Marie Claire: Help! I haven't found my dream job - Michelle Gibbings, Change Meridian

Not having your dream job shouldn’t be a source of stress. It’s your licence to explore your passions and possibilities.

Marie Claire Magazine spoke with Michelle and came up with five tips to help you discover your dream job. You can read the full article here.

It’s a question most of us are asked as soon as we first put on a school uniform. “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Although your five-year-old self might have been convinced you were going to be a doctor/artist/chocolate taster, it’s highly likely that by the time you were ready to enter the workforce your ideas would have changed.

While some people remain unwavering about their career goals (if you still want to be a chocolate taster, who could blame you?!), for many, the dream jobs they imagined as children have evaporated into confusion and uncertainty. Research from the Department of Education states that one in three Australian students drop out of their university course, and according to the Future Leaders Index, just 29 per cent of young people aged 18-29 are sure of their career path.

However, not having your dream job shouldn’t be a source of stress. Uncertainty can lead to positive experiences and actually make your career path more interesting, says Alison Hill, a psychologist at motivation strategy company Pragmatic Thinking.

“Feeling stuck or uncertain about what’s next is hard,” she acknowledges. “But it also allows you the opportunity to explore possibilities you may have not previously considered. Whether it’s making the shift from studying to a work environment, or finding a job that’s a better fit for you, being unsure of what you want to do career-wise means it’s time to dial up your curiosity – not only about what roles might be available, but about what you’re looking for in a workplace culture and environment.

“Jobs are more than just the tasks that you do; identifying the environment you thrive in is just as important.”

Amy James, 37, can attest to the face that spending time in career limbo can bring long-term benefits. “After school I [started] a Bachelor of Education at uni,” she says. “But I didn’t enjoy it at all. I struggled through a year, finishing in the middle to bottom of all my classes, and became so disheartened I just stopped going. I was a bit cagey when people asked why I’d dropped out; I told people I’d deferred but in reality I’d just given up. To earn some money I started working for a legal firm, filing court documents and serving legal notices.

“Then I worked for my dad’s business, which was really getting paid to do not much at all. I was heading towards 30 without any qualifications. So I decided to do something different, and chose to study nursing. I loved it.

“I’m so glad I didn’t do it straight out of school – if I had, I guaranteed I would not be in nursing now. It’s too confronting for a first job. You need some common sense. Nursing is about people first and medical knowledge second. Because I had some life and work experience, I was successful in applying for my student placements and my first nursing job. I’m so happy now. I love my job, I love my patients and I have job satisfaction.”

Amy is proof that not initially finding your dream job can help you learn more about yourself while you’re searching. Through her experiences she learnt that working with people, being surrounded by a good team and feeling like she’s making a difference to people’s lives is what drives her. After discovering this, she was able to choose a job that matched these traits.

“Every experience contributes to our career, even if these experiences primarily help you get [clarity] on what you really don’t like doing,” says Hill. “Taking a winding path to ultimately finding your dream job can be a smart move, not only because of what you learn from the jobs themselves, but also because of the people you meet and connect with along the way. Being open, having a curious mind, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities and backing yourself with new projects can all help you find the path that’s right for you.”

But the discovery of your dream role probably won’t happen overnight – Michelle Gibbings, career expert and founder of change management company Change Meridian, suggests putting pen to paper to ascertain what really matters to you. “Ask yourself what your ideal role might comprise of,” she says. “Things to consider: Where will I be based? Will it be full- or part-time? Will I be a permanent staff member or contractor? What would I like to get paid? Do I need to work flexibly? Do I want to travel with my work? Do I need to love what I do? Would this role add to my CV?

“Put your answers in order of priority. Remember there’s often a trade-off involved. Would you rather work part-time so you have flexibility? Sometimes you might be willing to accept less pay in the short-term because you know the role will look good on your CV, and accelerate your career in the long-term.”

Think about the skills you have and how you can put them to use. The good news? Chances are you’re way more skilled than you realise.

“Give yourself some credit,” says Janine Garner, CEO of networking community LBDGroup. “You probably have lots of transferable skills from part-time jobs, voluntary work or your academic achievements that you can apply to different jobs. Think about your interpersonal skills – do you relate well to others? Are you a team player, are you good at assisting others? What about your organisational skills? Are you good at meeting deadlines, planning projects and time management? Have you ever managed or supervised others, solved problems or delegated tasks? Well, you have leadership skills.”

Once you’ve written down your skills and what’s important for you in a career, hone in on certain rules.

“Imagine you could do any job you liked,” says Gibbings. “Don’t limit your thoughts or ideas. Consider what new skills you would need to land this job, and talk to people to confirm your understanding. Then look at the gap between the skills you have the skills you would need to do this role. For each skill, rate yourself on a scale of one to four, with one being no current skill, two being some skill or knowledge but not proficient, three being competent at the skill, and four being an expert with a high degree of skill.

“Think about what activities and courses you could undertake to close the gap, what activities you would prioritise, and who you need in your network to help you do this. Then create your personal development plan that maps out what you will do and by when.” And the final step? “Put your plan into action.”

Beware the Dream Job Fantasy

The pursuit of the dream job – or even finding out what passion you should be pursuing – can become an obsession and stop people from being happy in the here and now. Is it time for a reality check?

1. Get real about your expectations

NASA’s recent recruitment for 14 positions attracted 18,000 applicants. If your goal is to be an astronaut, yes, you could be one of the lucky few who lands one of these coveted jobs. But be realistic about your chances of getting a job in your chosen field.

2. You have do to the work

All the research, questionnaires and quizzing of people in your dream industry mean nothing without experiencing the work. Your fantasy of being a professional surfer may not be quite as appealing when you’re out in the water in the middle of winter with a head cold.

3. No job is perfect

You may have a dream to start your own business in floristry, but beyond the creative aspect of slower arranging, there are a whole lot of tasks that also need to be fulfilled – from marketing and sales to customer relations, invoicing, accounting and staff retention. Eventually these tasks could be outsourced, but how much are you really prepared to do to get the dream?

4. Maybe your career just isn’t your passion

Perhaps your passion is your family, coaching a school soccer team or travelling. Many career experts say the path to happiness is to find a career doing what you love, but maybe what you need is a job with great flexibility, which lets you pursue your real passion outside the office.