Feeling like you haven't found your dream career yet? YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Many folks are working in jobs where they feel unfulfilled and lack energy. You deserve to feel energized and fulfilled in your career. But finding your dream career isn't always easy. Sure, Linda seems to have stumbled into her dream career, but what can you do if you haven't found yours yet? Below you’ll find my four steps to figuring out your dream career.
1) Get to know yourself.
Sure it seems easy, but it's not always obvious. What are you good at? What do you like doing? What's important to you? Take an assessment, ask your mom, do some soul searching. The first step to figuring out what you are called to do in this world is figuring YOU out. This is the biggest and most important step. You cannot find a career that you’ll be passionate about without figuring out what you are passionate about first.
Society is not necessarily set up to help you. How many of you went to college and were pressured (either directly or indirectly) to pick a major right away? I worked in higher education for over six years and in my experience many people go to college and pick a major based on 1) one high school class they took that was easy for them 2) their mom/dad/aunt told them this was a good field to go into 3) they know it is an industry that pays well/has a lot of jobs available 4) it sounded easy/fun/everyone else was doing it. Sometimes this does work. But that is betting on luck and not logic. The logical first step of every career exploration process is figuring out yourself first. Even though we live with ourselves every moment of everyday, we do not necessarily truly understand what makes us tick.
Getting to know yourself is always at the top of the career development process. It is the most important. It is not a step to be skipped, but often it’s the part most people want to breeze over. This is a life-long process, you are constantly changing and growing so you constantly should be getting in touch with yourself to make sure you still know who you are.
2) Get to know careers.
Once you have an idea of who you are, then you’ve got to learn about careers. Sure we all know a good handful of careers out there, but I’m saying you’ve got to really explore careers. Look for careers you’ve never heard of and really research what people do in these careers. We have the internet now so this is a super easy step. You can literally Google any career and learn a ton about it. You can watch YouTube videos and follow people on Instagram. There is no excuse to skip this step or be uneducated these days.
There are two websites I like to send clients to who are in this phase of the process. The first is O*Net Online. O*Net is sponsored by the US Department of Labor and allows you to look up careers in a variety of ways including by interests, abilities, knowledge and skills. You can also search by career clusters or careers with a bright outlook.
Here an example of how I’d use it: after a client did some self exploration and came to the conclusion that they are strong at communicating verbally with others. I’d have them look this skill up on O*Net. Under cognitive abilities they’d find “oral expression” leading them to a list of about 30 careers including lawyer, radio/TV announcer, teachers, social workers and sales representative. Clicking on any of those careers takes you to a page with thorough details on that career regarding tasks, tech skills, knowledge, abilities, work activities, education and more. Many people can start to determine just from reading this list (whether through logic or emotion) which careers appeal most to them and align with who they are and what they are naturally good at. From there I encourage people to explore the Occupational Outlook Handbook which is info gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here they can learn more about specific careers including what they do, work environment, how to become one and similar careers. Yes, it can be a lot of work and it can take time, but trust me when I say, there is no magic wand when finding your dream career. Plus, the work is worth it when you are doing a job that gives you energy and purpose.
However, I’ll be the first to tell you not everything can - or should - be done on the computer. Which leads us to...
3) Talk to people.
Talking to others is so powerful. Not only does it provide us with human connection, but it also helps us learn faster. I know, it can be scary to talk to people in person. But it is one of the best ways to discover and develop a dream career. Maybe you know what your dream career is or after doing some self and career exploration you have a couple of options in mind, the next step is talking to others. Find people in that career (use friends, family, connections and social media including LinkedIn). Sit down with them for a formal meeting (we call this an informational interview) or an informal meeting (also known as getting coffee or chatting at a family reunion). Show genuine interest in the other person and their career.
Ask questions like...
...what their career path has looked like to get them where they are today?
...what education (both formal and informal) has helped them the most in their careers?
...how they balance their career with their family obligations?
...what keeps them up at night?
...what advice they’d give themselves if they could go back in time and talk to their 20 year old self?
Remember you are in an information gathering phase. You are learning. And if you do this right (by being genuinely interested and asking good questions), people are likely to want to learn more about you. Be authentic with people. Tell them you are exploring careers. Explain to them what you’ve learned about yourself and your skills and your values. In my experience, this phase of the process can help you find your dream career in many ways. First, it gives you information from the source. Second, it can build relationships with people in the industries and organizations you are interested in joining. Third, the people you meet with can, and often will, connect you with others who you can also learn from. And finally, many people actually land jobs this way! As much as we are on our phone and sitting behind our screens in comfort, we crave human interaction (yes, even you Ms/Mr introvert). Connecting and talking to other humans makes us feel good and if the interaction was positive we want to help the person we connected with. This is the hardest step because it takes courage (even for the extroverts). But this is courage that is worth drumming up because it can pay of the most.
4) Try, practice, develop, change.
Finally, you’ve got to get out there and do stuff. The exciting part is we no longer live in a society where you are expected to stay at your first full-time job for the rest of your life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years salaried employees had been with their current employer was 4.2 years. What this means for you is employers are expecting to see multiple jobs on your resume. Many employers actually value intentional, thoughtful career changes. Moving industries can be an advantage when switching jobs because you can offer outside opinions, knowledge and expertise. And the only way to know if something is your dream career is to try it. As you learn new skills, develop and grow you may find your dream career also changes. That is okay! You know what it takes to rediscover your new dream career. This might mean you’ve got to go back to school, volunteers, start a side hustle or make connections in a new field, but YOU CAN DO ALL OF THESE things.
You are powerful. You are resourceful. You deserve the career of your dreams.
What are you waiting for?