These days, having a case of the Mondays every Monday morning and being miserable in a boring 9-to-5 job is normal—but that’s no way to live.
If being miserable at work is normal, then I don’t want to be normal. I want to be different.
Because the truth is: It is possible to find your dream job and love what you do for a living. It’s called living the dream—and you can have that if you’re willing to work for it.
My path to meaningful work is a seven-stage process that will lead you to your dream job. It will take time, perseverance and patience to work through, but if you stick with it, before you know it, your case of the Mondays will become a thing of the past.
Are you ready to get after it?
7 Stages of Finding Your Dream Job
1. Get Clear
Before you do anything else, you must discover what you do best, what you love to do most, what results you want to produce, and where (industry, company, etc.) you can put those three components together to do work that matters deeply to you.
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I know that sounds overwhelming, so let me break it down for you:
What you do best includes your natural talents, skills and character strengths. These should be tasks or roles that come easily to you and have been pointed out to you by others. Here are some examples: I’m a great writer. I can analyze numbers effortlessly. People have told me I’m an excellent salesperson.
What you love to do most would involve any activities, tasks, and passions you look forward to and that make you come alive. For example: Working with kids lights me up. Helping someone work through a personal issue so they can take control of their life leaves me feeling energized. Solving complex problems makes time fly by.
What results you want to produce is about considering what problems you love to solve, what solutions you love to create, and what people group you most want to help. For example: I enjoy helping young mothers (people group) get through the first year of parenthood (problem) by teaching them how to schedule their days (solution). I love when a small-business owner (people group) is able to free up time to scale their business (problem) because I’m managing their payroll and bookkeeping (solution).
Where you can put those three together involves doing some research. Look around (starting in your zip code) for industries, companies, nonprofits, etc. where you might be able to do work within the intersection of what you do best and what you love to do most. By the way, I call that intersection your sweet spot.
Once you’ve got a list that includes these four things, get feedback and confirmation from three to five people who know you and will be honest with you. If these talents and passions are seen by others in your life too, you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction.
If you need help nailing down your top talents, passions and results try my free Career Clarity Guide. It's a worksheet that will help you get clear on who you are so that you can step into the work you were made to do.
2. Get Qualified
Once you know what you want to do and possible places where you can perform that role, you’ll need to get qualified to do the job. Maybe you already have the education and/or experience you need to do the job you want to do—that’s incredible. Feel free to skip this step and move on to stage three.
If that’s not you, no sweat. It’s not as hard, scary or expensive as it seems to get qualified to work in your dream job.
First, you’re going to put your research hat back on. Based on potential job opportunities you found, what qualifications are necessary to do the work? Make a list of anything—from certifications to supervised hours—you need for the job.
Then, find out how much it will cost to get those qualifications. It doesn’t have to be exact—just come up with a rough estimate. Finally, based on your budget, create a realistic timeline for when you think you’ll be able to cash flow getting the qualifications.
There’s something really important to remember when you’re in this stage: Don’t assume you need a degree—even if the job posting says you need one to get hired.
Now, there are some career paths that absolutely require you to have a degree (think doctor, lawyer, registered nurse, industrial engineer, etc.). If you want to pursue one of those degree-dependent paths, just know that you don’t have to spend a fortune to earn that degree. Adjust your timeline to fit your budget—because you should be cash flowing this degree, not taking on debt for it—and look for affordable options like community college and state schools over expensive, private, out-of-state universities.
If you find out you can land your dream job with some experience and maybe a few certifications, that’s the ideal situation. If that’s the case, there are so many creative ways to get qualified:
- Take an online course or workshop.
- Find a boot camp or crash course you can take in the evenings or on weekends.
- Ask someone in the field if you can intern or shadow them for a few months.
- Borrow books from the library and download podcasts on the topic.
- Attend a local conference where you can learn and make connections.
You’ve got zero excuses. In our day and age, there are endless opportunities to get the skills, knowledge and know-how to do the job you want to do.
3. Get Connected
This is arguably one of the most important stages in the whole process, and it’s where The Proximity Principle starts to make magic happen.
The Proximity Principle says: In order to do what you want to do, you need to be around people who are doing it and in places where it’s happening. It’s not hard to do—you just have to be willing to seek out people and experiences that put you in close proximity to your dream job.
What does that look like?
Take someone to lunch. I know the introverts reading this are getting queasy right about now—but hold on! It’s just a conversation, like any other you’d have with a friend or colleague.
Ask your friends and family if they know of anyone who has a job that’s similar to the one you want. Mutual friends are the best ways to make connections.
Then, simply reach out to that person and ask them if they’d be up for grabbing a cup of coffee or lunch because you have some questions about their career path. You’d be surprised how many people want to help others step into a career they love.
When you meet with them, ask them questions like:
- How did you get to where you are today?
- What qualifications did you need and what did you learn on the job?
- What do you recommend I do to land a job similar to yours?
- What does winning look like at your company?
- What do you like and dislike about your position?
- Who else should I connect with? Will you connect me with them?
You never know where that relationship could take you—I’ve talked with many people who’ve gotten job leads and interviews after a one-hour lunch!
Entry-level positions: Sometimes, you have to take on a role that’s in close proximity of your dream job, even if it isn’t ideal. This is what people like to refer to as “getting your foot in the door.” But if you knock it out of the park, this role will lead to bigger opportunities.
Job shadowing/internships: Shadowing someone in your field or taking an internship at a company you might be interested in working at might feel “beneath you,” but that’s the wrong attitude to have.
This is not only a learning opportunity, but also a chance to get in close proximity to lots of people in the industry you want to transition to. So, while you’re job shadowing or interning, keep your focus on the relationships you’re building. One day, those relationships might turn into personal recommendations, referrals, or even a dream job offer.
Volunteering: There’s so much value in having an attitude that says, I don’t want anything. I just want to learn. If you have the time and financial ability to do so, volunteering is a great way to gain experience in your field.
When you get around the right people and in the right places, the right timing will happen on its own.
4. Get Started
Making the right connections will be your launching pad to the right stepping-stone opportunity. What I mean by that is: The job you land in this stage might not be your dream job, but it should be a stepping-stone in the right direction.
While you’re in this stage, make sure you upgrade your resume and cover letter so that it actually gets noticed. A recent study found that the average amount of time a recruiter spends on a resume during an initial screen is 7.4 seconds!1 Folks, that’s crazy. But it’s exactly why you have to create a resume that’s going to get a recruiter’s attention.
Now, if you have the entrepreneurial bug, then this is also the time you start the business you’ve been dreaming about as a side hustle. Launch your website, start asking around for clients, and get practice under your belt. These are important baby steps that will help you launch and grow a business without debt and with less risk.
If you need more tips on standing out in the hiring process, check out my Get Hired Digital Course. It's an online video course packed with 11 lessons to give you the tools and strategy you need to get noticed and get closer to your dream job.
5. Get Promoted
This is an exciting stage because you’re seeing the results of winning in your role, which gets you closer and closer to your dream job.
You’re winning because you:
Know your role: This isn’t about your job title. Knowing your role is about having complete clarity around what your leader expects from you. Sit down with your leader and walk through your job description bullet by bullet so you know exactly what success looks like in each area.
Accept your role: It can be challenging to accept the role you’re in today when you have your eyes set on a “better” job. But it’s important to see where you are today as that stepping-stone we talked about earlier. You never know how important this role will be in your next role. Focus on winning in the present and have an attitude of gratitude toward the work in front of you today.
Maximize your role: Maximizing is all about the effort you put into executing your current role. You get noticed by your leaders, your peers and your customers by going above and beyond your role. Help a colleague in another department or step in to help a big project get across the finish line. Don’t wait for an opportunity to go above and beyond—make one.
6. Get Your Dream Job
As you keep rising in rank, you’ll eventually land your dream job—and let me tell you, it’s an incredible feeling to actually get excited about going to work every day. When you get here, you’re officially “living the dream!”
But your work is far from over. Growth shouldn’t stop just because you’ve achieved this accomplishment. You should keep learning, keep developing yourself, and keep growing in your industry by taking on new challenges. Continue looking for ways to increase your knowledge and sharpen your skills—and keep this up until the day you retire.
7. Give Yourself Away
Remember when someone took the time to give you advice, connect you with an opportunity, or share their learnings over lunch? Now would be a great time to do that for someone else by giving your time, talents and resources away! Become a mentor to someone coming up in the ranks behind you and help them land their dream job.
When your work has meaning, it should never really be all about you. Your gifts are given to you with the purpose of helping others. So, how can you keep using your talents and passions to serve as many people as possible? This world will be a much better place once we’re all living and working like no one else.
Folks, I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: Finding your dream job isn’t easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. You have to want it badly and be disciplined enough to get up every day and work toward your goals.
But I know you have what it takes. And when you do reach that place, there’s nothing like the joy that comes from doing the work you were put on this earth to do. Press on!
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.
Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.