I was recently in a situation where I had to decide whether I was interested in doing work I didn't yet love (it's something I hadn't tried yet) at a company I loved. I solicited advice from pretty much everyone I know, and one of the things I was encouraged to consider was whether taking this job would give me skills that would be helpful in applying for my dream job in the future.
That's a tough question to answer ... since I don't have a dream job.
Software development is career attempt #4(ish) for me, and for most of them, I've either gone in with a dream job or developed one shortly after starting my career. When I was studying physical therapy, it was becoming team physical therapist for the New York Yankees (a difficult task since as far as I know they don't have a team PT ... and I can't work weekends). When I was doing graphic design, my dream job was working as a designer for Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group. As a developer ... I have no idea what my dream job is.
Early in my current job search I made a list of some of the things I was looking for in my next job/company. But even then, I knew I didn't have a dream job. I didn't have a good sense of where I wanted my career. Lately I've been wondering if part of the reason why I'm struggling in my current job search is because I'm not on a specific path and I don't know what I'm working towards.
At first, I wasn't sure why I needed to have a dream job. Isn't it enough to just find jobs that I think I will enjoy? Do I have to be working towards some "dream" job that I may or may not have in the future?
Honestly, I don't think having a dream job is absolutely necessary. Some people are happy to take their career opportunity by opportunity and find that not having a set goal at the end is what works for them. But I've realized that that's just not the right approach for me. The "see what happens" attitude is what I took with my last job, and I think that's why it took me so long to realize why I was unhappy and why I waited so long to ask to be moved to work that was more in line with my interests. I feel that if I have a "dream job" that I am working towards, it will be easier for me to identify when my work is not helping me towards that goal and to speak up on my own behalf to get myself working on something that will move my career in the direction I want it to go.
Now that I understand the benefit (for me) of having a dream job, I feel like I've reached a crossroads in my job search. Do I continue as I am, looking at any job that seems like I might be qualified even if it doesn't feel like working towards a specific path? Or do I take some time to figure out what my dream job is, and only once I know where I'm going should I start finding the right jobs (and networking opportunities) to get me to that dream job?
I think the approach I'm going to take is somewhere in the middle. I need to keep applying to jobs (and/or networking), both for personal reasons and some external factors. As part of my current job search, I'm spending 1.5-2 hours finding and applying for jobs and looking into networking opportunities. While I try to figure out what my dream job is, I'm planning to cut that down to 1 hour per day, and the remaining 0.5-1 hour will be spent on writing up some of my thoughts on what my dream job may be. Hopefully this will help me figure out what dream job I should be working towards and what career moves I need to make to get there.
I'm sure there are people reading this whose first reaction to this is to remind me that not every job needs to be my dream job. Thank you for that, and I understand. I'm not expecting my next job to be my dream job. I don't even think the job after that is likely to be my dream job. I don't think I'm ready for my dream job. But I am ready to be on the path. At my last job, I knew I was settling for something that wasn't ideal for my career goals. I may be relatively new to working in tech, but I've reached the point in my life where I no longer feel comfortable not moving forward in my career, so I don't want to do that again. I want my next job to be something that I know will take me a little closer to my ultimate goal. I don't need to be in my dream job, but I need to be on my way there.
For some people, their dream job is something they've always known. For others, finding that dream job is a process. I'm definitely in the process stage, and I'm excited to see what happens as I figure out my dream job and start myself on the path to eventually getting that job.