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12 Steps to Prepare for Your Dream Job

Craig Zelizer

March 11, 2020

You may be ready to jump into the job search full steam or already have been searching for a number of months. However, I want to strongly encourage you to take a few moments to help lay a strong foundation (and ask some key questions) to help make your search as fruitful as possible. To be honest, looking for a new job (or a first job) can be an elating, fun and creative process. It can also be disheartening, frustrating and at time highly depressing.

Being on the job market, is akin to being an actor, where you may or may not be confident in your own performance, but ultimately the decisions about whether or not you get the job is subject to the approval of others.

A further challenge is for most public job postings there may be hundreds of applicants, many of whom are equally nice and talented as you, competing for the same role. Not only are you often trying to compete against a whole slew of top tier candidates, but also you need to convince yourself you’re capable, worthy and can do the job.

Here are 12 key steps to best prepare for finding your dream job:

1) Let go out of the notion of the perfect job

While it is important to think about what is the dream job in reality very few jobs are perfect. All positions have challenges,  whether an overly bureaucratic environment, unstable funding, or lack of space for creativity. Instead of focusing on the dream job as some ideal opportunity, spend reflect on the key factors you want to see in a potential new job. It is essential to know yourself and reflect on what issues and sectors do you want to work on, what are your skill strengths, your personality, etc. For instance, if you dream of working for the UN, but you thrive in highly creative environments that offer lots of flexibility for self-expression, you might be better suited for a smaller organization where there is more room for self-expression and growth than a huge bureaucratic and very regulated environment.

a) Some key things to explore is what type of change do you hope to effect in your job? For example do you want to change policies at a particular level, work with grassroots population on health, etc.

b) Think about your priorities. Do you want stability, adventure and/or uncertainty? For your personal sanity do you need constant change and adventure? If yes, working  in a startup environment or new organization where there can be lots of chaos but also room to shape the overall direction of the organization might be a smart choice.  Or do you want stability and required a stable paycheck and benefits? If this is the case a more established institution might be the right choice. Neither is right or wrong, it’s a matter of finding your match.

2) Contribute Value to the World

Explore how you can add value to the world as a central part of your professional development. For example you might look into volunteer opportunities that also help to increase you skills and connections. Think of what you can do today to bring positive impact in the world. Although seeking a job can seem like a selfish process (because we all need to pay our bills), focusing on what you offer and can give, can be tremendously helpful

3) The world of work is changing

It is important to realize that in 21st century economy, many people will not have a single career at one employer or even in one sector. It is becoming increasingly common in many countries for people to regularly switch sectors or employers (of course this varies by region). For example, I started my career in the nonprofit sector (over 15 years), worked in academia full-time (10 years) and I am now in social entrepreneurship. I know many people who started in business and then have moved to nonprofit position, or from government to a for-profit. The  number of jobs people will have in their lifetimes vary greatly, but it is clear that the job market is radically changing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who were born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.8 jobs by 48. For millennials this number is much higher as they tend to change jobs and even sectors much more rapidly. According to futurist Rohit Talawar, CEO of Fast Future, millennials may have up to 40 jobs in their life. It is clear the nature of work is radically changing and for many (of course not all as perhaps doctors, civil servants and some positions will still likely have more stable career tracks) and to explore how this is being operationalized in your sector and country.

4) Get Your Ducks in Row

A job search is often more a marathon than a sprint. Make sure you have systems in place for tracking potential employers of interest, key contacts you want reach out to , jobs you’ve applied for (including saving the original job description. There is nothing worse than actually getting an interview for a job and then finding out you can no longer find the original description). There is no one system for doing this all, but it may be as simple as setting up a tracking system in Google Docs or Excel with a list of potential employers you want to reach out to, or keeping a file of interesting jobs in Evernote, Trello or other tracking systems. It is worth spending time up front to make sure you have a system setup that works for you before you get too deep into the job search.

5) Think big picture but take small actions

Finding a job can be an overwhelming task. As previously highlighted try to explore what type impact you seek to have in your position. But, also don’t get lost in the clouds. Break down the job search into tangible and concrete actions. Instead of getting overwhelmed saying I need to get a new job in the next month. Start with concrete actions you can take each week, with realistic goals, such as work on my resume and get a friend to review it, join a new professional network research potential employers, reach out to 5 contacts, etc. The small actions will add up to big results for most people. Most people don't land a new position overnight, it is usually more of a marathon than a sprint.

6) Do Your Homework

In exploring potential career tracks make sure to do your homework. Spend time reading about key trends in the sectors that interest you. For example, if you want to build a career in tech and social change, read key blogs (such as on PCDN.global and ones others including  Irevolutions, Tech Change, Echoing Green, Ashoka, LinkedIn, books, follow people on Twitter and Medium. Explore what are the key areas that are growing and where employers are desperately seeking talent or likely to need more talent in the next few years.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

7) Develop new skills & Be a life-long learner

The day of finishing one’s education and having a stable job for life is coming to an end. In the 21st century, learning needs to be approached as a life-long process to stay engaged in the world and remain competitive in the job market. Try to adopt a mind-set of learning and staying up to date through various means such as higher education, MOOCs, self-learning, professional networks and linking with your peers.  Think about the key skills needed for the 21st century including soft skills such as empathy, communication, teamwork, as well as technical skills in your particular sector area.

8) The World needs Change

The 21st century is confronted with a host of significant challenges that need change makers to help confront and solve problems. Forced displacement, climate change, inequality, access to energy, Internet Access, improving health, gender equality, are all issues in need of radical improvement if there is to be hope for a more equitable, just and sustainable world. The good news is there are now ecosystems of amazing organizations and people around the globe working on radical and positive change. These range from PCDN, to the B Corporation Movement (over 3,000 benefit corporations that have embedded social good into their missions and operations), to Impact Hub (a global network of coworking spaces focused on social impact) to networks such as Toniic (focused on advancing impact investing), Opportunity Collaboration (an amazing yearly convening of changemakers focused on poverty reduction), to Net Impact (focused on business for good). As part of your career development, find the people and organizations that align with your goals.

9) Scan the Horizon on a regular basis

Please, please start today to regularly scan job openings. Building in time every day (even if only 10 minutes) or every week is critical to see what type of opportunities are currently available. Even more important is looking beyond the usual sectors or organizations one may normally explore. For example if you’re interested in social change, many people might look at openings in foundations or nonprofits, which can be wonderful places to find employment. But many people may not look at B Corporations or similar movements where business and social good go hand in hand. The #1 recommendation we have about scanning the horizon is spend significant time with PCDN's Top Meta List of Job Sites/Resources in Social Impact.  We recommend exploring all the resources in the list and find the ones that have job openings relevant to your interests. Then regularly visit the sites, follow them on social media and/or sign up for their newsletters. Of course following PCDN and staying informed on the amazing job and fellowship opportunities posted on our platform is essential. Also check out our amazing free newsletters to get the world's best curated opportunities in your inbox on a daily or weekly basis.

10) Grow Your Network

By some estimates 80% of all jobs are filled through connections. This doesn’t mean that you can get a job if you don’t apply. But if you don’t have a network that can vouch for you, getting a position can be much more difficult. Start thinking about whom you know in your network and what are networks you can join. It is also essential to focus on building purpose aligned networks and contacts and not taking a transactional approach. Too many people use Linkedin and other platforms as a tool to get a job. Forget about this approach and the same way one might grow a garden, expand your network to connect with interesting people who can share new insights, might be allies in your work (and you in theirs) and be helpful. Of course this approach can help in the job search as well.

Another recommendation is to consider having a career buddy or two to help each other stay accountable and have someone who provides a useful perspective. Joining PCDN's Social Change Career Helping Line, a free 24/7 space with thousands of members who provide peer and expert support can also be a wonderful step.

11) Think about Money

While many people pursue social change careers out of a desire to positively impact and contribute to the world, it is essential to think about salaries. This is especially true if you’re pursuing higher education and have substantial debt. For example the College Board has calculated that in 2017-2018 in the US that 58% of all students incur debt to finance their undergraduate education. The average debt among borrowers is $29,000 or the average out for all students who attend university is $16,800 (p. 21 Trends in Student Aid Report).   According to the Center for American Progress, 60% of all graduate students in the US finish with debt, with an average of $41,000 (click here for more details). While higher education is often a wonderful investment and increase overall earnings and career opportunities, it is critical to understand the financial benefits, risks and career opportunities. Too many people chose to pursue higher education with exploring the bottom line and exploring alternatives.

If one is saddled with large debt, and needs to make payments monthly of $500 or more for 10+ years this can be a huge burden particularly if one seeks to build a career in the social impact space.  Of course a job is about much more than just a salary, and thinking about impact, overall work environment, work/life balance, and benefits are all important. With the Internet it is possible to often find general salary ranges for jobs through sites such as glassdoor.com or indeed.com.  Moreover, talking to peers, university career centers and mentors can also be very helpful in exploring the overall job opportunities in a sector as well as potential salary ranges. u can get a sense of ranges.

12) Leverage the Impact of Social Media

Social media is becoming increasingly important in a digitally connected world. Many employers will look at your social media accounts when reviewing potential candidates. These platforms can also be a wonderful way to show your expertise, connect with new people. For now we recommend you try to educate yourself on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, by  following interesting accounts, and also thinking about what message your own channels are communicating.


Got other recommendations? Let us know. Also check out our printable Job Search Checklist Below to help get your search started.



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