Finding a job that you love is the goal of many, but few people are taught how to actually achieve it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers average eleven jobs over the course of a lifetime, with this number projected to rise throughout the careers of Millennials and Gen-Zs. That’s at least eleven (if not more) chances to land your dream job if you know how to prepare.
Shifting toward work you love is a multi-step process. For most people, it takes a fair amount of trial and error to learn what kind of culture they want to work in and discover the daily activities that inspire them.
Some of your worst jobs are meant to serve as learning experiences that send you in the opposite direction. That too is part of the process.
But even once you have a clear idea about the kind of work you want to do, landing a job you love is easier said than done.
If you’re in that position today, where you know what you want and are ready to get started, here are three tips to help you attract better opportunities and push for that perfect fit.
1. Start with a job you like
When you hate your boss or desperately need to earn more money, you simply can’t make loving your job the only priority in your search. There is a natural give and take that has to happen when you need to get a new job to alleviate financial or mental hardship.
That doesn’t mean that you should ever ignore the work culture or take a job you don’t want to do, but it does mean that you have to be flexible on certain parameters because ending the pain of your current job and changing jobs quickly are the most important drivers. When these are the main motivations, you may overlook things about a new job that will ultimately leave you unfulfilled.
Don’t try to jump from a job you hate directly into a job you love because you won’t be able to satisfy your competing priorities.
The best time to find a job you love is when you already have a job you like. That’s when you’ll have the patience and confidence needed to push for your highest level of job satisfaction.
Until then, there’s nothing wrong with making modest incremental improvements with each job move. However, make sure you aren’t settling for a job that is just okay when it’s your time to reach for greater fulfillment. Finding a job you love will take time, but don’t give up.
2. Narrow your brand
Even if you’ve built a well-defined career brand already (and most people have not), there’s a good chance that your brand is too broad to actually attract the opportunities you’d love to have.
For example, if you brand yourself as a “collaborative leader,” “innovative problem solver” or “strategic thinker,” you won’t leave a memorable impression on people because almost all professionals claim to possess these kind of positive, but general, attributes.
Work to move past a brand that points out what you are capable of in broad terms and instead focus on who you like to help and what you love to do, as this is much more specific.
That “collaborative leader” may feel called to mentor women or people of color, and that “innovative problem solver” might enjoy addressing differing opinions and failures in communication. The “strategic thinker” may get energized when they work with companies that are underperforming and desperately need to change their trajectory.
By narrowing to a more niche brand, you make it clear to the people in your network what you love doing and when to reach out to you with new opportunities. This will make you more likely to attract a job you love instead of another job you happen to be qualified for.
Ask yourself who you want to help and how you want to help them, and use your answers to further define your brand. Then start positioning yourself as an expert in what will likely be a less crowded field. Start immediately to align the posts you share through social media and the topics you bring up at networking events with the work you love doing.
3. Negotiate your job description
If you’ve followed the first two tips, you will enter discussions about new jobs from a position of power. You aren’t desperate to take anything that comes your way and the company likely sought you out because of your unique expertise.
Use this opportunity to negotiate the terms of your job throughout the process, and not just at the end.
Companies always have a business need to fill, but there is often flexibility on how exactly the need gets met. Sometimes they’ll reshape the role or add additional responsibilities for the right candidate.
During your initial discussions with a recruiter or a hiring manger, stay in listening mode to understand the business problem they are trying to address and any cultural norms you need to keep in mind.
As you move deeper in the process, don’t be afraid to share what parts of the job interest you most and ask for additional career or work-life enhancements (e.g. a higher title or the ability to partially work from home) that would turn their open position into the job you’d love.
Remember, any new opportunity has to be superior to the job you already have or it isn’t worth taking. Resist the urge to take a new job just because you’re flattered by the company’s interest or worry about when the next offer might come your way.
Finding a job you love is not for the faint of heart. You have to stand firm to your priorities and that often means letting a good job pass you by because it isn’t right for you.
Believing in yourself and being patient are perhaps the hardest but most important career skills to learn. One of the main reasons that most people don’t achieve the goal of finding work they love is an inability to trust that with sustained effort, a great job will materialize. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.