The quest for purpose

Life Careerism“Why Should I Work Here?”

By Claes Peyron

Today’s young generation brings a brand new set of values to the workplace. The emerging workforce is not just looking for a high salary, or a successful career; young people want more. They want purpose. They want to know why: “Why should I work here, how does it fit into what I want with my life and why does this company do what it does?” Today’s students and recent graduates do not make the same distinction between work and spare time as previous generations did. Their careers are an important part of their identity and consequently an integral part of their life in general. In a recent global Universum study on career personalities, 85 percent of those surveyed said that their work is part of who they are, not just a way of making money [1].

Moreover, a study conducted in 2011 by newspaper publisher Metro International and strategy consultancy United Minds, which covered 15,000 young city dwellers all over the world, found similar results. Six out of ten respondents claimed that work is part of who they are, not just a way of making money [2].

Furthermore, in the global Universum Student Surveys, [3] work/life balance has been the number one career goal among students for several years in all countries where Universum conducts its research (with the exceptions of Russia and Poland, where job security is the number one career goal, and South Africa, where dedication to a cause and serving a greater good is the top priority). Similar results were found in a study conducted by PwC in 2011 among millennials: the factor that most influenced their decision to accept their current job was the opportunity for personal development [4]. Some students have even decided to create their own sense of meaning and purpose by starting their own business. In the 2013 Universum Student Survey, students when questioned about their career plans after graduation showed a surprisingly strong interest in pursuing an entrepreneurial career. This is especially true in the UK, Sweden, Poland and Russia, where more than 15 percent of the student population said that their first choice after graduation was to either join a start-up or start their own company.

Universum’s research identifies another trend among students: “the maker’s mindset”, or the search for tangible attributes. In the past, life and work yielded more tangible results. People grew their own food and made their own tools, clothes, homes and belongings. Universum’s Student Survey [5] indicate that “exciting products and services” is one of the most attractive attributes of an employer, possibly reflecting students’ propensity to turn to tangible factors when employers are unable to communicate a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Students today demand results. When students do not see the results of organizations’ work in society, they instead turn to the results they are able to see – the tangible goods and products that companies produce.

In short, we are returning to a state in which there is little balance between work and life, because work and life are not separate entities. In the agricultural societies of the past, work and life were intertwined. This changed during the industrial era, when the division became clearer. Today, however, the advance of technology is facilitating a merger of work and life once again. Employees can work where and when it suits them. Instead of being concerned about time off from work to do what they really want, they are more interested in having enough time at work to do what they really want. Companies need to provide an environment where
life and career are one.

Welcome to the Talent Agenda

This article is from our first report of 2013 that explores the importance of employer differentiation and what we like to call “Life Careerism”. The white paper on Life Careerism belongs to a series of insight reports called the Talent Agenda that identify the trends in the global talent market and explore how these may affect employers. 

You can download the full report at


1. Universum survey on career archetypes, 2013
2. The Metropolitan Report #1, Metro International and United Minds
3. Universum Student survey, 2006–2013
4. Millennials at work – Reshaping the workplace, PwC, 2011
5, Universum Student survey, 2013

The Challenge of Life Careerism


By Claes Peyron

Differentiation! Is the response many employers offer when asked about their top challenge in talent attraction and employer branding. But an over-enthusiasm to communicate has become confusing to students: many employers are associated with too many generic opportunities. They are enthusiastic about communicating their advantages, from benefits packages to great managers, education to clear career paths and teamwork. All of these advantages leave students with the impression of a decent employer, but none are distinctive: without a key differentiation, all employers start to sound alike. Young candidates are left with a broad, ambiguous image and their questions remain unresolved.

Members of Generation Y (those born between 1980–2000) and Generation Z (those born after 2000) have one thing in common: they are on life-changing quests for purpose. Several studies point to the new generations’ desire to have meaning in all parts of their lives, including work. This extends beyond their own lives, in a broader and deeper sense, to incorporate the betterment of society, the environment, the world and its people. To these new generations, their work is an extension of their values. These are all pieces to their jigsaw of life – work, family, health, love, care and personal interests. Life and work are becoming inseparably intertwined, similar to how it was in agricultural societies where life and work were one.

As life and work continue to merge, the concept of a career is becoming obsolete. Instead, companies need to cater to the talent group’s “life careers”. Above all, companies must answer the new generations’ quest for purpose by clarifying their roles and missions in society. The important questions are no longer just what the company does and how, but why. Why does the company exist? How does the company contribute in a larger context? These are questions that management needs to address. Companies that understand the new generations’ quest for reason are those that will be able to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Companies need to understand and support “life careerism”. A few are already doing so.

Welcome to the Talent Agenda

This article is the introduction to our first report of 2013 that explores the importance of employer differentiation and what we like to call “Life Careerism”. The white paper on Life Careerism belongs to a series of insight reports called the Talent Agenda that identify the trends in the global talent market and explore how these may affect employers. 

You can download the full report at


Employers — come to campus!

by Bob Blanchette, Director of Employer Relations – D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. In 2012-2013, 7,600 students across Northeastern University participated in their well-known co-op program. The university has approximately 3,000 companies in 81 countries partnering in the program.

What recommendations do you have for companies that want to approach students on campus? 

First, know yourself.  And by that I mean, know your organization’s employment brand, know and understand your company’s unique employment value proposition, What is it about working for your organization that differentiates you from your talent acquisition competitors.  Once you have a clear understanding of that, then you are better prepared to come to campus to present your story to the student audience.

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June’s winners

by Katharine Lynn and Elisabet Welinder

The beginning of the summer is the time of the year when most of Universum’s survey results are released. In June alone, the results from surveys in China, four European countries and the United States have been published. See the interesting results below!

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“Our young people have fully developed minds rather than heads full of facts”

by Maryline Baumard , Head of the career section at Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper. Le Monde is the daily reference for several decades and is still the most widely distributed abroad.

What do you believe is the most pronounced characteristic of French talent?

To reference a statement made by Montaigne, a French writer from the Renaissance period, our young people have fully developed minds rather than heads full of facts. The system of higher education places more emphasis on developing the ability to think than on acquiring knowledge. We learn how to deal with a wide variety of different issues, which is possible only because we focus on concepts. For example, this is what mathematics is used for – learning how to think. Our colleges and universities have pushed hard to teach this discipline.

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Leveraging Your Employment Brand in Europe through Diversity

By Johnny Torrance-Nesbitt, MBA* 

Over the past 10 years in Europe Diversity Management has taken hold. So-called Diversity Charters have begun to spring up. These voluntary Charters are initiatives which help firms and public institutions tap into the power of Diversity; these Charters are founded on the principle that Diversity Management is a key performance indicator for companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Who are the winners?

by Katharine Lynn and Elisabet Welinder

Throughout May, Universum has released the results of the 2013 Student Survey in six countries. The exciting results reveal how students perceive organizations as employers. Check out the rankings below to find out the winners!

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Introducing The Talent Agenda

by Claes Peyron

Where is the talent market heading? What developments can we expect in the coming years? Where should we focus our efforts to prepare for the changes to come? These are some of the questions that employers are asking more and more, given the rapid changes in the global talent market.

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“It is all too easy to pick out language as the prime advantage”

by Peter Whitehead, Editor of FT Executive Appointments and the FT Non-Executive Directors’ Club. Financial Times is one of the world’s leading business news and information organisations.

What do you believe is the most pronounced characteristic of British talent?

There is much talk of a global “talent shortage”. I refuse to believe, however, that there is any less “talent” in the world – or in British society – than there has ever been. There might be new expectations and demands from employers for different skills or attributes that people have not been required to have before and that cannot be acquired quickly – such as negotiating, synthesising and influencing skills. But if employers want these different traits, they have to invest in producing and developing them, and this, so far, is not happening on any scale.

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“The university should be a place to cultivate students’ independent thinking”

by Mr. Wang Zi, editor of 21st Century English Newspaper powered by China Daily, the widest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in China.

What do you believe is the most pronounced characteristic of Chinese talent?

Compared to their Western peers, Chinese students lack the capabilities of independent thinking and analysis, but they’re more diligent and flexible in working. For example, when interviewing students working for a non-government project, I find that Chinese students are more responsible and are available to work after office hours when project needs require it. They don’t differentiate work and personal life very much, as Western students do.

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Note: the articles and comments represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the standpoint of Universum.


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