Today’s workers have three, clear priorities: Flexible hours, work that leads to personal growth, and the ability to spend a lot of time fostering personal relationships.
These are not the characteristics of jobs that typically attracted the best candidates. Most lawyers have terrible hours, most doctors have little flexibility, and most consultants sacrifice personal time for time on the road.
So, what’s left? What are the dream jobs today? What are the career paths that challenge assumptions of conventional success but achieve the top priorities of today’s workers: Flexibility, personal growth, and fun co-workers.
A big piece of the dream career path is to get out of doing entry-level jobs by taking a career path that allows you to jump. Some people start companies in their dorm rooms so they have good experience on their resume by the time they graduate. Some people freelance after graduation so they can find good work for themselves, prove themselves, and then get a mid-level job when they look for an employer.
Some entry-level jobs are still good, though, because the company offers so much in exchange. These jobs are inflexible and demanding, but they provide a couple of years of high-level, intensive training. Examples include being an analyst for an investment banking firm, going into a structured training program at a company such as Procter & Gamble or
Doing these jobs is almost like going to business school but, instead of paying for it, you get paid. And then you leave.
Today’s dream jobs are different than those of the past, but just as competitive — tough to position yourself for and tough to keep. Take the example of bloggers. Some, like Heather B. Armstrong at dooce, or Darren Rowse at Problogger, do a great job of supporting themselves and their families with their blogs. They have flexible, interesting work, they learn a lot, and work in a community they really connect with. But the percentage of bloggers who can do this is very small.
Working at a venture-capital firm or a hedge fund is also a great way to go. Good hours, fun work, great money. But very few people will be good enough at what they do that these sorts of jobs will be open to them.
If you cannot figure out how to get to the top of a field, figure out how to keep your options open. The worst career track for today’s worker is one in which you’re stuck — where career change would require you to start at the bottom again. Multidisciplinary, knowledge-management paths give you flexibility to move among disciplines and departments. Careers that are brain-intensive but not time-intensive allow you to work on developing your next thing while you’re doing your current thing. These are dream jobs because they allow you to create work around the life you want to lead.
And, of course, don’t forget entrepreneurship. The reason so many young people are starting companies is not because jobs are hard to find; it’s because dream jobs are hard to find. But starting your own company allows you to work with your friends, pick your own hours, and learn on a very steep curve.
So, what does this look like in real life? Take a look at Nataly Kogan’s career. She started out working for a top-tier consulting firm. Then she got a job at a venture capital firm. And today, at age 31, she has founded her own company, Work It, Mom — fittingly, a community for women to figure out the answer to their own dream job after they’ve had kids.
Kogan is a great example of someone with a dream job because the job doesn’t feel steady. She’s at the beginning of a wild ride through entrepreneurship. There used to be a smugness to the partner at the big law firm or the brain surgeon with the de rigueur, stay-at-home wife. The people with dream jobs today don’t know where they’ll be 20 years from now — or even next month.
Even those who may appear to already have their dream job may be scheming to move on to their next one — at a start-up, for example. Google is a big matching service for smart people who have ideas and smart people who want to work on a new idea. A huge number of Google employees are waiting to go to a start-up founded by someone they know inside the company.
We do not have a finite set of respectable jobs anymore. We do not have a single path to the American dream anymore.
What we have is multiple paths that converge on flexible, rewarding work that accommodates a personal life. And we have paths that do not get you to that.
The dream job of the new millennium plays to your strengths. So find them. Because that dream job will not unfold in front of you like a 1950s-era corporate ladder.
You need to go after the dream job every day of your career if you want to get it.