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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

What looks like a dream job on paper will quickly turn to ashes if the organizational culture doesn’t celebrate what you love to do and do well.

Identify Your Dream Team

More questions to answer: What kind of manager do I want? A coach who’ll mentor me as we go, a hands-off manager who’ll let me put my own stamp on the job, or a combination? It’s just as difficult to work with too much managerial guidance as with too little, so the length of your ’leash is important.

What kinds of people do I prefer to work around? Some of us look for an environment where everyone knows his or her role and sticks to it. Some like constant change and role-shifting. Some of us need, above all, to work with smart and intellectually curious people who zip through the New York Times Sunday crossword over a half-cup of coffee, while others need a friendly, supportive team and couldn’t care less about intellectual heft. What does your ideal team look like?

What Are You Wishing For?

A dream job could be one that takes you from here to retirement, or one that gives you a burst of learning and accomplishment and prepares you for the next thing. Some dream-job seekers are burnt-out on the frenetic pace and demands of the global business world and want to retreat to a quieter, slower corner of the marketplace. Others would be bored to tears if they weren’t embroiled in a crisis at least once a day. Which type are you?

Do you seek a dream job that will let you create your masterwork—in code or in graphic design or even in energy bars? Or are you looking for a dream job that will allow you to teach younger people, or one that will allow you to experience cross-cultural knowledge-sharing with colleagues around the world? Is your fondest wish a job that will win you awards or allow you to create a personal brand? Or is it one that will let you be on the 5:57 train home five days a week?

Finally, how important is salary? Would other forms of compensation, from time-off to business travel to your favorite location to tuition reimbursement, affect the equation? How do you define “well compensated” at this stage of your career, and how important is that to you?

Zeroing In on the Job

Once you have a picture in mind of what you’re after, begin your research. Sure, you might find a job through Monster or HotJobs, but a thoughtful dream-job search is more likely to entail seeking out and pursuing specific employers who meet your profile.

Expect to spend weeks or months zeroing in on the companies that fit your dream job ideal. When you’re clear that you’ve scored a hit, reach out—not to the Black Hole of HR (especially not when your résumé is unsolicited), but by locating one or more decision-makers or influential people in the organization. You’ll do this via your own contacts, the business networking site LinkedIn, and professional organizations you’ll investigate as you move along the Dream Job Search timeline.

A request for an informational interview is a great way to learn more about an employer while making a sturdy contact inside. Just don’t misuse the informational interviewer’s goodwill by blurting at the end of the conversation, “Now, can you get me a job here?” Through your focused networking, employer research, and online outreach to the people inside the organization and their contacts, you’ll eventually get to the conversation stage—if the organization has any current needs, or plans to add a person with your skills.

Not an Easy Road

Research and follow-up are key for dream-job seekers, but you’ve got an advantage over less proactive job seekers. You know what you want and you can spell out why this employer is a good fit for you. That’s something that most job-seekers can’t do—certainly not the people who blast out 20 résumés a day to whichever companies have posted jobs on the biggest careers sites.

It could take you six months or a year to land your dream job, and it could take a change of location. It could require an industry or functional shift and a lot of networking, hours of research, and more hours of follow-up, online and over the phone. If that sounds too daunting, you could take the next job that comes down the pike. But don’t you deserve at least one dream job in your career?

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