Key Points:

Plenty of people understand the term ethical investment; it's when someone carefully chooses which company to invest their money in. For example, someone who does not agree with animal testing may choose not to invest in some cosmetic firms.

That same mindset is now starting to permeate the employment market with people choosing not to apply for jobs at companies whose values, or perceived values, do not reflect their own.

Industries shunned by the new breed of ethical job hunters can include oil, fast food, soft drinks, public relations and pharmaceuticals.

And if you think refusing to work in a particular industry will cramp your work prospects - think again.

Deborah Morris-Travers works at Barnardos in Wellington as a project manager on the Every Child Counts campaign. She was the country's youngest minister of the Crown in the late 1990s and had responsibility for youth affairs, ACC, environment and women's affairs.

She left politics in 1998 and ended up joining a government delegation to the United Nations disarmament meetings in Geneva, Bangkok and Kenya as a non-government representative.

It was while she was in Southeast Asia that she saw how children were poorly treated, but at the same time she started to enjoy a better work/life balance. The trip was the catalyst for a career change.

"I appreciated that balance," she says, "but I was also really struck by the poor status of children in Cambodia and I saw the hardship experienced by children in some of the orphanages there.

"And it got me to think about the status and wellbeing of children in New Zealand. I was aware that we had a high rate of child abuse and that against a number of international measures New Zealand didn't stack up terribly well."

Morris-Travers realised that she preferred to work for community groups, and specifically for groups that help children and provide support for families.

"I was motivated to work in that sector despite the fact it would mean a salary drop for me," she says.

On her return to New Zealand in 2004 she started searching for "the right kind of job".

"I wasn't prepared just to take any job with a high-paying salary.

"It was much more about finding a position in an organisation that was making a difference and had a strong ethical base," she says.

"It meant I suddenly got very choosy about which jobs I would apply for."

In the end Morris-Travers began working for Plunket - a support service for the development, health and wellbeing of children aged under five.

Two years at Plunket was followed by parental leave and then Morris-Travers' job search began again.

In 2006 she landed a role with Barnardos.

She says working in the not-for-profit sector offers a sense of being connected with people and projects "that make quite a practical difference to people".

"It's about getting a different sense of value from your work and recognising that what we get from our work is not just about monetary returns," she says.

And Morris-Travers believes more people are starting to select employers and jobs against their personal beliefs.

"People are starting to say, 'Now what is my company's position on environmental impact and social issues?'.

"They are starting to recognise that choosing to work for a particular organisation means you are endorsing that organisation.

"And these people are starting to look at how their organisation performs with regard to social, environmental and other impacts.

Of course, if the employer is an ethical one then they are likely to accommodate their employees much better as well."

Morris-Travers says what she has found by working for Barnardos is a good work-life balance, flexible hours. She says it is an organisation that recognises that the very best resource it has is its people.

And if you think sticking to your ethical values will hold your career back, then think again.

"Even in recent weeks I have been approached to go and work back in the government sector - earning three or four times what I am earning now," says Morris-Travers. "But I get much more return working for an organisation that I feel good about and doing work that I feel good about. "For me it is better than simply accepting a big pay cheque and saying 'that's okay'."

That is a sentiment shared by Margaret Taylor, an activism support manager at Amnesty International.

She left a career in newspaper journalism to travel the world - it was a journey that changed her life.

Taylor's turning point was the end of a four-year OE in 1991 when she found herself in Africa.

"I had nine months travelling throughout Africa and what I saw was devastating," says Taylor. "There was corruption and graphic things such as hypodermic needles being repeatedly used, spreading Aids.

"But one thing that stuck with me was seeing a lot of aid agencies at work. I had in the past been quite supportive of them.

"To me they are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff - I wanted to be at the top of the cliff.

"Aid agencies turn up where grievous human rights abuses are occurring.

"So I figured that if I could help stop those abuses from occurring, or working in some way to lessen them, then I thought, 'That is the organisation I want to join'.

"And when I looked around that organisation was Amnesty International."

Taylor volunteered at Amnesty for 10 years before accepting a full-time job there in 2001.

"Volunteering meant I did not work at companies that would take all my energy as I needed to have enough time to do the volunteer work.

"I am not motivated by the money and it would be nice to have my weekends back. But I don't have any interest in the corporate world at all."

But working at Amnesty does take its toll, says Taylor.

"I used to think that this job would get easier, dealing with human rights abuse. But I actually think it gets harder," she says.

"While New Zealand does not have much in the way of human rights abuses - except for the high-profile cases such as Ahmed Zaoui and other asylum seekers - we do have horrific domestic violence issues. Our children are tortured - that is appalling and it still keeps happening."

Taylor says she is fascinated by the global arena Amnesty works in.

"But I don't do it to make money and I don't do it to make other people money - I do it because I want to help those very precious people who are our human rights defenders and our prisoners of conscience - they are the people we need more of."

Taylor says she uses a lot of the same skills at Amnesty as she did when she was a journalist.

"I could [return to journalism one day], but I'd never move to the dark side of public relations which uses a lot of the same skills."

Tom O'Neil owns cv.co.nz, a CV writing company, and believes "ethical" job hunting is the luxury of those at a more senior level or those who can afford not to work full-time.

"There are people who chose to work solely for Christian organisations based on their religious beliefs," says O'Neil. "But I do get the odd person ... who will say they do not want to work for a cosmetic company.

"A new person to the workforce can have all the ethics in the world. But if taking a job means the difference between starving and not starving, sadly the ethics will probably fall over more times than not.

"However, for a more senior person who may have money in the bank, the house mostly paid off, and is getting continually tapped on the shoulder [with job opportunities] then it is a lot easier to be a bit more picky."

Suzanne Boyd, general manager of Clayton Ford Recruitment in Wellington, says employer branding is one of the most powerful recruiting and retention strategies available to an organisation.

"It is the practice of developing and marketing your reputation as an employer. An effective employer brand takes the qualities that make people want to work for an organisation, ensures that they are instilled throughout the business and uses them as a marketable point of difference."

She says that to be effective, employer branding must span the entire business and be implemented at all levels. It must have endorsement and commitment at CEO and board level and filter through the entire organisation.

"It is far more than a public relations exercise. It must be a genuine commitment to a particular way of operating, it must be consistent, and it must stand up to challenge.

"It's hearts, not minds, that need to be reached.

"The benefits of a strong employer brand for recruitment, retention and productivity are clear.

"If your organisation promotes and can substantiate a commitment to a well-defined set of values, it will be more successful at attracting talent.

"If the experience of 'being at work' matches up with those values, employees will be more motivated, more productive, and more loyal to the organisation."

And for those hunters looking for a recruitment firm handling only "ethical" jobs, they are scarce.

However they are starting to pop up around the world: www.goodworks.co.nz here and www.ethicaljobs.net in Britain.

* Contact Steve Hart via his website at www.stevehart.co.nz