Have you ever wished that you could wave a magical wand and your dream job would just appear? I know I have, as have many of my clients. However, like Rome, your ideal position won’t be “built” in a day! It takes time to figure out exactly what it is and then to land it. Believe it or not, that’s not such bad news because it provides you with the opportunity to really get to know your talents and interests. If you commit to steadily gaining more skills, experience, and clarity about the work that truly fulfills you, you might actually find that great work is just around the corner, not down the road.
In the meantime, rather than languishing in a job that is a poor fit or staying out of the market all together until you get a dreamy gig, it’s a good idea to focus on getting a “good for now” job, which can:
- Help you to share and grow some of your skills, experience, ideas, and more.
- Allow you to be in an environment/culture that is aligned with a few of your ideals.
- Gives you more energy than it takes away.
- Serve in, at least, one key way as a bridge to your dream job. Perhaps, the position has an excellent supervisor who really supports your professional development or exposes you to people and projects more fully linked with your preferred work.
You might be thinking, “I can’t hold out for a ‘good for now’ job, let alone a dream job, I need to take the next job that comes along, even if it’s a ‘NOT good for now’ job!” As I‘ve mentioned before, the reality of today’s job market makes it very difficult to do that. Most employers look for candidates who closely match the skills and experience they’re seeking so there should be a pretty darn good connection between your qualifications and a position. Your best bet is to get into action mode to secure a good job, while you work toward an even better option. Here are a few steps on how to do that.
Acknowledge your feelings around not yet having your dream job
Whether you have clarity or confusion around what your dream job is, it can be frustrating and even painful not to have a job that you like. Dismissing your feelings can backfire and keep you stuck because what we deny tends to grow. Instead, notice how you feel, and consider sharing your experience with someone you trust and/or writing about it—expressing your feelings in a productive way can help you transform them into forward motion.
Clarify your dream job(s)
Most people don’t have just one dream job, but rather a range of preferred work. Without knowing the kind of work and organizations you’re most excited about, it’s hard to determine the types of positions you should pursue. Brainstorm on your own or with a trusted ally:
- How do you most want to contribute to the world in the next three, six, 12-plus months? Writing a time-phased mission/vision contributions statement where you describe what impact you want to make can serve as the foundation for your dream job and allow you to test opportunities on their larger merits without getting lost in the details.
- What are your biggest gifts? This information provides a critical lens from which to assess whether a position is likely to allow you to share your talents.
- What tasks and projects most interest and energize you? Which would you quantify as, at least, an eight out of 10? Try not to think about a particular job title such as Major Gifts Officer, but rather the full range of what you like to do in a given day, even if on the surface it doesn’t seem to fit within one job title.
- What would you most like to learn? Are there particular skills and experience that you are most interested in building? How are they connected to your mission/vision contributions’ statement?
- What is your ideal organizational culture? For example, do you prefer to work in an office that is more casual or more formal? Entrepreneurial or collaborative?
- What kind of supervisor helps you to do your best work? Do you excel when your manager is more or less hands-on? How often do you like to formally sit down for supervision?
- What is your ideal salary and benefits package?
Also, know that having uncertainty, or even drawing a blank is totally normal. While you can’t force clarity you can encourage it. Start by thinking about what kinds of activities have helped you to get to know yourself before. For example, some people get insight from doing quick reflective writing after they exercise. Others benefit from talking with a friend. Writing down what you DON’T want included in your ideal work can also be illuminating.
Clarify your “good for now” job
Once you’ve refined, at least, parts of your dream job, it’s time to define your “good for now” job.
- Go through your notes on your dream job and next to each item, identify whether you’re describing a need or a preference. A need is something that is necessary for you and without which you will lose energy and feel you aren’t working toward your dream job. A preference is something that would be great, but without which you still see the trajectory from your “good for now” job and your dream job. For example, you may prefer having a supervisor who meets with you weekly, but you might also be fine meeting less frequently.
- Prioritize your top three needs. Look at these as your deal breakers. In order for a job to be “good for now,” it’s important that it meets a few of your critical needs. As you make your list, consider including: a specific task that you love to do daily, which will help you make inroads on your contributions’ mission/vision, one skill that will assist you in securing more ideal work, and an aspect of organizational culture that will help you to do your best work.
While not a requirement, if your “good for now” job meets one or two of your preferences, it’s one or two cherries on top!
Add a dash of aspiration and inspiration to your resume and LinkedIn profile
You always want your written materials to reflect the truth of your experience, ideas, and curiosities. For example, add a line or two to your summary of expertise or professional profile at the top of both your resume and LinkedIn profile about how you are passionate about and currently gaining exposure to x, y, and z.
Expand your skills and exposure
As you explore a “good for now” job, continuously expand your skills and exposure to interesting people and organizations AND pay particular attention to organizations that have growth possibilities.
Add in what you learn to your “good for now” and ideal job descriptions so that you can keep clarifying your north star. Strategically and steadily building what you have to offer will allow you to move closer to your dream job and also may deepen your enjoyment and opportunities in your “good for now” job. You can do this in a few ways:
- Seek out opportunities for special projects in your current job that allow you to fulfill your contributions mission/vision. Let your boss know that you’re interested in growing your impacts and would be open to taking on x, y, z additional responsibilities or projects. If that’s not an option, keep your eye out for possibilities to assist your colleagues with some aspect of their work, which has the potential to bridge to your dream job.
- Every week, take a few minutes to jot down on a scale of 1-10 how much each of your daily “good for now” job tasks further connects you to your dream job and also note on a scale of 1-10 how much each task energizes you.
- If you are “good for now” job searching, try to assess growth opportunities by asking contacts for their take on organizations. Also, don’t be afraid to directly address the issue in interviews. For example, you might say, “I am committed to continually increasing my capacity to contribute and I am curious about possibilities for staff to expand their skills and even take on new responsibilities over time?”
- Set aside a few hours a week to volunteer at an organization that aligns with your ideals or to work on a project with someone outside of your organization that has components of your preferred work.
- Get clarity on and seek out formal and informal education that will help you to launch into great work.
- Periodically consult with a coach, mentor, or other supporter to make sure you are on track. Often talking out what you are looking for can catalyze clarity.
Keep an action notebook
Document the time and positive steps you’re taking to find your “good for now” and/or ideal job. Looking for work can be draining and take more time than you hope so it’s particularly important to maintain your energy and optimism. Additionally, noting what you do each day to move closer to a great job can add fuel to your job search fire and help you to see your way forward. Your actions need not be huge: spending a few minutes assessing which parts of your current job align with your ideal work, chatting with a friend about your contributions mission/vision statement, or even reading about a professional issue of interest can all be helpful.
If you’re feeling the itch to land a dream job or you’ve realized that your current job isn’t quite cutting the inspiration mustard, take one action today to build your capacity to most fully share your one-of-a-kind gifts and experience and be the career leader that you are meant to be!
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About the Author | Cathy Wasserman is a leadership/career coach, group facilitator, writer, and social experimentrice. Her quest is to better nurture connection and new ways of living and working in our hyper fast-paced, always connected but strangely disconnected society. Through her business, Self-Leadership Strategies, she has helped hundreds of individuals –from CEO’s to artists –realize their personal and professional goals. Her writing and commentary has appeared in such venues as Frontline Feminism, The Washington Post, and Super Girls Speak Out. She has an MSW from Smith College and a BA in Psychology from Wesleyan University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and self-leadershipstrategies.com.