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5 Tips to Build A Purposeful Career

5 Tips to Build A Purposeful Career

When pondering what career path to take upon graduation, Ms. Dawn Lee settled on two things: she wanted a job that would create an impact on people and she wanted to understand how businesses work. 

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With these two objectives in mind, a role at the Economic Development Board (EDB) seemed like a perfect fit. She found meaning and purpose in partnering companies to create jobs for people in various industries. Over 15 years later, she is still in the business of impacting people’s lives, now as the Director of EDB’s human resources division.   

“In human resources, it is about impacting people within an organisation, which in turn, impacts Singaporeans for whom we create jobs,” explains Dawn. “This opportunity to impact lives really resonates with me.”

Planning Ahead

So how can we, like Dawn, discover what work would give meaning and purpose to our career? 

Dawn shares 5 tips to building a purposeful career. 

Tip #1 Look to Create Meaningful Impact 
Join an organisation that has a meaningful, impactful mission – and whose people truly believe in it. “One thing that has kept me going all these years is the single-minded focus that people around me have about wanting to create even better jobs for Singaporeans, in order to improve their lives and well-being. It is a powerful motivator for coming to work every day,” says Dawn. 

Because of this strong sense of purpose, the organisation continues to adapt to its external environment in order to remain true to its mission. “What grounds us is a deep understanding of businesses and industries.  We keep abreast of the latest industry trends, technologies, business models, and engage our clients to understand how all these impact their businesses in the short and long-term. This helps us to make plans and execute on areas that will make Singapore successful in the next 5, 10, 20 years.” 

“For instance, when I first joined EDB, we would work mostly within our industry groups, bringing in investment projects related to those industries. Today, businesses and industries have evolved in complexity. We see a lot more cross-industry projects, e.g. in digital healthcare, that brings people across groups to collaborate in new and different ways. We are also reviewing the way we engage companies across different sectors to see how we can better meet their needs and bring value to their businesses.”  


Tip #2 Think of a Career as an Adventure

“I see a career as one huge adventure and each stage of the career is a shorter quest where I try different things and learn new skills,” says Dawn. 

If we are not sure of the jobs to try or the areas to explore, Dawn shares that internships are useful in understanding an organisation, its work and culture. 

“To allow young people to experience the work at EDB, internships are offered to undergraduates, where they are given full ownership of a real-life project. 

“Over a course of 10 weeks, they attend meetings with external parties, speak with people across divisions and are empowered to recommend actionable solutions which EDB might take up as part of our industry development and company engagement efforts. Many undergraduates in turn have found this experience helpful in understanding EDB better.”

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Tip #3 Plan but Also Learn to Pivot
Some people know exactly where they want to head to in their career, and they go about charting their course in a systematic way. 

“For a lot of people, myself included, it takes a couple of roles to figure out what might be right,” explains Dawn.  

To do that effectively, she advises one to be open-minded and embrace the job opportunities that one might receive as nothing beats actual experience to discover what really suits us.

For instance, to help graduates discover what might suit them, Dawn shares that they can take up EDB’s Associate Programme where they are given the opportunity to be rotated to three different stints within the organisation. This gives them a better picture of the different types of jobs available and what kinds of roles may play to their strengths. 


Tip #4 Gather Feedback Along the Way
Over the years, Dawn realized that what we think we may be good at may be different from what others think. 

“I’ve found it useful to get feedback - from my bosses, peers, colleagues – on what I am good at and what I can do better,” says Dawn. “I think through which areas need to be improved and what skills need to be added to my skills toolbox.”


Tip #5 Build Your Network
“In today’s environment, we can’t work in silos and increasingly will need to collaborate with many stakeholders in/outside of our companies.  For people to work together, the baseline is trust, and trust has to be built through relationships,” says Dawn.

Dawn advises that we step out of our comfort zone, get to know people of different backgrounds, and keep a diverse group of friends. 

Bonus Tip if you want to join the Public Service: Read Widely, Read Deeply

In deciding on the work we wish to explore or in growing our career in the government agencies we are interested in, Dawn reveals what is important is to start with having good knowledge about the agency and its work.

“Public Service is about creating an impact for Singapore and Singaporeans. We want people who are interested in the organisation and its work. So, read up on the agency via its website and social media platforms. 

Keep up to date with current affairs as well as recent articles and speeches made by people in the organisation to get a good sense of what the organisation is thinking about and preparing for, so that you have a clearer idea of what you can bring to the organisation and how you can contribute to its purpose.”