those issues identified, the next step is figuring out what are the skills you have, or the education and training you have that you can apply to those issues? And that’s where the potential salary or type of position comes into play, looking at, is there work that I know I can do, work that I’d be good at? A difference I can make, that will let me work on those problems in a specific way?
Well, how do you recommend someone who’s listening to this do this work? Do you recommend making lists, journaling? What are some practical exercises to get clear about those values, skills, and other wants and needs?
I think that starting off with lists, just brainstorming possibilities of, these are the issues that I care about, these are the skills I have, these are the people I want to help, and then putting it together into an actual statement. So, something like, “My mission, or my purpose, is to serve these people, in this way, to achieve this goal.” And thinking about it in those terms. For example, if your interest was in…
I guess the other part of that is, for every problem you identify, for every issue facing your community, your world, there’s lots of different approaches to that problem. If your interest is in protecting clean water, you could be a scientist doing actual tests. You could be developing new tools for cleaning water, you could be writing policy, you could be doing advocating, fundraising for nonprofit groups. You could also be storytelling, you could be helping raise awareness, or educating people on those issues. Those are all different avenues and different ways of approaching the work of solving that problem.
The examples that you’ve shared are from the nonprofit world or government; is this a model- the personal mission statement- that you can apply if you’re working in the for-profit sector?
It definitely is. I think a lot of the stuff that I’m mentioning…there’s a book called The Purpose Economy, and the author is Aaron Hurst. He’s part of a company called Imperative, and they look at ways…they’ve found that for-profit companies, nonprofit companies, government, it doesn’t matter; if you have purpose-driven people, if you have people who believe in the mission of your organization working with you, then you’re gonna go further faster. They’re gonna be more productive, they’re going to be more into the work. So, I think that finding that alignment within the employees of an organization. And whether that is…if part of their mission is providing amazing customer service and making that difference in someone’s life in that moment, you can find people who are motivated by that type of engagement.
You mentioned getting clarity about knowing the difference you want to make; can you talk more about that, Greg? What kind of difference do you have in mind when you’re coaching people on how to do this?
Well, what I try to get people to connect with is the idea of, if you’re gonna identify your skills, and your interest, and things you’re good at, the tools you have to help solve a problem, then that’s gonna help you articulate the difference you want to make.
So like I said, if you identify the issue- if it is protecting clean water, if it is ending homelessness in Portland- thinking about the different angles of approach for that issue, all the different ways that you could be helping. Some of those are going to be a better fit than others for the experience, the education, the interests you have. And so, articulating that these are the skills I have that will help with this issue is another way of looking at that idea of, this is the difference I want to make.
As you go through this process, how long do you find it typically takes someone to do this, to think about those values, the skills you have, the difference you want to make, and do that kind of brainstorming that you described earlier?
When we’ve done this with students before in a one-hour workshop, there have been a handful of students who have immediately connected with it. They were able to brainstorm those lists and to come up with a statement almost immediately.
I’ve seen other people really struggle with the idea. For some people, the idea of committing to one thing isn’t really appealing. They want to have options, they want to have the ability to approach things in different ways. So, sometimes, it’s looking at the big picture. Is there one piece of this that resonates more with you that you could focus your energy on and use that as a filter for looking at opportunities? If the idea of a full statement doesn’t really appeal to you.
Do you find, if you work with people over years, that their personal mission statement may change and evolve?
I think that our personal values definitely change or where our focus is. So, like when I had kids, my focus became a lot tighter on my family and my family’s needs than on the bigger picture, and as my kids get older, the bigger picture comes back into focus a little bit. So, I think it can definitely grow and change over the years, and the amount of energy we have to put into it might change, depending on what else we have going on in our lives.
Is this something…I know you work with students in workshops, but is this something you can do by yourself, or is it best done with friends, or a coach, or colleagues.
I think that having something to reflect off of, having a person, especially with someone who knows you well, or someone that you trust, being able to give you feedback or to help you come up with suggestions of things you might have missed.
I think a lot of the time, we’re not great at identifying our own strengths, and other people can be that mirror for us.
So, pull it all together for us Greg; we’ve talked about the different pieces. Can you share an example of one or more personal mission statements you’ve heard, perhaps in your workshops, that both illustrate the points you’re making here and that really stands out for its clarity and conciseness?
Yeah. A couple of examples: so, part of why I used the clean water one is because there was a student I worked with who was aligned with that, and they were interested in, sort of, urban planning and policy. And so, they said something like, “My purpose is to serve my community by advocating for legislative policies and protections for clean water.”
And I can give you my personal mission statement if you want.
So, my mission is to help college students understand the connection between education and employment by providing career development, job writing, and services that help them identify, develop, and reach their career goals.
And let’s break that down into parts. When I hear you share these two examples, it sounds like, “Here’s what I do, here’s how I do it, and this is the result I produce.” Am I hearing that correctly or am I missing something?
Yeah. So, it’s, this is the group I want to help, or these are the people I want to serve; this is the approach I’m going to take to this issue, or this is the how I’m going to do it; this is the outcome, this is what I want to accomplish.
Thanks for clarifying that. Once you’ve done this work, you’ve got this one-sentence statement. How do you recommend job seekers use it, Greg?
I think that if you’re working on your “About me” section on your LinkedIn profile, or if you’re doing networking, this can be kind of a foundation for a personal branding statement, or we call it a professional identity statement. You can fly that flag of your mission. You can say, this is what I want, this is how I want to help, and when you raise your hand in that way, you can help attract those opportunities to you.
When someone goes looking for a candidate, when other people who are aligned with your values are looking for their own kind, they’re going to find that statement, if you’re willing to put it out there.
What about beyond LinkedIn? Can you share examples of how to use this in a cover letter, or a resume, or even in job interviews?
Yeah. I think in the, “Tell me about yourself,” question in a job interview, clarifying for them your values, your interests and skills, and that difference you want to make is a pretty powerful statement. It might take a little effort to mash it into an answer that works.
But again, if you’re applying for jobs that are aligned with your mission, then putting your mission in your cover letter is going to make sense. When they see that statement and it aligns with their work, they’re going to be excited that they have someone who gets it, and who gets it the way they do.
Terrific. It’s been a great conversation, Greg. Now tell us, what’s next for you?
Well, it’s the end of the school year for us, and so, we’re helping seniors now, who are graduating into a very strange job market and economy, at the end of the shutdown. So, people transitioning from student to employee, and also people thinking about, as work changes, what it is they want their work to look like after this year of drastic change.
So, we’re seeing a lot of people in our office who are both excited and trepidatious about what’s coming next for them, in the world of work.
Terrific. Well, I know people can learn more about you and your work by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and I hope they’ll mention when they reach out to you that they heard you on the show.
And they can also visit your office’s website at pdx.edu/careers.
Greg, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want the listener to remember about how to write your personal mission statement?
I think the one best thing to remember about this is that you’re articulating for yourself, what it is you want out of the world of work and that is a big job. But once you’ve done it, you have a clear path, or it helps light up the path of where you should be putting your energy and putting your effort into your job search, or your career development.
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