Job Search

I was reading with interest a series of (print) articles recently in Fortune about people looking for their dream job. Much of the debate talked about perks, about job roles and responsibilities, and a lot of the side benefits of a job. What was glaringly missing from many of the discussions, however, is figuring out what your dream job is. Certainly, we’d all like the nearly imaginary job where we get paid obscene sums of money for doing virtually no work at all, a privilege reserved only for criminal banking CEOs and politicians, but that’s not a viable career path for most of us.

So what defines your dream job? How do you figure out what your dream job is? I’d submit that in order to answer this question, you need to dig further back in your past than any part of your professional life. For example, I’m working in as close to my dream job as I can get right now as VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications. What I do on a daily basis varies wildly, but the common thread is that, as long as I behave in a fiscally responsible, ethical manner, I get to experiment with new technologies, test things, learn, and receive positive social reinforcement for what I do.

How did I figure out what my dream job would be? I looked back in time. When I was a kid, my dad built me a “laboratory workbench” out of plywood and 2x4s. That little wooden bench was covered in chemical stains from my chemistry set, burn marks from a variety of wood burning devices, and more seemingly junk items than that desk should have been able to hold. I was forever taking things apart. I once cut a screwdriver in half, accidentally, because I was tinkering with an alarm clock that was still plugged in. The electrical arc cut the screwdriver in half and tripped every breaker in the house. It’s amazing that I survived my childhood largely unharmed.

The defining trait of my childhood was curiosity and exploration. That’s what I did best, and that’s what I enjoyed most. It’s no surprise, then, that my dream job focuses on that behavior. At heart, my dream job is still being a kid and playing with toys – it’s just that the toys have changed form. Instead of a kid’s chemistry set, I play with Tableau and R. Instead of taking alarm clocks apart, I now take companies’ analytics and marketing programs apart. Instead of testing and experimenting with random chemicals, I test and experiment with web pages and email marketing.

I didn’t take childhood interests and try to pursue them in a career. (well, actually I did and it turned out badly) What I did to find a happy job, a dream job, is to take childhood behaviors and find careers that made use of those core behaviors. Find work you love based on habits and behaviors that define you.

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