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A Guide to Landing Your Dream Job

The road map for career success used to look like this: Go to school; get your dream job in your field; work your way to the top for 30 or more years; retire happily ever after (with a full pension!). Not anymore. These days workers are far from their dream jobs, the average worker stays in a job for an average of 4.4 years. And 90% of millennials, those who belong to the generation entering the workforce today, don’t expect to stay in a given job for more than five years, while 37% said that they only planned to stay at a job for 2 years according to a survey posted by The Guardian. That means today’s career path is a lot different – and a lot harder to figure out. Not only do today’s employees have to choose one career; it’s likely they’ll have to choose several. Here are some tips on how to choose or change jobs.

Find a Path

The hardest part about choosing a career is probably, well, choosing. What is your dream job? Will you need education or training? How much will it cost? How long will it take? There are so many choices that it can be crippling. However, as with most things, the best way to tackle the problem is a little bit at a time. So, rather than diving into law school or quitting your job and diving into a new one, why not try shadowing someone who works in the field you’re interested in or taking a class or two in a subject you think could point to a potential career? The key here is to make little bets with smaller personal and financial impact. These will help you learn more about yourself and guide your overall decision – not to mention leave you with a way out if you take a wrong turn.

For more on how to find the right job for you, check out How To Find The Right Job And Stay Satisfied.

Put in the Work

If there’s any way to guarantee a shot at a top spot in the job market, it’s to put in some hard work. In most cases, this is required at almost every stage along the way, no matter what path you choose. According to journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, who analyzed some of the world’s most successful people in fields ranging from music to marketing, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in just about any field. That means that being really good at what you do won’t be quick and easy. Fortunately, it also means there’s a bit of a barrier to entry for anyone who dares to chase you! Part of landing your dream job can also include having the right education and completing an internship.

Seek Out Referrals

You’ve probably heard the saying that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s not as true as it used to be … at least not the first part. But knowing people in the right places can definitely help you land your dream job. According to the 2014 Annual CareerXroads Source of Hire Report, 19.2% of new openings are filled through referrals. That makes knowing the right people the number one way to get into a job. Third-party agencies (recruiters, headhunters, etc.) accounted for 5.9% of new hires. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time, but if you’re looking to get into a certain kind of job, the best way to start may be by networking with people in that field. If you’re in school, the career development department of your university may be able to connect you with alumni. Otherwise, look for local professional associations, join a group on or just start getting out more. The more people you meet, the more potential career connections you’ll have.

Below is the 2013 hire data from the 2014 Career X Roads Source of Hire Report.

Consider a Recruiter

Sometimes job-seekers get confused about headhunters or recruiters. They think of them as someone who works for them; in reality, the hiring company is the client (and the one who usually pays the fee). What this means is that while you may be able to find an executive agency to open some doors to new opportunities, the odds of landing a job with the help of a third party is much harder than if you can get to know some contacts/acquaintances who may be able to open a door for you.

That doesn’t mean hiring a recruiter is a lost cause though. After all, the recruiter is a career connection too. Just remember that it will still be on you to make the calls, do the follow-up and prepare for the interviews. Keep at it and don’t get frustrated — your chances of landing a job increase proportionately with the effort you put into your search! Although third party connections like recruiters account for a small amount of job placements overall, they can still be a good option for job seekers looking for their dream jobs.

For a list of the top staffing agencies, click here.

Get Connected

If you’re sticking to the standard, old paper resume, your application may be headed straight to the shredder. According to the CareerXroads Source of Hire Report, more than 54% of companies used social media as a way of finding potential candidates. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit a formal resume, but if everyone else in the pile has an impressive LinkedIn profile, do you really want to be the only one without one? No matter what field you’re looking to get into, being tech savvy matters, so look for ways to show your employer that you’ve got what it takes, whether that means creating a presence on social media or building an iPhone app. Be careful to keep your personal life off the Web, though. Unless you’re spending your time building orphanages in Africa, it may do more harm than good.

The Best Job Boards for Job Seekers

Below are the job boards with the most job postings. Recent college graduates may also want to check their college’s career page.

Nail the Interview

The biggest thing we hear about successful interviews usually starts with the dress code. It stops there far too often. In most cases, what you wear matters, but what matters even more is whether you make an impression – and a good one. The key to doing this is to do your best to understand what the company is looking for before the interview, then use the questions you answer (and ask) to help convey that you are able to meet the company’s needs. Before the interview, it is also critical that you research the company and its operations. It’s a good idea to interview at companies where you feel you’d be a good fit, but after that, it’s all about marketing. Do you think anyone would ever have thought of owning a Chia Pet before advertising made them irresistible? All jobs are essentially sales jobs in the sense that in order to get them, you have to be able to sell yourself.

Keep Growing

With more generations now working side by side at the office, it’s become common for older employees to experience a sometimes uncomfortable reality: answering to a younger boss. Plus, now that the career trajectory has become a lot less direct, it’s also a lot more competitive. Either you stay on top, or someone younger and more energetic will be hired to tell you what to do. The best way to stay fresh is to continue to upgrade your career skills, pursue professional development opportunities and generally stay ahead of the curve. New technologies and trends are not the domain of younger people; they belong to those who’ve spent time working with them.

Additional Resources on Finding Your Dream Job

The Bottom Line

The days of long-term job security and defined-benefit pensions may already be long gone. That makes it much harder to get comfortable in a job. That isn’t an easy reality to swallow, but if you’re willing to roll with a different kind of challenge, it can pay off – both professionally and personally. And as for retirement, well, at least the best jobs have a solid 401(k) plan. Having a successful retirement plan involves dividend-paying stocks; check out these High-Yield Dividend Stocks to see if they’re right for your retirement portfolio.