Is Your Dream Job Actually Right For You? Test It Out

 Many of us carry around a notion of our “dream job” - the ideal set of conditions, tasks, compensation, and people that would make us engaged, fulfilled, and brimming with meaning.

73% of Americans believe that having a dream job is possible, according to a survey of over 2500 people, and 47% of them said that they already had their dream job.

But before pouring time, money, and energy into pursuing the wrong “dream job” - or stewing incessantly over not having it yet - we need to know whether our dream job is actually the right fit for us. It may simply be a dream from our childhood self that we’ve outgrown or a borrowed dream from someone else, a common situation psychologists call identity foreclosure.

How do we determine the difference between outdated or hand-me-down dreams and a dream well worth pursuing? Boots-on-the-ground exploration.

That is, we need to actually test out our idea rather than just think our way into it, which process design thinkers call prototyping. Here are four low-cost ways to put your dream to the test.

Informational Interview

The most efficient way to test out a dream job is to talk to people.

Instead of thinking of informational interviewing as “networking” in the sense of trying to get a new job, approach it in its originally-conceived purpose: for actual information. Too few people do.

There’s simply no better way to get a read on the day-to-day tasks, lived experiences, and downfalls of a particular role than to talk to someone who’s in the midst of it. Why interviewees personally like or dislike elements of the roles is much less important than what those elements are. Your goal is to gain a set of rich, detailed information about the role - on the ground, at this moment in time - that you could never get from a Google search.

Importantly, aim to look for convergent information from multiple sources - including from people who have chosen to leave your dream job. Why did they get out? What did they do to try to make the situation work? Are their pain points ones that would matter to you or not?

Resist the urge to discount their red flags out of hand, which we tend to do in our eagerness to focus on the gloss of a dream. You may well be saying the same thing in five years’ time if you don’t measure their concerns up against your own non-negotiables.


True, we probably can’t volunteer for our exact dream job. That fact shouldn’t stop us from figuring out volunteerism could enable us to test the dream job, though:

  1. Start by determining the component skills used in your dream job. Done correctly, the informational interviews should reveal this in spades.
  2. Next, think through which of these skills you’ve actually used repeatedly and liked, which you’ve used repeatedly and disliked, and which you’ve never used.
  3. Finally, focus your volunteerism on actively practicing the “new to you” skills and giving the “I don’t like these” skills a second chance. It might take multiple volunteer gigs to dig into these different skill sets, of course, not all of which need to be tested simultaneously.

You can also use volunteerism as a way of testing out environments. For example, if your “dream” is in a hospital and you’ve never been there as anything but a patient, it’s time to give that location an extended swing.

At this point, many of my coaching clients protest, “But I don’t have the time to volunteer.” Or, “That sounds like a lot of work.”

Those are interesting protests given everything these same clients are willing to pour into pursuing an under-tested dream job, such as tens of thousands of dollars and hours of effort into a graduate program, or uprooting their lives to move for a job. Volunteering seems like a pretty good deal in comparison.

Volunteerism has saved countless clients loads of time, money, energy, and - importantly - regret.

Besides, if the test comes out positive, the volunteer efforts showcase transferable skills that are invaluable for job applications, interviews, and/or grad school applications. Win-win.

Online classes

Another inexpensive way to test a dream job is through online learning.

The learning doesn’t need to be toward a certificate or credential - its purpose is literally to get your hands “dirty” and check that you like the topic at hand.

I once had a middle-aged coaching client who lamented, repeatedly, that he wished he’d become a clinical psychologist instead of heading into tech. One day as he was in the midst of interviewing for a new tech role, he suddenly said he was thinking of “going for the dream job” and applying to grad school in psych.

“Which psych courses did you take in college?” I asked.

“None,” he said.

“Have you taken any since then?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

I then asked whether he might consider taking a free psych course, such as through EdX, before applying to grad school, to at the very least check that he found the subject matter genuinely appealing. He looked a bit put upon but agreed that that made sense.

Four weeks into his online course he said, “Oh, wow. I don’t like psych at all! It’s far too focused on research for my liking.”

Well, good to know.

This might seem like an obvious case, but I see echoes of it all the time. We tend to get so blinded by the hopes and fantasy encompassed in our dream job that we forget to make sure we actually like the topic at the heart of the job. Or we’re afraid of what we’ll do if we don’t like it after all. The reality is that either answer is an answer - and better to get that answer sooner (and with less investment!) rather than later.

Stepping Back & Thinking It Through

Once you’ve done some on-the-ground testing, the final step is to take the themes from these experiences and compare them to what you know of your own values, personality, preferred skills, and desired impact, as I discuss in this article.

Based on this analysis, you can determine the extent to which your “dream job” is truly a dream for the current you - or rather a fantasy better left to someone else, freeing you up to determine your true dream job.

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