6 Tips for Landing Your Dream Job

Do you have a job that's just like everyone else's? Are you looking for a nine-to-five…but wish you weren't? Do you wish there was another option, one that would lead to an exciting, unique, and fulfilling line of work?

I recently interviewed more than 100 people who currently hold their dream jobs as research for my new book. These individuals — who are travel journalists, event planners, fashion designers, forensic scientists, interior decorators, internet business owners and more — have one thing in common: persistence.

As unattainable as a dream job might sound, with the right amount of forethought and preparation, you can make the move as well. Here are six tips to get you started:

  1. Learn about yourself. Take time to do a self-assessment of your values, how you like to work, and what you'd be compelled to do even if you never got paid. Research careers and industries that map to your skills and interests. Hit the Internet, set up informational interviews, take relevant coursework, and arrange to go onsite at a company in your chosen field.
  2. Don't be deterred by a lack of experience. In developing a resume and other promotional materials for the field you want to pursue, think about how your current skills and talents apply to the responsibilities you'll hold in the new job. For example, knowledge of project management, client relations, information technology, and sales will take you far in most types of careers.
  3. Ease into a new career one foot at a time. Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at your current job while doing a part-time internship in your new field or taking an adult education class or workshop on the weekend. The only way to find out if you're passionate about something is to try it — ideally with as little risk as you can manage.
  4. Remember that any progress is good progress. Even confident people stay in unsatisfying jobs because they feel safe, and because they're afraid of making a bad decision. But in the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, though, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, like e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event — that moves you a bit closer to your big picture goal.
  5. Start early. Twenty and thirty-somethings have more flexibility when it comes to test-driving different careers. The process of self-discovery is much easier when you're unencumbered by family responsibilities and substantial financial burdens, and when you haven't yet reached a level in a career where it's tougher to turn back. That said, it's never too late to pursue your passion. More and more baby boomers are leaving the world of traditional employment for alternative career paths that will fulfill them well into retirement age.
  6. Have realistic expectations. Even if you're lucky enough to hold your dream job, there's no such thing as the perfect work situation. Every job has its ups and downs, and aspects we love and aspects we don't love. And dream job doesn't mean “cushy” job. As your mom always told you, anything worth having in this world requires some effort. There will be some days you feel like shutting the alarm off and going back to sleep, but many more where you feel more energized by the prospect of work than you ever thought possible!

J.D.'s note: My wife taught high school chemistry and physics for many years. Though she loved teaching, she eventually left to pursue her dream job. Alexandra's six tips closely match how Kris approached her career change.

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Hannah
Hannah
12 years ago

Excellent tips, they are all great!

I would add that it’s best to take advantage of places you already have contacts in. When I started university this year, I decided I wanted to work at a bank. It didn’t really matter which, but because I had been with TD since I was twelve years old and had an established relationship with them, it helped me get the job.

Of course, this isn’t always viable depending on which field you’re looking to enter, but if so, take advantage of existing relationships with potential employers.

Mydailydollars
Mydailydollars
12 years ago

Great tips! I agree with #2. If you know what you really want to do, look for opportunities in your current job to build that skill set. I spent a year in a job I didn’t really like, but did some work there that really helped me when interviewing for my “dream” job. I also agree with #6. Every job will have some rough patches!

The Financial Philosopher
The Financial Philosopher
12 years ago

Your #1 tip, “learn about yourself,” is well-placed. There are many resources online as you suggest and, in my humble opinion, the best “one-stop” shop for emotional intelligence and personality assessment tests is http://www.queendom.com/

Great post…

James
James
12 years ago

Hi JD,
What is your wife doing now that’s she’s not teaching? Is it still related to chemistry or physics?

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

James, Kris is still doing science. She’s a forensic chemist for the state police. It’s like a science geek’s paradise!

Mo Money
Mo Money
12 years ago

All great tips for anyone ready for a change. You must enjoy what you do to be productive, that is important.

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

from teaching back to the lab setting… there’s a big transition! congrats to Kris for making that move.

sometimes your dream job requires a boatload of education, which can be a little scary while you wait to see if the payoff is what you expect. i’ve found the most important part to sticking with the plan is just knowing that what i’m doing feels right for me. it’s that gut feeling you can’t shake.

Saving Freak
Saving Freak
12 years ago

One of my main goals in my early career has been to not pigeonhole myself into something I do not enjoy. So far I have experience in sales, management, and marketing. I feel this makes me marketable across a variety of fields instead of being a master of one.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I have a seventh item for the list: be open to opportunity. For years, I was stuck in a job I didn’t like. It seemed that all of my experiences were wasted, not just on the job, but elsewhere in life. But then I fell into this full-time blogging thing. It pulls together my problems with debt, my experience selling, my love of writing, my psychology degree, and my basic web skills all into one neat little package. It’s as if everything I’ve ever done was building to this. If I hadn’t been open to a new opportunity, I never… Read more »

junkcafe
junkcafe
12 years ago

Fantastic post, J.D.! The progression of my dream career certainly involved all 6 tips. One thing: following a dream challenged me to understand the level of risk I was willing to assume. Having a young family compelled me to “do the homework” before diving into something new. As a career IT technologist who is now a consultant, I’ve always had a mental map of what I wanted to pursue within the context of the ever-changing world of technology. Yet, the idea of jumping into a new thing was always moderated by a reality check(family life, financial security). As most who’ve… Read more »

Lee
Lee
12 years ago

The third point is exactly what I did myself…I had a small business in industrial sales.I took some voice training to help my phone pitching skills, which then took me into the radio and voice over business, where I now make my living. Small steps, one at a time. Good luck to all.

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

Well-timed post for me. Along with JD’s #7 about being open to opportunity (“say yes”, as I put it), I’d like to suggest #8: Prepare yourself to take calculated risks. Set up your life to be able to afford an income change or loss. Lower your monthly expenses by paying off debts and reducing what costs you can. Set up savings to get you through the possibly leaner times. Plan, plan, plan — have an idea of what you’re getting into, how you’ll decide whether your risk is working out or not, how to recover if the risk doesn’t work… Read more »

Brigid
Brigid
12 years ago

Great post! One thing that may be a viable addition is finding volunteer opportunities. Of course this depends largely on what you want to do. Say you want to be an event planner – volunteer for the next local 5K run. I work for non-profit association in a job I’m so-so about. What I really want to do is be a writer so I asked if I could write a health and fitness column for the association magazine. Although the association has nothing to do with health & fitness, it is a hot topic amongst the members due to their… Read more »

Carrie
Carrie
12 years ago

Great tips! Still, how do you deal with naysayers whose attitude is “work sucks, that’s why they pay you for it”? My parents raised me with the notion that there is no such thing as enjoyable work, so you might as well go for the job that pays the most. Thoughts?

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

An interesting note about the added responsibility of children. I have found that having a daughter finally kick started that drive to pursue my own goals for life.

Chicago Gal
Chicago Gal
12 years ago

I think another important thing to remember is to be patient. I had to suffer through a few bad jobs to get to my dream job because of the necessary experience it required. It may take you a few years to make a significant career move, but it is worth the time and effort to get there.

Will
Will
12 years ago

I’m in a similar but different position. I have my dream job now but it seems there is only so much I can make at this job. Now I am considering changing careers while I am still young. The career I am considering is something that won’t bear much resemblance to my current job and might be considered dull, but the pay is much better, especially in terms of where I could be 20 years from now. Have any of you ever been faced with a decision like this?

Wayne Mulligan
Wayne Mulligan
12 years ago

I’d add another one to that list:

Look for balance: Life’s never perfect, neither is a job — it’s either balanced or unbalanced. If this is a job that requires you to completely unbalance your life for an extended period of time, I’d say pass on it. Look for a career where you’re able to tap dance to work, but have time to tap dance all the way home too. I love what I do, but if I had to work 18 hour days, 7 days per week, then I’m sure I’d start to “un-love” it pretty quickly.

-Wayne

HC
HC
12 years ago

To Carrie #14: I understand your situation b/c I’ve been there. I stuck too long at a terrible job w/little pay b/c everyone around me has the naysayers attitude. I used to believe them until I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. So I moved across the country to a totally different city, got a new job and basically restarted my life from ground zero. Now I surround myself with ppl with positive attitudes. I’m also working at a new job and I’m much happier than before. Ppl w/negative energy are like a black hole, they’ll suck… Read more »

The Weakonomist
The Weakonomist
12 years ago

The toughest thing for most is finding what their dream job is. For those of us new to the ‘career’ thing, we don’t know what our dream job is.

I can’t think of a single friend that knows what they want to do. I present myself as the exception, having placed myself in a position to get to my dream job. But most don’t have a clue.

My dad has had his dream job for his entire career. Professor for more than 35 years now. I’ve debated following in those footsteps.

typome
typome
12 years ago

These are great, and I wish I could actually do some of them! My job doesn’t suck, but I sure would rather be doing something else. It pays well but I don’t consider it my dream job, nor do I think it fits perfectly with my values. I just don’t know what that great job is for me yet. I guess it’ll take time for me to find what I enjoy.

Lara
Lara
12 years ago

Great tips, and good timing for me….I’m moving to a new city soon and want to do something different, so I’ve been looking at my skills from 7 years in advertising client management and thinking about transferring them to a different field. Thanks for posting this article!

Pam
Pam
12 years ago

Good ideas. I’ve been interested in leaving accounting to work at a nursrey. (I love gardening.) I will try a few of these things to see if it’s something that’s possible. It’s so hard to start over, but happiness is important too.

The Restaurant Blogger
The Restaurant Blogger
12 years ago

Excellent tips! Anybody reading this will appreciate your advice. I believe I have touched upon each point for my pursuit of becoming a restaurant owner. This is something I have worked for from the start of university. Point #5 Starting Early, is something my bosses, professors and mentors would always say to me. I am at a good age to start my own restaurant and realizing what kind of work lies ahead of me, there is no better time. I totally agree with being open to opportunity. As soon as I was given the opportuntiy to change job positions in… Read more »

junkcafe
junkcafe
12 years ago

BTW, kudos to Alexandra for the guest posting. Keep on plugin’

FS
FS
12 years ago

A good place to start with tip #1 – Learn About Yourself – is to read “Do What You Are” by Drs. Tieger which offers very practical tips to matching your personality type to the right job. Best wishes!

Tabuxander
Tabuxander
12 years ago

it is better fr us to further study to gain more advance skill like taking a master’s degree or acquire additional degree. Knowledge and skills will make ourselves more marketable

Emmanuel Flossie
Emmanuel Flossie
12 years ago

Hi i want to say that, i started learning Plumbing, a course direction that i was forced to do, well forced, it was ether that or being an Electrician, after the 6 years of study during my teenage years, i became a plumber at first i loved this job, but then hated it, last 4 months of my year i became quickly annoyed with things i should not be. So one time i was in spain for a holiday i figured i should quit my job, so i did and became a sales man in a electronic shop, this lasted… Read more »

Megan V
Megan V
12 years ago

I just wanted to pipe in with a point on this list that is so important. I have definitely landed my dream job. I thought if I worked really really hard I might have an opportunity like this in my 40s, here I am 32 and doing it. But it does have its hard days, it totally has its stressful days, and I still answer to people, and get frustrated, etc., sometimes more so because I care about what I do so much. It sounds foolish to admit, but I was caught off-guard by the fact that I still had… Read more »

Keith
Keith
11 years ago

What do you recommend for someone who is applying for the dream job (entertainment/creative development) against what seems to be insurmountable odds? 10 years ago I suffered a department shut-down and layoff due to corporate budget issues (top co. in the entertainment industry). After 18 months of unemployment I took two menial jobs to pay bills. My elderly mother became ill and died, then my father and elder sister needed extended medical care. I drained my last dollar to help them out, trusting that someday my portion of the inheritance would reimburse my loans from my retirement fund and the… Read more »

Sarah Lawson
Sarah Lawson
6 years ago

Hey Alexandra! Great post on how to land your dream job. I know a lot of people who will benefit a lot from the tips you have shared. But personally for me, it’s just a matter of perspective. As long as you love what you do and you get satisfaction from your career, you can already consider yourself working your dream job.

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