Forget conventional career advice – here’s how you can find your dream job

Forget conventional career advice - here’s how you can find your dream job
Research has uncovered six key ingredients to a dream job. Source: Shutterstock

If you’re a university student or fresh graduate who still doesn’t have a clue what to do with your life post-graduation, don’t be too hard on yourself.

In a survey by TollFreeForwarding, 2,000 adult Americans were asked what their dream jobs were as teenagers. The top 10 careers, from first to last, include teacher, doctor/nurse, vet, musician, actor, pro sports star, writer, scientist, lawyer and artist.

Interestingly, 76 percent failed to go on and land the job they desired. When asked what they thought was the most significant factor to never achieving their childhood dreams, 34 percent said they “don’t have the required skill set or knowledge”; 16 percent reported “financial barriers”; and 10 percent reported that they had “prioritised raising a family”.

The example above suggests that not everyone goes on to do what they thought they’d be doing in life for various reasons – some of which are within our control, and some of which aren’t. But does that make you feel better about not knowing what to do in the future, or does it make you determined not to stand among such statistics and to hone your interests now?

Clearly, there are many stumbling blocks that can stop you achieving your dream career, but what can you do as a student or a fresh graduate who still hasn’t figured out what your ‘dream job’ could be?

Getting the right mix

As the words ‘dream job’ carry different meanings for everyone, it comes as no surprise that the things students or fresh graduates look for in a job or company also vary. But the problem lies when there’s an overemphasis on things such as tangible rewards (e.g. wages, benefits, etc.), and overlooking other things that can impact your professional growth and happiness in a career (e.g. the people you work with, the company culture of the organisation you’re looking to apply to, etc.).

Benjamin Todd, CEO and co-founder of 80,000 Hours – an Oxford affiliated charity – said they reviewed two decades of research into the causes of a satisfying life and career, and “found six key ingredients of a dream job”. These include:

  • Find work that is engaging to you, holds your attention and gives you flow. Factors such as the freedom to decide how to perform your work, having a clear understanding of your tasks, having a variety in the types of task as well as receiving feedback on the work you’ve done to know how well you’re doing affects this.
  • Do work that involves helping others. The author noted that “Helping others isn’t the only route to a meaningful career, but it’s widely accepted by researchers that it’s one of the most powerful.”
  • Do work you’re good at, which will give you a sense of achievement. “That’s not to say you should only do work you’re already good at. However, you want the potential to get good at it,” said the report.
  • Work with supportive colleagues. They note that good relationships are an important part of having a fulfilling life, so it’s important to become friends with at least a few people at work while a bad boss can ruin a dream position.
  • A lack of things that make things at work unpleasant, such as a long commute, long working hours and job insecurity.
  • Consider how your career fits in with the rest of your life. The author notes, “You don’t have to get all the ingredients of a fulfilling life from your job”, but individuals can find some aspects of it outside their job, such as finding meaning through volunteering work.  

However, knowing what to look for in a dream job is only part of the equation; how does one go about getting a dream job?

How do you land your dream job?

Researching your dream job can only do so much – ultimately, you’ll need to try things to help you figure out where you can excel. Source: Shutterstock

Research shows that conventional methods of finding the right career for you, such as self-reflection, going with your gut or even using career tests, are not effective and that it’s more important to find a job you’re good at.

But, realistically, it takes years to become good at something, so if there’s a job you’re interested in, you’re better off finding a way to try it ahead of time before diving headfirst into it.

“Early on you know relatively little about your strengths and options. Once you’ve spent a few years learning more, you’ll be able to make better decisions over the coming decades. It’s better to do this exploration early, if possible, so you can use the lessons later,” said Todd.

However, if you have many areas of interest and can’t try out every career that catches your eye, you’ll need to cut down your options and do some exploration to help with your decision (for a more detailed explanation, you can check out 80,000 Hours’ lengthy but insightful explanation on how you can narrow down and explore your options here).

So, if you’re a student or a graduate who thinks you could be good at writing, you could consider interning at a media company or blogging to help with your decision. This way, you’ll learn about yourself as you go along, and change your plans according to your ‘findings’.

It’s clear that the process of finding your dream career isn’t as easy as setting time aside for deep thinking, but hopefully, these findings will lead you to finding a fulfilling career. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be bruised in the process, but as the saying goes: “If you try, you might fail, but if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.”

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