It should come as no surprise that most students don't graduate college and immediately land their dream job. Even if you know exactly which field you want to go into and you’re lucky enough to get your foot in the door soon after having graduated, you’re probably not at the level you’d like to be just yet. For others, it might be less about upward mobility and more about shifting between different industries while searching for the perfect fit. The truth is there’s a lot of grunt work that goes into securing your dream job; you might even have to create the role yourself! So, how do you turn a less-than-average job into one that you’re beyond passionate about? We spoke with a few experts who shared their most memorable lessons on the road to success.
1. Abandon those negative thoughts about your job
If you’ve already convinced yourself that your current job is less than mediocre, there’s probably no saving it. You’ll be unmotivated to do a good job and, worse, uninterested in making the most of your situation. Rather than focus on all the ways your job could be better suited for you, try to think of how you could actually make it work in your favor. If it helps, make a list of all the positive things you are already gaining from it, for example, having access to notable connections, making long-lasting friendships or even something as simple as having a short commute. Ngoc Nguyen, a leadership coach at career-coaching company Ama La Vida, says, “You have to want make the situation better for yourself; it won’t happen on its own. Recognize it for what it is, but turn your focus toward what you could still get out of the experience by allowing yourself to see it as a building block to your ultimate career.”
For many, the first job they land out of college is just a starter job but it is far from insignificant. “Not liking it [at first] is normal, what you do with it makes all the difference,” Nguyen adds. This is where you’ll learn some of the most valuable lessons about what it’s really like to be in the workforce and what the day-to-day happenings of someone who works in your field are like. A positive attitude often translates into a positive experience; if you give it your absolute best, soon you’ll find that you enjoy excelling in your new role and your excellent performance won’t go unnoticed forever. Working your way up the ranks to your dream job is not uncommon; in fact, it’s a rite of passage you won’t want to miss out on. If we’ve learned anything from our new favorite show 'The Bold Type,' it’s that the more you enjoy your job (at any level), the more you get out of the experience.
2. Learn more about the things you don’t like to do and why
Sometimes, a job can seem unappealing simply because you don’t understand it or you aren’t confident enough in your abilities to nail it. We tend to favor the things we are naturally good at because we enjoy the sense of instant gratification it brings; it feels good not to have to work too hard at something and still be praised for a job well done. When things don’t come easy to us, we can have a difficult time mustering up any enthusiasm toward them. Nguyen says, “There will be parts of your job you don’t like but you’ll have to do anyway. Why not commit yourself to learn and understand the task you’re doing instead of focusing on how much you don’t want to do it?” For example, you might think a job in sales isn’t for you because you’ve never been much of a businessperson; but your perception could change once you realize that a sales-oriented job is really more about building relationships than it is about selling products or services.
The more you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, the more you’ll be inclined to appreciate the process. There’s always more to learn about your job and your company even if you’ve already been there for a while. Make an effort to be more inquisitive about why things are done a certain way at your company and how your seemingly small role plays a part in the larger scheme of things.
3. Be nice to your coworkers without expecting anything in return
Nobody likes to work in a hostile environment. Dread your days at the office (or wherever you work) less by fostering genuinely positive relationships with the people around you. Too often, networking advice focuses on how other people can help you now or later on in your career. The truth is it pays to be nice just for the sake of being nice. Like you, your coworkers may be feeling overwhelmed or uninspired and greeting them with a smile or offering to help out with a large project will boost morale all around. You are more likely to enjoy your job if your environment is a welcoming and supportive one; if it isn’t, don’t be afraid to incite some positive change simply by helping others willingly and often.
4. Find a mentor whose career roadmap looks like one you would enjoy
Once you begin growing your professional network, you’ll probably find yourself drawn to those whose jobs you admire. It’s always a good idea to cultivate relationships with people who’ve been where you are now, not solely for professional gain but also for companionship based on your mutual interests. Brianna McGurran, career and education expert at NerdWallet, says, “Identify someone at your company who is really killing it or who has a role you'd like to work toward and invite her out to coffee or lunch. Prepare thoughtful questions in advance about how she got to where she is, and remember to offer your assistance with any projects that she needs help with and that you can learn from.”
McGurran also recommends taking advantage of any formal mentorship programs at your company or within your industry. If one doesn’t exist, that’s the perfect opportunity for you to start one, she says. Maybe you’d like to break into young adult book publishing; a good idea would be to launch your own YA book club. This way, you’ll get to read more of the books you love while networking with other professionals already in the field. You would be surprised how willing more successful professionals are to share their journeys with you.
5. Seek out your niche and find a way to work it into your daily routine
Some people know by the time they’re six years old that when they grow up, they want to be a pediatric surgeon or a college professor or an actress. For them, a clear path is mapped out: a list of steps they should follow to land themselves right where they need to be. But the answers aren’t always that obvious; sometimes, it takes a few rounds of trial and error to really find your place in the working world. A good way to tell where your true interests lie is to look at what you do in your free time or where your mind wanders off to when you’re not swamped with work.
As you continue to develop your passions, Shea Drake, business analyst at Verizon, recommends finding ways to work them into your day-to-day tasks. Maybe you really enjoy travel photography but you currently work as a marketing representative. Look for opportunities to put your eye for photography to good use, like selecting a few amazing shots for an upcoming newsletter you’re working on. According to Drake, not only will this keep you interested at work but it will also let your supervisors and coworkers know of any hidden talents you have that might be beneficial to your company. Karson Humiston, CEO of Vangst Talent Network—a leading staffing agency for the cannabis industry—adds, “Your current position may not be your dream job, but there is no reason you can’t bring your ideas and specialties to senior employees [at the appropriate times].” Who knows? Soon, you might become the go-to person for whatever it is you truly love to do!
Working at a job that you don’t love can be mentally draining, but you shouldn’t be too discouraged. Instead, find ways to make it work for you. Mara Hyman, a recent graduate of USC, says that every job is a stepping-stone toward your dream job. “Even if your first job out of college is dull, or worse, something you dread, there is always something good that can come from it,” she says. Perhaps, you’ll learn a new skill that you can add to your resume or that will help you at a more suitable job later on. Perhaps, you’ll find yourself loving your current job more and more as you learn to appreciate all the lessons and opportunities it has to offer. If you're already a diligent worker, all you need now is a little passion. Don’t give up on your dreams, even if they’re constantly evolving and even if they seem far away.