Career Advice

Not Connecting with Career Opportunities? Why Your “Why” Matters
Carl Friesen posted on December 19, 2016 |
Do you dream bigger dreams for your career? You may be finding that it’s difficult to gain the atten...

Do you dream bigger dreams for your career than you’ve been able to realize so far? Do you want to move up to a higher level, gain the opportunity to solve new problems, or maybe build your own business?

You may be finding that it’s difficult to gain the attention and support of the people who are able to help you access these opportunities. This could be the person you report to in your organization, or someone with venture capital to invest, or maybe someone who could mentor you.

It could also be that you’re looking for someone who can introduce you to people who would be in a position to help you.

But if they don’t know, like and trust you, these people are unlikely to take a chance on helping you. How can you build that trust? While having a good track record and references may help, what these people really want to know is your “why.”

To understand the importance of describing your “why,” let’s take the example of an imaginary electrical engineer who we’ll call “Olga.” She has a dream about designing and building a computer keyboard that will be easy to use for children who face challenges in mobility and muscle control. Olga has the technical background necessary to do this – including circuitry, ergonomics and knowledge of the realities faced by special-needs children.

But she’s had problems getting the attention of anyone who would be able to help her make this project happen – whether that’s an employer who will hire her to design and develop the keyboard, or a financial backer who will provide funding.

Why Your Motivation Matters to People Who Can Help You

To see how someone like Olga might succeed, try putting yourself in the position of a potential employer or funder – someone she needs to persuade to help her. We’ll call this person “Vladimir,” or “Vlad” for short. He might be the head of an engineering firm, or a company that manufactures specialized products. He could also be a venture capitalist, an angel investor, or someone who supports crowdfunded initiatives.

Vlad is sold on Olga’s technical skills and knowledge. However, he also knows she’ll face a daunting array of hurdles on her way to a market-ready keyboard. There will be times when Olga runs into technical challenges, such as when her prototypes get criticized by the parents of children she wants to help. There will be times when Olga wants to quit.

Vlad may be called upon to invest more than he’d originally planned. He may also face the loss of the money he’s invested, as well as the time he’s spent mentoring Olga. He’ll have some emotional investment in the project, too. He may lose face with his peers if Olga doesn’t come through with a successful product.

So, what would convince Vlad to take a chance on Olga and her dream?

He needs to know what inner source of energy will sustain her through the technical challenges, the dead ends and the start-overs. He needs to know what motivates her to take on this particular challenge, and to know she’s hungry enough. He knows that even with her skills and knowledge, she has to really, really want it if she’s likely to succeed.

In short, he’ll need to know her “why.”

The Importance of Sharing Your “Why”

As it happens, Olga’s motivation is highly personal. As the eldest child in her family, she watched her younger brother struggle with cerebral palsy. Olga saw the barriers her brother faced, and she also saw his fierce determination to succeed despite those challenges. Olga helped him learn to work with a standard computer keyboard, and became aware of the difficulties that keyboard presented to her brother.

She knows what a difference it will make if children like her brother have the tools they can use to gain computer literacy, particularly as most jobs today require computer skills.

Olga’s whole motivation centers around helping children like her brother gain access to the education and career opportunities that they deserve. She’s not motivated by money or fame. It’s part of who she is as a person.

That’s the kind of “why” that Vladimir can understand and get behind.


Articulating Your “Why”

Maybe your “why” isn’t as dramatic as Olga’s. Maybe you want to build an amazing gaming console, or build high-performance racing bicycles.

However, you still need a source of motivation that others will understand. The best way to convey that motivation is with a story – a story that involves your own experience.

Here are some thoughts on how you can develop a story that describes your “why” to a prospective client, employer or financial supporter.

1. Get a clear understanding of your “why”

Start by thinking about what gives you a sense of accomplishment in your work at present, or in the work you want to do.

Is it developing a product that requires less energy than those available now, or playing your part in protecting groundwater from industrial contaminants, or making sure that employees are protected from hearing loss that comes from machine noise? Or maybe, developing an accessible computer keyboard?

2. Think of an anecdote or illustration

Stories are a great way to convey your “why” – people are more likely to remember a personal anecdote than they will remember dry facts and figures about the size of your potential market.

You may have to reach back to your early years, maybe even as far back as childhood, to find a story that conveys the reasons you do what you do. Or it could be a recent story about watching a friend or family member struggle with an issue or situation.

3. Learn to articulate it well

You may be familiar with the term “elevator speech.” This is a short description of your work, something that you could tell in the time it takes for an elevator ride when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” 

Your “why” anecdote needs to be just as well articulated. Be ready to convey it verbally, on your resume, on your LinkedIn profile or on your website.

One benefit of clarity around your “why” involves not your business partners, but you yourself. If you’re an “Olga” looking to fulfill a strongly held dream, thinking through your own motivation can be something that keeps you going, even when the going gets tough.

For more ideas on building your career as an engineer, get your copy of “Fast Track Your Engineering Career,” an e-book offering practical ideas for developing a reputation as a leader in your field.

Carl Friesen has a background in Journalism, an MBA in Marketing, and experience in sales and business development. For the past 15 years, he has helped his business professional clients publish content that demonstrates their expertise in niche markets. He is founder of Thought Leadership Resources, which provides educational materials to help professionals such as engineers, lawyers, consultants and architects learn how to get noticed and stand out as thought-leaders. To learn more, visit

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