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The First Step to Finding Your Dream Job

The First Step to Finding Your Dream Job

There's no formula that works for everyone, so be as specific as you can when figuring out what the job you've always fantasized about really is

Liz Ryan | BusinessWeek

We know it’s possible, even if we haven’t read The Four-Hour Work Week yet. We know people in our neighborhoods or we’ve seen people on TV who have dream jobs, so we know they exist. It’s the post-millennium workplace fantasy: To do work we love and are passionate about, be paid well for doing it, and to work among smart and supportive team members under the leadership of a wise and ethical chief executive officer. Sounds reasonable on paper. Why is it so hard, in real life, to get all the dream job ducks to line up in a row?

For starters, it’s helpful to remember that our dream-job requirements often change over time. One job I held in my youth was a dream job at the time but would be impossible for me now because of the working hours. When I was twenty-something and single, I was perfectly happy to sit in a conference room with my workmates, eating pizza and talking shop at 11 p.m. Couldn’t, wouldn’t consider that now.

You may have longed for a management role at one time and realize now that’s the last thing you’re interested in; or you may learn that you’re happiest working independently, where your teammates are available if you need them but aren’t in your face all day long.

Put it All On Paper

The point is, dream jobs aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. And that means that your ultra-customized dream job is the perfect job for you, not the whole world of job-seekers. So your task is first to understand what you’re looking for, and decide which elements in your wish list are most critical for you; and then to make and execute a plan to go out and find that job. The very worst way to land a dream job is to wait for it to find you.

As you create your dream job must-have list, it’s helpful to think about your wishes in two separate categories. In your first category, you’ll list the “hard” attributes you’re hoping to find in a dream job—company size, industry, job function, local or global enterprise, level of management, division vs. headquarters role, etc. Geography is perhaps the "hardest"—the least flexible of dimensions. Would you move across the country or abroad for your dream job? Will you move across town, doubling your commute? Think really hard about these questions, because these factors aren’t likely to change.

Be as specific as you’d like as you create your dream job profile. For instance, “I want to manage human resource information systems for a global employer with 10,000 or more employees and a proactive, forward-looking management team in the apparel industry in the New York metro area.” In fact, the narrower your scope, the easier it will be to identify potential employers and begin to research them. But before you do that, let’s back up and list the ‘soft’ attributes of your dream job. After all, it’s these soft elements that make these jobs so dreamy.

Left Brain Vs. Right Brain

On this list, you want to dig into what makes a work environment appealing for you, including items like: How mature an industry do I want to work in? Typically, the more mature (heavy equipment manufacturing, for instance) the more conservative the corporate culture will be. How flat vs. how tiered an organization do I desire? If there are 14 levels of management between me and the CEO, my experience at work will be drastically different from how it will be if there are two. How “left-brain” vs. “right-brain” an organization do I want? Although neurology types don’t use those left-brain/right-brain models as they once did to understand brain function, they’re still useful for us in understanding our strengths and preferences. Left-brain areas are math, music, programming, and flowcharting.

If you’re that person, organizations dominated by that type of thinking are perfect for you—research institutions and engineering firms are two examples. Right-brain-focused people veer toward the humanities, language, and the arts. An advertising agency or a freewheeling startup might be a better fit.