Tips for a Dream Job the Second Time Around
Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
Suddenly it seems as though every baby boomer is talking about mid-life career change and looking for their dream job. In the past few weeks alone, I have heard about many career changes planned or underway by baby boomers, such as:
A colleague's husband quit his job and career as an insurance adjuster to enroll in a doctoral program in mathematics, his life-long love.
A close friend took early retirement from a major high tech company at age 47 and is pursuing his interests in energy conservation and in performing (the piano).
A president and CEO relinquished the president title as part of her company's succession plan and is wondering whether teaching, running a major nonprofit, or something else is next on her career agenda when she steps down completely next year.
The friend of a dinner party acquaintance is enrolling in a landscape architecture program with an eye toward her next career.
An old friend sees the demise of his not-for-profit housing agency ahead and is eager to find new and more rewarding work but isn't sure where it lies or how to get it.
This is just a sampling from my friends and colleagues, not the clients I see as a career coach! What is going on with the boomer job boom? The oldest boomers are hitting 60, but instead of thinking of retirement, they are thinking of following their passions into new, more personally rewarding work. The questions on everyone's mind are, what do I want to do and how can I get it?
Here are some six important tips from 20+ years helping people in virtually every industry and function land their dream jobs. These tips are offered to help you answer these questions and launch you on the path to your next exciting career:
Tip #1: Forget revelations.
Where you want to go depends on your personal definition of career satisfaction. Too many people get stopped in their quest for rewarding new work because they are waiting for a blinding revelation about their life's true purpose. For the majority of people who haven't had a lifelong dream job that they are now ready to pursue, awaiting this kind of revelation is likely to be unproductive.
The best way to determine your dream job is by a simple step-by-step process. Use the information you gather from your answers to these questions to construct a picture of your ideal job. Your answers are building blocks, so consider the questions carefully and give your most thoughtful answers. Specifically, as you look back over your career and extracurricular activities, ask yourself the following questions:
Think back over the times you worked on something that lit you up and energized you. What specific projects, activities, or tasks did I find most rewarding? What about these activities was so rewarding?
What are my greatest and most enjoyable skills? What do I do best and enjoy doing most? Be specific.
What specific roles did I enjoy most? Leader? Follower? Coach?
What kind of rewards meant the most to me? Turning around or fixing something? Creating something tangible? Making money?
What kind(s) of people have I enjoyed working with most?
Is there anything else that has been part of my most enjoyable activities and tasks?
Are there other considerations that affect your satisfaction, such as location, commute, compensation? If so, specify them, such as how much money do I need to make? How big a commute am I willing to do?
Tip #2: Ignore your stories.
All of us have stories we tell ourselves and others about why we ended up where we are in our careers. The problem is that these stories, which are only our interpretations of reality, not reality itself, become our reality and shape and limit what we think is possible in our careers. Recognize that these are just stories, untested by evidence, and let them go so you can pursue greater career possibilities rather than limiting yourself to what you've done before.
Tip #3: Define your accomplishments.
Scared of writing a resume? Worried because you haven't written one in years? Fear of writing a resume has stopped many aspiring job-seekers from pursuing their dreams. Don't let this happen to you. A resume is essential to realize your career dreams and with the inside information that follows, you can make it your secret weapon, not an obstacle or a chore.
Look for specific contributions or achievements that led to measurable results. Did you save money or time? Did you do something for the first time that became standard operating practice?
Tip #4: Think outside the box.
When you are contemplating a change in direction to a dream job, it's important to remember that most prospective employers and recruiters are looking to put people in slots or boxes just like the ones they came from or fled. It's up to you to think outside of the box. Don't focus on job titles which limit you to work just like you've done. Identify the portable skills and accomplishments you can leverage to define and land your dream job. Don't forget this important step.
Tip #5: Define your brand.
Whatever you have been doing all these years, nobody does it the same way you do. No one is the same builder or teacher or COO that you are. What is your particular "brand?" One way to define your brand is from the array of specific accomplishments that appear in your resume. Perhaps you are a CFO whose brand is as a financing wiz - the person who has done all kinds of financings repeatedly and successfully and in little time. Or perhaps you are the shy idea person with the great creative ideas. Your accomplishments should showcase your brand so your resume conveys your particular personality, style, and brand rather than a generic compensation manager resume, for example.
Tip #6: Talk more, surf less.
Looking to make a change? You are most likely to get your new job through your network - 70-80% of jobs come through contacts according to most industry estimates. Don't have a network? Everyone does, but like many people, you may have been too busy to talk to your network in a long time. It doesn't mean your network is gone and it doesn't mean you can't revive it. You can use online networks like LinkedIn and Ryze to update your networks quickly and efficiently or use phone calls and emails to reach them.
Remember to include people in different locations and different occupations than your target - they know people in different locations and jobs, too. Make a specific request (for example, an introduction to a decision-maker or information on a target position or company) and make sure that most of your job search time is devoted to your network, not your computer.
Acting on these six tips will provide you with tested strategies and a road map to define and land your dream job. It's never too late to find work you love. Stop dreaming and start finding your dream job!