by Jill Gleeson
There are a million pithy proverbs and passionate precepts about the importance of choosing a career that makes you happy. Everyone from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (“The only way to do great work is to love what you do”) to legendary blues singer Ella Fitzgerald (“Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong”) has extolled the virtues of living the dream by doing what you dig. But perhaps no adage describes it better than, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
While the adage may a bit of an exaggeration – after all, work is called work because it isn’t play – there is no doubt that finding your dream job and flourishing in it makes for a more blissful work, and life, experience. But how do you do it? What are the keys to making your dream job a reality? With thousands of high-school and college students getting set to matriculate throughout the capital-city region this month and next, we tapped everyone, from career counselors to those lucky enough to be making moola at their passion, for advice.
To Thine Own Self Be TrueBefore you can snag your dream job, you have to know what it is. Don’t be afraid to do a little belly-button gazing to figure out who you are and what your interests are.
What, for example, are the skills and abilities you already have? What are your values, and how do you like to work?
“My dad was an attorney, and I always was fascinated by it, so I was kind of lucky in that regard,” notes Adam Klein, an attorney with Harrisburg firm Smigel, Anderson and Sacks. “But if you don’t know what you want to do, I’d recommend taking a wide array of classes and dabbling a little to see what you think you’d enjoy.”
Once you’ve begun to zero-in on a career, start to explore it.
“Research industries that relate to your skills and interests,” recommends Alexandra Levit, national workplace expert and author of How’d You Score THAT Gig? “Hit the Internet, set up informational interviews, take relevant coursework and arrange to go on site at a company in your chosen field.”
The Early Bird Gets The WormWe’d all like to believe it’s never too late to start pursuing your dream job, but the reality is it’s never too early. With youth comes not only energy and vigor, says Levit, but also freedom.
“The process of self-discovery is much easier when you’re unencumbered by family responsibilities and substantial financial burdens,” she explains, “and when you haven’t yet reached a level in a career where it’s tougher to turn back.”
Erin Cruise seconds that advice. A life-long singer, she had a record crack Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1992 and still croons as band leader and founder of Harrisburg’s Cruise Control Music.
“If you really want to make it big, you’ve got to live it, breathe it, eat it and sleep it,” Cruise says. “Anything in the arts especially takes a great deal of effort. The younger you are and the more you go for it at that age, the more opportunity you’re going to have to actually make it as big as you want to make it. So go for it young, and don’t think you have all kinds of time for it to fall in your lap, because that’s not reality.”
It is Who You KnowIntroverts, chances are you’re going to have to bite the bullet and get out there. In today’s linked-in and hooked-up world, networking, says Dickinson College Career Center Associate Director Debi Swarner, “has become the way most people find jobs.”
College students should hit up the career center – ideally, before senior year – and reach out to faculty and alumni. Joining a professional organization could also be useful according to Swarner, who adds, “For some folks, it’s through an internship that they’re able to network and make connections. And make sure you’re following up with the contacts that you’ve made. That’s a huge part of reaching your goal and achieving success in job-searching.”
Judy Redlawsk, who has spent decades winging all over the world as a pilot with Camp Hill’s multi-billion-dollar Harsco Corporation, began washing airplanes at her local airport at 14.
Now Harsco’s Director of Aviation Services, Redlawsk recalls, “From that time on, I was constantly making contacts, constantly immersing myself in the industry that I wanted to be part of. It gave me opportunity to rub shoulders with pilots. …I think it’s very important to build relationships. Try hard to surround yourself with people you would like to emulate.”
And What You KnowAll the connections in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference if you don’t have the expertise to succeed in your field. Passion isn’t enough; nowadays, competition for dream jobs – for nearly any job – is fierce. Even raw talent isn’t enough, according to Riley Barber, who’s made his fantasy a reality as a professional hockey player with the Hershey Bears.
When asked what got him where he wanted to go, he replies, “Definitely hard work and honing my skills. You’ve got to get better every day. You don’t want to take it for granted.”
But how do you get good at the gig before you get the gig?
Karl Martz, career services manager at Penn State Harrisburg, has a few ideas. “I’ve met students who are incredible mechanics – they grew up on a farm where they did everything,” he details. “They didn’t have a formal education in it, they learned from watching others and tinkering. So, observing others, finding part-time opportunities, internships, volunteering…those kinds of things give you exposure to the field and allow you to start as early as possible, developing the skill sets that are critical for what it is that you want to do.”
Put Your Best Foot ForwardFrom your social-media presence to the documents you use in your job search, always have everything up-to-date and looking good. You should have a framework for résumés, cover and acceptance letters and the always-crucial, after-interview, thank-you note (don’t forget to send them to contacts who helped you along the way, too).
“I think for people who are looking for work, want to network and even for things like informational interviews, you really need to have a presence on LinkedIn,” adds Martz. “It has a lot of resources within the software to help guide you through and give you hints about what’s an ideal profile. I love LinkedIn.”
While you’re polishing up your job-search tools, don’t forget to look your spiffiest – and not just for interviews.
“You need to look your best all the time, because you never know who you’re going to meet,” aviation-industry professional Redlawsk emphasizes. “You might meet the chief of pilots when you’re getting grass seed at Walmart, so going out looking like king of the bears is probably not acceptable, especially when you’re young. You don’t know who you’re going to meet or what opportunities might be there.”
Just Do ItSay you’ve done everything recommended in this article, and more. After some serious self-reflection and a bit of dabbling here and there, you’ve discovered your dream job. You’ve made great connections through networking and learned everything you can about your chosen field. You’ve got the skills, the killer résumé and social-media profiles and a drop-dead gorgeous suit to boot. All that’s left is going for it.
As Ricole Jayman, HACC coordinator of career services, stresses, “Set goals, and do not let anything or anyone get in the way. Life may throw curveballs during your journey, but do not give up. Keep pursuing your dreams and goals!”
Once you set your eyes on the prize, you’re probably going to have to develop a thick skin to combat rejection. After all, there are going to be a lot of people vying for that dream job. You’ll need to stay focused and strong.
“You have to be tough, you have to be persistent,” says Cruise. “If you really believe in yourself, that’s what you’re selling. And every time you get rejected, just use that as an opportunity to change direction a little bit and try somewhere else. But don’t stop trying.”
Sure, throwing everything you’ve got at a dream job can be terrifying. We risk having our heart broken if we don’t succeed – that’s why people fear failure. But as we know from rough-riding, Amazon-exploring President Teddy Roosevelt, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” And the reward for those who do succeed is a life spent doing what they love.
“My dad played professional hockey,” says Barber, “and it’s always been a dream of mine to play. This was the best thing that could happen. You come to the rink every day, and that’s all you have to worry about, and that’s all you have to do. It’s something really special.”