5 Strategies to Land Your Dream Job (Even If You Don’t Feel Qualified)
You’ve tried everything you can think of to make your job more appealing.
You spearheaded a new project, negotiated a flexible work schedule, and pinned inspirational posters around your desk.
But everyday you still ache to be doing something else, and you just can’t ignore it any longer.
The problem is you feel powerless to pursue what you really want in a world that reduces your experience to a handful of keywords.
It’s the classic Catch-22: you think you can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without a new job.
Except that’s not exactly true.
I’ve worked with hundreds of career changers over the last five years, helping them quickly and easily land their dream jobs — without a lot of experience and without going back to school.
Before you resign yourself to merely living for the weekends, try these 5 strategies for getting your foot in the door with a job you’ll love.
1. The Inside Job
Works Best For: People looking to make bigger career changes, but who also excel at their given work
How To Do It: Believe it or not, one of the best places to find opportunities to do what you love is right where you are. My client Patrick, for example, worked as a program officer for Aboriginal Tribes for the Canadian Government. He liked his job, but he wasn’t fulfilled by the work any more.
He decided he not only wanted a new challenge for himself, he wanted to help others grow and challenge themselves as well. When he started applying for jobs in leadership and development training, his passion and book knowledge were enough to get him several interviews, but he was consistently the number two candidate due to his lack of experience.
So we looked for ways Patrick could get that experience inside his existing job. He volunteered to facilitate meetings and led a weekly get together for others interested in learning and applying new leadership principles. His management was impressed. When a formal position opened inside the organization to do leadership and development full-time, Patrick was the natural choice.
Even if you can’t work your new vocation into your existing job, you can start spending time with the people who do the work you are interested in. Another client, Jay, worked in software development. Although he was good at it, he ultimately realized he was more of a people person and wanted to explore marketing as an alternate career.
He started hanging out in the marketing department at his tech company and found that his insights into the product made him really valuable, even though he didn’t have direct marketing experience. After offering assistance for several weeks, management approached him about making the switch.
Why This Works: When looking for new jobs, most people focus on whether or not they have task experience. But don’t underestimate the value of your knowledge about the organization itself. Someone who is intimately familiar with the company, its culture, its goals and its products has an instant perspective that a new hire with lots of task experience can’t provide. If management already knows you’re a reliable and hard worker, it might be easier than you think to convince them to let you do something new.
2. Split the Difference
Works Best For: People who currently earn comfortable salaries, but want to move into something traditionally less profitable. Or those who want to start a business, but need a transition plan to support them until they can go full time.
How To Do It: If you like your current job well enough, you might consider just cutting back your hours to make room for a second career. In her book One Person, Multiple Careers, Marci Alboher calls these slash careers, which allow you to pay the rent while also pursuing your passions and interests. For example, one of my clients, who worked as a data analyst, really wanted a job that got her outside and allowed her to be more light-hearted at work.
We explored a number of options and she finally settled on a job as a wine educator. Although she didn’t have direct experience in the role, she had learned a lot about wine on her own. She started frequenting a local winery, chatting up the guy pouring the glasses and delighting the other guests with her insights. The winery quickly offered her a job, but the salary wasn’t enough to justify a full-time switch. So she split the difference, enjoying 2 days a week at the winery while moving to part-time at her analyst job.
Why This Works: Replacing an employee is expensive, but replacing a good employee is extremely painful. Many employers are willing to entertain cutting back your hours rather than losing you all together. For the new company, particularly if the salary isn’t very high, it may be a real boon to attract such a high level employee, without worrying about how they will make ends meet.
3. Let Your Passion Do the Talking
Works Best For: Your dream job is a long standing hobby or interest that you already know a lot about
How To Do It: It’s difficult to impart your passion on your resume. But the fact is, the best jobs usually aren’t hired off job boards or cold resume submissions anyway. Which is why it’s so important to talk about the stuff you’re passionate about with anyone who will listen. You never know when those discussions can connect you with your dream job.
Although Dezzie had always been near the top of her class in school, a medical condition forced her to take a position as an IT Help Desk person, even though she was capable of much more. By the time she was ready to take on a more challenging job, she was convinced her lack of experience made her unsuitable for her real aspiration of computer programming.
At the suggestion of a former college professor, she attended a programming lecture and after the talk, asked a number of questions that revealed her passion as well as her critical thinking skills. She was invited to interview for a job the next week.
Afraid of rejection, she nearly turned down the interview due to her own evaluation of her experience. To her surprise, she not only got the job, but they gave her a $10,000 signing bonus and agreed to let her work from home several days a week, eliminating her painful commute.
Why This Works: There are few things as valuable to a employer as someone who lives and breathes their work. Someone who never has to be prodded, but brings both original ideas and self-initiative with them everyday. The truth is, people like this are few and far between in the workplace, because so many feel they have to settle for whatever they can get.
4. Look For the Overlap
Works Best For: Those looking to do similar work in a different industry or dedicated learners who can leverage other strong skills/talents
How To Do It: Many people tend to think of career change as a dramatic shift in professions, but sometimes a simple industry change can provide enough of a refresh. For example, Ingrid spent a decade doing marketing for tobacco and alcohol firms. She was good at her work, but longed to more fully express her feminine side. She applied for marketing positions in fashion and ultimately got hired.
Simply changing industries isn’t always as easy as it might appear. As Ingrid told me, “It was tough to get my foot in the door, but I never lost faith. They finally chose me, not for my experience, but for my vision, enthusiasm, honesty, and drive.”
It’s also worth remembering that every job requires a constellation of skills and talents. So even if you don’t have direct experience with the primary skill a job requires, you may be able to bring other talents to the table.
For example, Phil spent over 18 years as a Catholic priest. There was much he loved about the work and lifestyle, but at some point found himself deeply in debt. He ultimately decided to pursue a new career that still allowed him to create and serve communities. A friend was a president of a bank and told him, “I really need someone with your relationship management skills. I can teach you the business. Why don’t you work for me?” From that start, he later became a certified financial advisor, where his own experience with credit card debt (and what drives it) was an enormous benefit.
Why This Works: For every job, you need to ask: what’s the hardest thing to learn to really excel at this job? In Ingrid’s case, it was vision. In Phil’s case, it was relationship building. If you bring skills in the hardest part to learn, you might have an edge over more traditionally experienced candidates.
5. Prove It to Move It
Works Best For: Self-starters and those who want to move quickly
How To Do It: The easiest way to overcome the “no experience” issue of course is to get some … on your own. This could mean starting a side business, doing volunteer work, or it could be an in-depth project created for a specific company you really want to work for.
For example, I started this blog just before I left my 16-year career as an Air Force scientist. Within a year, I had thousands of subscribers and traffic that might rival that of a small magazine.
It was this early success that convinced my former boss I had the writing skills to help him publish a variety of thought-leadership pieces on human performance topics. Because of my specialization, and after quickly winning us some impressive publication credits, I was eventually able to increase my pay to approximately $200/hour for my work. Considering the median wage for writers is around $28/hour, it goes to show that targeted experience can make you far more valuable than the general experience we think employers care about.
Why This Works: In the end, employers want to hire someone who will solve their problems. Things like degrees and prior work history are indicators of that promise, but many employers know they aren’t guarantees either. The more clearly and specifically you can demonstrate your value, the more likely you are to get hired.
Your Dream Job Awaits
Going after your dream job can be scary, particularly if you don’t see yourself as the strongest candidate.
But as a career coach, I see too many people rule out perfectly reasonable jobs based on the assumption they won’t get hired.
As these case studies show, you can take control of the process. Knowing the 5 strategies above allows you to start actively looking or positioning yourself for opportunities that you might have otherwise missed.
Perhaps the most important thing is to stop thinking as if you’re asking for some kind of favor.
Yes, it’ll be great to actually wake up every morning feeling excited and energized by your work.
But you’re not the only one who benefits from finding the perfect fit.
Once you do land your dream job, believe me, you’re going to do some pretty amazing work.
And you won’t be the only one who notices.