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Helping Students Find their Ikigai

Female student studying

9 December 2021

Working in higher education is extremely rewarding–you know this to be true.

Whether you’re involved in recruiting, registering students, or teaching them once they arrive, you play an important role in their higher ed journey.

It’s an important role because it ultimately leads them to their career journey. But how many students are well-prepared for this transition?

Having taught more than 4,000 students, I have seen many with their heads down, studying hard to complete their credentials. Then once they graduate, they raise their heads up to begin their job search. They apply for dozens of openings and cross their fingers that they will be granted an interview in the hopes of being offered a position to launch their career.

Many of these students are unfocused in their job search. If they do get an interview, they’re unsure of what to say about themselves to stick the landing. 

But some take a proactive approach.

These are the students who are clear on their strengths and know to action them. They’ve researched and identified organizations that align with their values, they realize their worth, and they’re comfortable talking about themselves.

These self-aware students took the time while completing their studies to reflect on their values, determine what they’re naturally good at, and build their skills. In turn, this allows them to self-promote in a way that truly conveys what they bring to the table.

But how do we help students develop this self-awareness and confidence?

We help them find their ikigai.  

The ikigai 

Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) is a Japanese word that roughly means “your reason for being.” You can identify your ikigai by discovering the answers to four questions posed in the circles in the diagram shown here. Your ikigai is found where the four circles intersect. 

The ikigai circles capture: 

  • Circle 1: What you love
  • Circle 2: What you are good at
  • Circle 3: What the world needs 
  • Circle 4: What you can be paid for 
Source: Stephanie Koonar, Backpack to Briefcase, A Student’s Guide to a Meaningful Career Journey, (Vancouver: PeerSpectives Consulting Company Inc, 2021), 14.


Introducing students to this framework and the ways to discover their ikigai gives them a deeper understanding of themselves and informs their decisions as they decide which career path to pursue. 

Building experience while studying

You can help students discover their ikigai by motivating them to build their experience while they’re studying. Completing their studies is just one part of their training for the real world. Students can be encouraged to learn about what’s important to them through the experiences that they seek out. These experiences will then shape their answers to the ikigai questions.

What are the ways students can build their experience and learn more about their ikigai

Here are some suggestions.

Circle 1: What you love

Encourage students to join clubs, take a wide range of different courses, and entertain new interests that allow them to recognize what they love and discover potential career paths. Building relationships with others in their community is a great way to jumpstart this exploration.

Example: Club participation allows students to find like-minded people with similar passions. One student shared with me that she joined the Student Empowerment in Sociology Club at university. It was a fresh, new endeavor, and it was where she met students discussing what they were planning to do after graduation. She was able to learn about a variety of careers and through that discussion, realized that her skills fit better with another career path than she had previously imagined. In addition, the club provided opportunities to build her leadership skills, which she was then able to speak to in interviews.

Circle 2: What you are good at

Students who can articulate their best qualities are able to express how they can contribute to a class project or a workplace team upon graduation. Assessments such as CliftonStrengths® or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® provide students with the vocabulary to uncover and understand what they are naturally good at.

Circle 3: What the world needs 

Conversations with students about world issues such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals help them to consider which challenges they are passionate about solving.  In addition, letting students know that there are organizations already working on these challenges allows them to see that they can align their efforts with existing ones.

Circle 4: What you can be paid for 

Students should be aware of their value. Offer workshops to demonstrate how to access labor market information such as industry growth rates and salary ranges. Sharing forecasts of in-demand skills empowers students to learn which ones they can build to excel. This information also helps them identify the careers that will be well-paid.

In summary, those of us working in the post-secondary sector know that the higher ed journey prepares students for their career journey. However, to prepare them well we must encourage them to learn both about the subject matter and about themselves. This will set them up for success as they embark on their meaningful career journey.


Written by Stephanie Koonar, Co-Founder of PeerSpectives Consulting

Edited by Kara Golembeski, Content Marketing Manager, Editorial, Unibuddy


Biography: Stephanie Koonar is a marketing professional, academic, career coach, and workshop facilitator. A Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and Co-Founder of PeerSpectives Consulting, she enjoys coaching purpose-driven individuals and teams to be their best.  Stephanie and her PeerSpectives Consulting Co-Founder Louann McCurdy are available to partner with Employers and Educators to collaborate on program development, guest speak, and facilitate workshops.

Contact Stephanie at

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