You want to land your dream job, but you’re scared it’s a only a dream.
You’ve heard horror stories of college graduates unable to find work.
Loaded down with debt and waiting tables to make ends meet, they end up under their parent’s roof or piled into a tiny apartment with other under-employed grads, disillusioned with no end in sight.
Is this caused by a lack of available jobs?
Or could it be a lack of viable strategies?
What secrets does it take to land your dream job within 5 years of graduation?
I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Gresham of Everyday Bright for a few years now. She is an expert in helping mid-life career changers.
In February, she posted 5 Strategies to Land Your Dream Job (Even If You Don’t Feel Qualified).
After reading her examples for adults, I saw how simple tweaks could make all of her strategies work for college students and recent grads.
I left a comment on her blog with my thoughts.
Jennifer wrote back, “Wow, Leslie, your comment could be a blog post on its own. Thanks for sharing your insights!”
With her permission, I’m piggy-backing off her brilliant ideas and format to help you, my dear audience of high school & college students & parents, strategically land your dream job sooner.
It is ridiculous that college students scrounge for work after graduation.
With a little know-how and some strategic fore-thought, employment can come easily. Within 5 years of graduation, you can land your dream job.
1. The Inside Job
Works Best For: People who want to work for a certain employer or want a certain position but may not be fully qualified for their dream job yet
How To Do It: Let’s say you’ve earned a degree in business with the intent of becoming music production executive. In college, you strategically sought out as many jobs, internships, and class projects that would allow you to apply your business knowledge to music industry settings.
In the months before graduation, make sure all your contacts and professors (whom you’ve kept updated on your progress) know that you are excited and available for positions with opportunities to contribute your key skills.
Be open to any position in music or business or media production.
Actively pursue any lead that would get you in the door of any company that is doing the kind of work that you desire in the long-term.
Accept positions that get you as close as possible to your goal: in companies you respect or in positions that resemble your dream jobs.
Then, start making connections when work begins. Take any chance to hang out with people in departments or with positions you have in your sights.
But don’t tell them you want to be in their world quite yet.
Instead, ask them about their world. Get curious. What are their challenges? What are their big growth goals?
While making sure you completing all your work requirements above-and-beyond expectations, offer assistance consistently to your new colleagues in those departments you’d like to be in one day.
If you have a great idea, you don’t have to ask permission to submit it.
Create an outline or mock-up that captures your concept.
If people say, “That won’t work,” ask them if they would be willing to share their rationale & feedback so you can make better proposals in the future.
Learn from them, and when positions become available in those departments, be sure to apply. Tell your network that you want to step into that new position.
Perhaps as you contribute without being asked, they will create a position for you.
Why This Works: Employers value people who actively contribute. It is far easier to keep an employee they already have than to hire a new one. When management sees you are coachable and invested, you can make a strong case that what you may lack in experience will be counterbalanced by your drive, receptivity, and consistent execution of fundamentals.
2. Split the Difference
Works Best For: People who have a highly marketable degree that doesn’t fulfill their passion or interests.
How To Do It: So you majored in accounting and can easily land a job on cubicle row. You know you’ll be flush with cash, but you worry that you’ll become bored or uninspired over time.
Maybe you’re even jealous of your starving artist/social activist/world traveling friends?
You don’t have to do an “either/or.”
You CAN have your cake and eat it, too.
Outside of work, get heavily involved in one group/activity/mission that inspires or deeply interests you.
Definitely offer to bring your accounting expertise to serve that out-of-work passion.
As you become deeply invested in the your passion project, consider approaching your big employer about cutting back your accounting job a few hours a week. Devote that time to volunteering or working for your passion.
Not only do you have your professional world and your passion world, you are setting yourself up to gain greater skills and create more opportunities.
This strategy also works in selecting your major & minor. Pick one that is highly marketable and one that fascinates or inspires you.
You are multi-faceted. Craft your life to honor that.
You can do more than land your dream job — you create our dream life.
Why This Works: When an employer values you, they want to keep you. It is better for them to cut some of your hours and keep you happily with them than if you leave. It also tends to boost your productivity for them when you do report for duty because now your life is more energized. Plus, you may find that by gathering for-profit and non-profit experience, you become even more marketable in the long-run.
3. Let Your Weirdness Do the Talking
Works Best For: People who spent their teen and/or college years becoming an expert on one thing: the geekier the better!
How To Do It: Let’s say you are really into Japanese manga. You know the ins-and-outs of that world.
At your summer internship with a bank, you bring it up with your supervisor at lunch one day. You help her understand why it fascinates you and how you see it as a metaphor for what you’ve learned about the banking services industry from her over the summer.
When the summer is over, you are surprised to learn that you have a job offer waiting for you at that bank upon graduation.
You didn’t know it, but your supervisor’s granddaughter had been into manga, too. She never knew what her granddaughter saw in that silliness, but you helped her understand it differently.
You also impressed her with your insights and understanding of banking. You made it exciting to her again.
She tells you that if you have that level of understanding after the summer, she’s sure you’ll make many more contributions to the bank for years to come.
Don’t be afraid to shine – even in a peculiar way – and create relationships with professors and supervisors.
Make your knowledge clear to them.
You’re not an expert in their field yet, and they don’t expect you to be. By using your expertise in a different subject, you demonstrate your capacity to become an expert with them.
Why This Works: Passion speaks a language that connects on a deeper level than words. It is rare to find someone who has made it to adulthood with their passion intact. Those who have are inspiring to those who haven’t. People want to be around others who have passion. A good employer will recognize the value and find ways to keep it around.
4. Look For the Overlap
Works Best For: People who know their key strengths and take initiative to apply them.
How To Do It: In high school and college, begin identifying your key strengths. Know what you are really good at – even if it doesn’t sound like a business skill.
A good place to start is by talking to your friends, family, and teachers. Ask them, “When is a time you saw me doing something really well?”
Then get to the core of what that entails.
Let’s say you baked a delicious pie with a crust you cut in a fancy design.
That entails research, careful planning, attention to detail, patience, and the ability to work by yourself without supervision.
Spend time researching jobs and careers that will allow you to consistently apply those skills.
Find people in those careers. Tell them that you already have the most important core skills, and ask if they would consider mentoring you in the details necessary to be effective.
For example, I learned about Outward Bound when I was in high school. It’s an organization that takes mainly teens on long trips in the wilderness. It always sounded cool to me, but I never got to do a trip and didn’t have any outdoor skills.
After teaching middle & high school for 6 years, I had a phenomenal skill set working with teens.
Looking for a way to stay in education but out of school settings, I approached Outward Bound.
I said, “I have no outdoor skills, but you can teach me those. I have something you can’t teach – the ability to quickly build rapport and maintain investment from teens. If you teach me the skills I need to be successful in the woods, I’ll bring assets many instructors haven’t figured out yet.”
They’d be a fool to pass that up — and they didn’t! That’s how you land your dream job.
Why This Works: Any employer knows the frustration of hiring someone who looks good on paper with years of experience but lacks the intangible, un-teachable pieces that make them an excellent fit. Many employers would rather teach you “their way” and capitalize on your key strengths than have you learn bad habits on the job from somewhere else. Bonus for them, since they will have to train every new employee on some level anyway!
5. Prove It to Move It
Works Best For: People who have a career plan early in college and use every project, job, volunteer experience, and internship to build experience toward an intended career.
How To Do It: Enter college with 2-3 well-researched career interests. Conduct informational interviews with as many people in the fields you are considering as possible.
Learn from them what would be the types of experiences they would want to see from a highly sought-after, entry-level employee.
In the first 2-3 semesters, systematically explore classes and opportunities to decide which career paths best fit you. It’s actually smart to keep two career paths as viable options.
As Richard Bolles advises in What Color Is Your Parachute, “hope depends upon taking care that we have at least two alternatives.”
Then do what you can to tailor every learning and work opportunity to become a chance to gain more exposure, experience, or expertise in your career paths.
Be on high alert to find chances to double up.
Let’s say you’re interested in veterinary medicine and journalism. Ask to do a semester-long project researching major trends in public media coverage of the impacts of genetic engineering through animal breeding over the last 50 years.
When it comes time to find employment close to graduation, you’ll have a boat-load of experience to demonstrate why you are “the key hire” employers must make.
Why This Works: To be competitive for your dream job, experience certainly helps. That experience doesn’t have to be paid full-time work, though. When you approach your years in college with intentionality, college suddenly become an experience gold mine. You can graduate with far more than a degree when you leverage your course work and time outside the classroom.
The World Needs You — Sooner Rather Than Later
To land your dream job — it’s a process.
Yes, it takes time to keep working your way there. You will also redefine the dream as you grow and change.
But that time can be dramatically decreased from what most people think it takes.
We live in a world with some big problems to solve.
The greatest wasted resource is our human potential.
It’s just not ok to accept that generation after generation will just flounder around in their 20’s and 30’s doing work that fails to utilize their brilliance and pays pitifully.
Far too many young people haven’t been supported to know how to harness their strengths and see themselves with something valuable to contribute now.
Instead, they settle for what they don’t want because they don’t know what’s available to them — or that it IS possible to create their own job.
They don’t have a vision to work towards.
To have a dream job, you’ve got to have a dream!
You aren’t one of those people anymore, though.
You now have 5 killer strategies to start making major strides towards your dreams right now.
And these aren’t competitive strategies that you should keep to yourself.
Every person you know should learn these – because when need them to start making their contribution, too!
Share them with your friends and classmates.
There’s room and need for everyone to do their best work!
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