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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Before the Search Bar: 3 Steps to Identifying Your Dream Job

You know you want a new job. Or maybe, you want a whole new career. The trouble is—you’re just not sure exactly what it is you’d like to be doing. Might as well browse the job boards anyway, right?

Well, maybe not. The career possibilities out there are practically endless, so scouring the web for open positions trying to find something that sounds interesting isn’t always a good use of your time. So before you get to that search bar, try these practical steps that’ll help you focus your job hunt—plus gain some good skills and contacts in the meantime.

1. Visualize Your Dream Job 

If you could do anything all day, every day, what would it be? Think broadly, beyond just action verbs and skills, and include your interests and hobbies. Spend a good chunk of time just writing down words that describe your personality and dream job, then step back and see if there are recurring themes you might be able to link together. If you love anything food-related and get energized talking to people, for example, perhaps a sales gig for a high-end catering company or food startup could be the place for you.

But don’t just stop at your interests—dig a little deeper. Say you love writing, especially about anything related to celebrities and fashion. Do you like doing days of research or do you want to be where all the action is? Is your writing style tongue-in-cheek or does it make your college professors envious? These types of questions can help you further narrow down where you should be looking—in this case, whether you should be exploring reporter jobs or ghostwriting positions.

If you’re feeling really stumped (or overwhelmed by all the options), try taking a career personality test. A popular choice is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—a self-inventory test matching careers to your personality type, strengths, and preferences. For example, I’m an INTJ—meaning I’m skeptical, independent, and have high standards of competence and performance. According to my results, INTJ’s thrive in “any occupation where they can use their intellectual creativity and technical knowledge to conceptualize, analyze, and get the task done.” For me, a career in engineering, medicine, or law (my career choice) is a match made in personality test heaven. The results you get will probably be just as broad, but they can at least point you in some interesting directions.

2. Talk to People

In addition to doing some introspection, you should make time for exploration. Researching a variety of career paths and talking to people about their jobs and experiences is a great way to see which gigs might be a fit for you.

From LinkedIn profiles to sites like I Want Her Job, The Everygirl, and even our own Daily Muse, the web is a goldmine of information about all the jobs under the moon. Scour the internet and learn all you can about any paths that interest you and the types of people who are most successful there. You might even find profiles of people doing jobs you didn’t know existed!

When you do find a few jobs that sound right up your alley, flip through your contacts and ask your friends and family to put you in touch with professionals in those fields. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a variety of people—from your peers to people you really admire. Call, email, or send a lovely card to someone, saying you’re impressed with her career and would love to pick her brain about her industry and job. No matter how busy people are, they’re usually willing to spare an email, lunch, or coffee date to help a rising protégé.

3. Gain Some Skills Along the Way

As you’re narrowing down what, exactly, your dream job is, remember that part of eventually landing that gig is making sure you’re qualified for it! So while you’re exploring career paths and meeting with people, take note of the skills required to succeed in those fields. Does every person you talk to spend at least part of her day writing? Do the positions that sound great to you all require basic knowledge of HTML?

Keep a checklist of all the things you may ultimately need to include on your resume. Check off the skills and characteristics you can already demonstrate, and then start making a plan to get the rest. For the more complex skills or technical knowledge, look for workshops and classes where you can learn them, or consider whether you need or want to go back to school. Even if you’re not quite sure what that dream job is yet, you can definitely be making progress toward it. (And hey—you might even discover new things you like doing along the way!)

Searching for a job when you’re not sure what you want to do is difficult—the options seem endless, and not in a good way. But, once you’re armed with a mind map, some industry info and contacts, and a list of skills you can be working on, you’ll have at least narrowed down what you’re looking for. And then—go get started on that search!

Photo of searching for a job courtesy of Shutterstock.