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How you can find your dream job

October 14, 1998
Web posted at: 12:00 PM EDT

by Margaret Steen


Question: How can I find my dream job in this new economy?

(IDG) -- The widely publicized shortage of skilled IT workers has had one unfortunate side effect. The process of looking for a job, which even under the best of circumstances can involve facing rejection over and over again, has become even more demoralizing for those who don't find work quickly.

People respond to their job-hunting frustrations in varied ways. Some of my e-mail correspondents question whether there really is a labor shortage; others, like a man I met recently at a job fair, seem resigned to being rejected: When he was told by someone at a booth that the company didn't have any openings for mainframe specialists, he said, "Well, I didn't think so," and walked away, downcast.

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Still others risk contributing to their own discouragement by setting their sights too high. One reader echoed a common sentiment -- and made the valid point that media coverage of the labor shortage has contributed to his impression -- when he wrote to me asking for advice on finding "a position in a large company doing cutting-edge Internet application development work."

"I keep reading articles on the war for talent and how companies are stressing recruiting this year," the reader wrote. "How do I find my dream job in this new economy?"

This reader may be being unrealistic: He will soon graduate from college having completed an IS major, a business minor, and two internships, neither of which involved Internet application development. But he has cleared the first big hurdle in career planning -- he knows what his dream job is.

"Most people I talk to can't effectively answer the question, 'Describe the ideal career opportunity for you,' " says Rick Krostag, a director at staffing company Pencom Systems, in Santa Monica, Calif.

To answer this question, take into consideration not only the work you would do in the job but also the kind of life you'd like to lead. How much travel do you want? How many hours per week are you willing to work? How important is it to you to get training to advance your skills?

Once you know your goal, consider what it will take to get there. It's good to know what you want to do in your next job and also have some idea of where you'd like to be in 10 years, so you can make sure your current jobs are leading you there. But don't be too specific, either about the job you want or what it will take to get there. The work you'll do in 10 years may not have been invented yet.

"A dream career may encompass multiple jobs over time, maybe within the same company and maybe not," says David Dell, research director at the Kingwood, Texas-based Concours Group.

Talk to people whose job you'd like in a few years (probably without putting the matter quite so bluntly). Find out how they got started and the paths they took to get where they are. Look at the want ads for jobs similar to the one you would like, and list the skills and experience they seek. Then focus your immediate efforts on getting jobs that will give you those skills and experience. (For more on various methods of career planning, see Plans are key to success and Bob Lewis' IS Survival Guide. For links to other Web sites that can help you with your planning, see the Careers Web Hotlist and the Careers HotSite.)

Whether your dream job is one step up from your current one or several years away, recognize that finding a job still requires work. Yes, it's true that some people -- particularly technical specialists with experience in the latest technologies -- receive unsolicited job opportunities every week. Some people win the lottery, too, but this isn't any reason to stop working just because you bought a ticket.

"The labor shortage doesn't imply that it's easy to get a job," says Paul Lemberg, a management consultant and principal at Lemberg & Co., in San Diego. "At one point there was a shortage of doctors in this country. That didn't make it easy to get a job as a doctor. You still had to go to medical school."

Finally, don't give up hope -- and stay flexible. Despite people like me saying that cutting-edge Internet development work isn't realistic for someone right out of college, it could happen. So go ahead and apply for your dream job, but be open to other opportunities as well. And if you find that the job you want is out of reach for now, take it one step at a time.

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