Finding your dream job is tough.
Whether you’re a new grad or considering a career change, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when tasked with selecting your next gig. And why shouldn’t it? It’s an enormously costly decision, in terms of both time and money.
In many cases, it defines your lifestyle: It determines where you live, how you spend your time and what you can afford. It influences your stress levels and your general happiness. It’s a big deal, and to further complicate matters, there are more than 10,000 options. Even Barbie has had 130 different careers over the years!
The reality is that it’s challenging to get a feel for a career without experiencing it yourself.
Even if you have a shortlist of careers that you’re interested in, your idea of what those jobs entail is likely based on preconceived notions. And this lack of information might seem innocent enough, but it can have some serious consequences—you might be ruling out your dream job without even knowing it.
The good news? There are plenty of creative ways to familiarize yourself with your career options before having to sink major time and money into them.
Finding your dream job
Experience might be the best teacher, but some targeted research doesn’t hurt. If you’re feeling stuck in a career-decision-making rut, pick out a few of the practices below to spark some interest and to build momentum in your search:
Quiz yourself (but not too seriously)
Personality quizzes and aptitude tests can help start your career search, if you’re realistic about their results.
These tests are more about self-assessment than they are about career matchmaking, so use them as guided self-reflection rather than as a fortune-teller.
Question by question, personality tests can show you where your priorities lie, what sort of environments you thrive in and where you fit into a team—all of which will serve you well when considering future courses of study and work.
A wide range of career placement tests (both free and paid) are offered online, in schools and through community programs. If you’re a student, check with your school counselor to see whether career guidance options are already available to you. Local libraries and post-secondary institutions might also help provide or locate career-related resources.
Shop the course catalog
This is a great exercise to get the wheels turning and to brainstorm some options.
Scroll through a college course catalog online and highlight any degrees and courses that sound interesting. Don’t overthink it—the logistics will come later. Just use the catalog as an opportunity to see what you naturally gravitate toward.
It doesn’t matter whether you plan to attend that school—or any school, for that matter.
Were the courses you selected aligned with your interests? Were there any surprises on the list? Generate some potential job titles from the areas of study you highlighted and see if that generates new leads in your career search.
If you’re feeling inspired, reach out to professors or department heads with your questions about the field.
Fill your calendar
You can also try a little in-person research!
Attend info sessions, conferences, Q&As, meet-ups, job fairs and even free lectures in the fields you’re interested in. Ask questions and chat with the other attendees. Learning from others’ experiences can be a valuable way to inform your path.
Browse those blogs
Course catalogs and online job descriptions tend to gloss over the mundane aspects of any given job. For this reason, it’s important to seek out information from a wide range of sources.
Industry forums, discussion boards and personal blogs will provide different perspectives on careers you’re interested in. Industry forums and discussion boards can highlight current trends and issues the field is facing, and personal blogs can shed some light on what a lifestyle in that career can look like.
Why stop your search at personal blogs? Take your career search to social media platforms.
A hashtag could be your key to discovering an entire online community of people who share your career dreams.
Much like scoping out personal blogs, social media posts might help round out your mental image of what it means to work in a certain field. Potential new contacts, resources and mentors could be just one Instagram, Twitter or Facebook hashtag away!
Be brave and reach out
Your research will inevitably lead you to discovering career role models. Maybe they gave a presentation at the conference you attended, maybe you stumbled upon a helpful YouTube tutorial they made or maybe you’ve spent hours reading their blog posts.
Be brave and reach out to them. Acknowledge their contributions, thank them for their positive influence and test the waters by asking those career questions that you can’t seem to find the answer to anywhere else.
If the advice you’re looking for can’t be provided in a simple email, request their time—see if there’s potential for a phone call, Skype chat or quick consultation over coffee.
Worst-case scenario: Nothing changes. Best-case scenario: You solidify your career goals and gain a mentor in the process.
Be generous with your time
Keep your eye out for volunteer, internship or job-shadowing opportunities that will allow you to learn more about the careers you’re interested in.
Even if your volunteer duties don’t have much crossover with your dream job, the opportunity will give you a chance to observe some of the more nuanced aspects of a career and rack up some resumé boosters along the way.
You might even develop some new skills and connect with future colleagues and mentors.