Identifying and securing your dream job

So many of us believe in having a meaningful job, but how do you make your dream job a reality? Figure out what makes you tick, how to leverage your professional relationships, and ways to keep expanding your skill set.

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Everyone has a dream job. It’s more than a means to a paycheck or health insurance – it makes you feel fulfilled, gives you meaning and encourages your growth.

Brad Allen Johnson, a former KU student who’s a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of Kent, says a driving desire for meaningful work isn’t just limited to the current generation of workplace professionals. That need is built into our psyches.

“We want our time to count because we know that it is limited, and when all is said and done, we want our lives to have mattered,” Johnson says.

Whether you’re a student about to enter the working world or a seasoned professional reevaluating your career, you very well may not have discovered your dream job yet.

So how do you figure out what that dream job is? Start by looking at your passions, or what brings you joy.

Simon Sinek, prominent businessman and best-selling author of the book “Start With Why,” suggests making a list of the things you do or would do for free. What do you make time to do when you’re not at work that energizes you? What parts of your job do you love so much you would do them for free?

The things we most enjoy doing often go hand-in-hand with our strengths. According to Gallup, 60 percent of employees rated doing what they do best in a professional role as “very important” to them, and those who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.

Author and workplace expert Adam Smiley Poswolsky says a common misconception of meaningful careers is that they only define a narrow set of workplaces, such as nonprofits, academia or a self-owned startup. But purpose means different things to different people. Don’t let others define whether or not a certain job can be meaningful. Instead, consider where you find meaning, and let that lead your search.

As you explore your options, stay open minded and flexible. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way many of us do our jobs, and will likely continue to impact the workforce going forward.

“Don’t get too focused on ‘It has to be a full-time job where I’m reporting to an office in this industry, in this organization,” said Corey Mohn, executive director at Blue Valley CAPS, a professional studies-focused high school program in Overland Park. “That may have been a reality for certain industries before COVID, it’s less of a reality now.”

Changing careers can be daunting. If you’re considering leaving a job to pursue your dream job, know that you’re not alone. Today, the average person will change jobs or careers 10-15 times during his or her professional life.

Gone are the days of dedicating your career to a single employer. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, coined the “tours of duty” approach to careers as the idea that you will (and should) change jobs every two to four years. By doing this, you can focus on building your skills, growing a network across industries and professions, and contributing in a meaningful way to each organization that employs you, then moving on once you or the employer feels the time is right.

Millennials are often vilified for job-hopping, but one way to find the work you’re most passionate about is to do just that. Whether you’re learning essential skills to change your career or moving into a job with different duties in the same industry, experiencing a variety of jobs can help narrow your focus to the one that brings you the most joy.

One important way to explore job opportunities inetworking. Most jobs are not publicly listed – some estimates suggest up to 70% – and building and maintaining relationships with other professionals in the industry is the only way to discover the ones that aren’t.

“There’s this underground market of opportunities, and you have to have conversations with people to even have a chance of knowing it’s there,” says Mohn.

Even during a pandemic, virtual networking opportunities are available, such as attending professional development webinars or virtual conferences and connecting with the speakers afterward. Another option is to connect with coworkers, alumni networks and other lapsed contacts. Setting up a Zoom call or simply sending an email allows you to strengthen your professional relationships while still maintaining a social distance.

You don’t have to be job searching to engage in effective networking, either. Even if you love your job, establishing and nurturing mutually beneficial connections with others in your profession can be a vital source of new ideas and energy.

Don’t stop learning. If you do decide on a career change, you may find yourself at a crossroads between wanting to follow a new path and needing to update your professional skill set. But starting a new career doesn’t have to mean starting over entirely. Consider a certificate program that lets you study a specific area of interest without needing to complete a full degree program, or attending professional events that let you learn while networking with people who are already established in the field you want to work in. Professional certificates and boot camps are other ways to add valuable skills and credentials to your resume.

However, if you find you’re lacking the particular skills required for your dream job, and you need to bridge the gap between your knowledge and what’s in the job description, getting a degree in your desired field could be a good option to explore. KU offers a number of online programs, making it easier to complete a degree program on your own time.

Whatever you decide to do, know that landing your dream job is a process. It will take time to sort out what you’re looking for and the path you’ll take to get there. Enjoy the journey, celebrate your progress and remember that the end goal will make all your hard work worthwhile.

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