Linda Lee found her dream job — it’s her current role as a product manager for Vestwell, a 401(k) software company. “There’s no concept of ‘Sunday scaries’ for me. It’s just fun all around,” she said. “That’s a signal to me that it’s a dream job.”
It’s her dream job for a few reasons. Product management provides the satisfying experience of creating a vision and bringing it to life. The role combines her interests in technology, business and design. She works on a team that’s competent, collaborative and kind. She learns something new everyday and is challenged in different areas of the business.
Plus, she is able to work remotely — and cook a decent lunch or fold laundry on a break, she said.
Common Characteristics of a Dream Job:
- Alignment with skills and interests
- Supportive environment
- Collaborative team
- Financial security
- Growth and learning opportunities
- Work-life balance
“I’ve never felt healthier and happier,” Lee said. “Since the pandemic, work-life balance has become super high on my list as a priority.”
Many workers have found themselves prioritizing different job attributes since the Covid-19 pandemic — millions of them participating in the Great Resignation to find new opportunities that offer a better work experience, or even their dream jobs. For workers like Lee, the Great Resignation has redefined the idea of the dream job, and in today’s world, finding a role with attributes like remote work flexibility and less demanding hours can be enough to qualify it as a dream job.
Are you looking for your dream job? We’ve compiled some advice from tech workers, career experts and professors about how to rethink the concept of the dream job and set yourself up to have a dream career.
What Is a Dream Job?
The dream job is conventionally viewed as a role that allows someone to make money exercising their skills or passions in a meaningful way. But truth be told, a dream job will look completely different from person to person.
“Your dream job doesn’t even have to be a full-time job. That could be your dream job that you don’t actually have an employer,” said Ira Wolfe, speaker, author and president of Success Performance Solutions, a pre-employment and leadership testing company. “You’re freelancing, or you’re working for one company, and you’ve got a couple of gigs on the side. It could be a hobby.”
The Great Resignation has put greater emphasis on another common value of a dream job — work-life balance that enables a desirable lifestyle.
“It always has to be a balance of home versus your salary, or what you think you can make out of it someday,” said Chadwick Blythe, CEO and founder of PlantechHub. “To me, it’s much more important to just love doing it and just be very happy doing it. To me, that’s kind of priceless.”
“Your dream job doesn’t even have to be a full-time job. That could be your dream job that you don’t actually have an employer,” said Wolfe.
Blythe has had two iterations of his dream career. When he graduated from college, he had no idea what he wanted to do, but his first job at a startup ended up being a dream role for him.
“It was my dream job. The first day of my interview they cleaned fish in the kitchen that they caught earlier that day, and they were all about just wearing shorts and T-shirts,” Blythe said. “I was like, ‘I love tech companies. This is awesome.’”
That goes to show the work environment can make a job a dream as much as the work itself does. After spending more than 15 years working at startups, in 2017, Blythe pursued his dream of building his own startup.
“It was always my dream to start a planning software where I focused on giving advisors the ability to share it with different types of clients and to broaden the range of people that they offered financial services to,” Blythe said.
Even though founding a startup sometimes comes with extra or unconventional working hours, Blythe said being his own boss has reduced his stress by not worrying about answering to a manager. Reflecting on his first dream job, Blythe said he enjoyed the ability to travel and meet with people, and in his own venture, he seeks to replicate the same positive experiences he had in that job.
“I was in sales — even though that’s not what I wanted to do, it just happened to be the perfect job for my personality,” he said. “I hope that by creating my own software, I could recreate that a little bit.”
How Has the Idea of the Dream Job Changed Over Time?
Getting to the CEO level or finding a role with status in your desired field used to be the signal that you’d found your dream job.
“Looking back, it was always about the job title,” Wolfe said. “You get identified for the job title, and you stuck with that for decades.”
Historically, employees also focused on finding their dream company and being loyal to it for a large part of their careers.
“When I grew up, the 30-year, one-company career was still it. The company kind of controlled your career,” said Richard Dool, professor of communication and information at Rutgers University. “It’s completely on its head now. Now the employee controls his or her career. They’re the stewards, the makers of their career.”
In August 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the results of a longitudinal study of individuals born between 1957 and1964, showing that they held an average of 12.4 jobs from ages 18 to 54. It’s expected that younger generations today will have an even higher average of jobs throughout their careers — one Australian study predicted that the average 15 year old in 2017 would have 17 jobs across five careers throughout their lives.
“They’re gonna jump around. As long as they’re getting value, they’ll stick around. As long as they’re learning something, they’ll stick around. As soon as they get to ‘I think I could do more,’ they’re going to move on,” Dool said.
Today, the dream job often offers a favorable combination of a few factors — the actual work you’re doing, the environment you’re working in and the lifestyle you have outside of work.
“I really believe over the last few years that the idea of a dream job has changed. At one point in time that dream job was where you had all of your needs met, but I think now that people are striving more for the actual wants now,” said Alicia Perkins, founder of Prepared Careers.
It’s OK to Change Your Mind About Your Dream Job
Wolfe didn’t start out his career with the dream to become an HR thought leader. When he opened his own dentistry practice, that should have been it, following all of the necessary steps and years of schooling needed to become a dentist.
“That was supposed to be my career, my dream job,” said Wolfe, who left the field of dentistry 26 years ago. “I’m not sure it ever was. I think it was sort of framed that way.”
Pursuing a title — dentist, teacher, engineer — doesn’t have to be the way to achieve your dream job, Wolfe said. The dream job should provide meaningful work and an environment where you can thrive.
“I think we need to change the concept. It’s not the job. It’s not the job title, and it’s not what I’m doing today,” Wolfe said. “It’s the work. What am I accomplishing? How am I getting it done? Where am I getting it done? And knowing that tomorrow can be different than what today was.”
“I think we need to change the concept. It’s not the job. It’s not the job title, and it’s not what I’m doing today ... It’s the work. What am I accomplishing? How am I getting it done? Where am I getting it done? And knowing that tomorrow can be different than what today was.”
Being a product manager wasn’t what Lee set her sights on when she was in college. In fact she didn’t even know that type of role existed until she joined a startup, Ellevest, an investment platform for women. And before that, she was an associate at Goldman Sachs in its private wealth management division.
“When I was in college, I studied international business and finance, and my idea of what a dream job was at that time was the job that paid the most,” Lee said.
When Jasmin Gonzalez graduated from college, her ideal job was to be a teacher. She became an elementary school ESL specialist. She has now transitioned into the tech industry, currently serving as the executive director of Techqueria, a community for Latinx professionals in tech.
“I was doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do, and it worked for me at that moment,” she said. “Now, I’m in a role where I would say for the time being I feel like this is perfect for me in the sense that it’s really giving me the challenges career-wise, but then also, I’m working in something that I truly believe in, and I’m able to make connections with folks that I can see those connections supporting me in the future.”
Common Characteristics of the Dream Job
Reflecting on what she often hears from members of Techqueria about their dream jobs, Gonzalez said one of the most important characteristics of a dream job is stability.
“When they’re first coming into tech, their dream job is really just something that will financially make them feel stable,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of folks, in general, in many of these marginalized communities are noticing that the salaries that are available in tech are something that they could have only dreamed.”
Job seekers are also highly prioritizing working from home, being in a less stressful environment, working with a good boss and having opportunities to gain new skills and grow their careers. Gonzalez said the dream job might also offer flexibility to travel or the ability to work wherever you want.
“I think that dream job is something now where you have that flexibility and that freedom to explore your life,” Gonzalez said. “It really is that work-life balance — that’s what I’m noticing a lot of members are now asking for, or financial security, so they’re looking into stock options, equity. Retirement has been a frequent topic now.”
Employees also want to work somewhere where they feel valued and heard — especially Gen Z workers, Dool of Rutgers University said. According to a study by Dool, only 27 percent of the 525 employees surveyed felt that their supervisors asked for their input, listened and took action. The other 73 percent of employees felt their supervisors were just asking for input for optics or didn’t care at all. Those statistics correlate closely with job satisfaction and engagement — employees who feel heard are more engaged, he said.
“We call them the purpose generation. They want to matter. They want to know that someone’s paying attention,” Dool said. “They want to know that they have some input. They have some say. They’re going to be respected. They have some control over their work.”
Gen Zs are especially passionate about pursuing meaningful work, but that’s a common characteristic of a dream job across generations.
“They want to feel like they’re making a difference. They want challenging work. They want to make sure they’re getting some value out of this — they’re being pushed, developing skills or competencies or gaining experiences. They definitely want that,” Dool said.
While the dream job for some is working for themselves, those who want to work at a company often strive for value alignment in their dream job.
“I’m a big believer in looking at the values of a company that you want to work for, and actually one step before that is looking at your values and what’s important to you in a role or career company,” said Raquel Binder, manager of coaching and development at Jobber, a business management platform for small home service businesses.
Dream Job vs. Dream Career: A New Way of Thinking
So what happens once you finally get that coveted dream job you’ve been chasing? What next? Do you stay in that dream job forever?
“In general, think about your dream job in less of a forever mindset but chunking it and understanding that that may change,” Gonzalez said.
Another way to avoid feeling stuck is to reframe the idea of the dream job to the dream career.
“I don’t consider it a dream job. I consider it a dream career,” said Barry Mulholland, assistant professor and financial planning director at the University of Akron. “I think a dream career allows you to have space to grow. As you develop skills and knowledge and expertise, by having it be a career, that opens the door to go other places within the industry or within the profession without it being just this one job.”
“It’s absolutely essential that you start with yourself ... It’s not a weekend deal. This is something you’re going to probably work on for a while.”
Mulholland himself dabbled in a variety of careers before settling on teaching.
“I’ve tried engineering. I’ve tried sales. I’ve tried management. I’ve learned an incredible amount of skills and information, and ultimately, I came to teaching because that’s where I’m happiest and that’s where my skill set [is],” Mulholland said. “All of that knowledge, all of that experience that I’ve gained, absolutely informs and makes my job even better and more enjoyable. So to go experiment is not a terrible thing.”
Figuring out your dream career is all about identifying your skills, talents and passions. Ask people in your life about what you’re good at to help you find your direction, Mulholland said. Plus some introspection is necessary, too.
“It’s absolutely essential that you start with yourself,” Mulholland said. “It’s not a weekend deal. This is something you’re going to probably work on for a while.”
Jobber has brought its coaching, learning and development teams together to help employees explore different career paths at the company. The company has rebranded the idea of the “corporate ladder” to the “corporate jungle gym,” recognizing that not everyone wants to pursue leadership, so Jobber encourages employees to move around and explore different careers at the company.
“Over the past couple of years, people have really spent time reexamining so many aspects of their life and different career paths, what they value from employers, flexibility that comes with remote work life,” Binder said. “So even within a role, how can you expand it, grow from it, contribute back to the company and really develop within that realm?”
Is the Dream Job a Reality?
Whether you think in terms of a dream job or a dream career, the concept of pursuing meaningful work has certainly evolved in recent years, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how people think about work.
“I think dream jobs still do exist … the dream is so much more vast,” Binder said. “We can really experiment and try things out and see if that’s your dream or how to make your dreams a reality… through experimenting and exploring different roles and different skills.”
For Jeppe Dorff, chief product and technology officer at Clickatell, a global mobile messaging API for mobile engagement and payments, the dream job is about leveraging generalist skills to bring an idea to life. That’s why growing a career in product development has been a great fit for him.
“If you design a career and a job that makes you happy, all those other nascent things, money, titles, whatever the case might be, that will come automatically because you will be thriving,” Dorff said. “You will be happy with who you are and what you do. That will automatically make you excel and make you invaluable in whatever it is you choose to do.”
If you’re lucky, you might have more than one dream job in your life. It’s also possible your dreams might change.
“I think it’s important to not have one idea of what their dream job is. As you grow, as you mature, as your life changes, that changes,” Perkins said “I think it’s really important to just be very flexible as far as that certain job.”
Even though Lee is in her dream job right now, she is excited to see how her dream career plays out.
“I think that knowing what you want and what you deserve and making sure that you get that from your employer is key,” Lee said. “I’m curious to know how my perception or what my ideal for a dream job is going to change. I wonder a decade from now how I’ll be talking about this.”