• Alyssa Barton

You Can Land Your Dream Job

You can land your dream job – I did.

In 2013, disillusioned and dissatisfied with my then career path, I decided to pursue my “dream job.” It took me 3 years, a cross country move, and a career change to get it – but I finally did land the job I’d been searching for in January of 2017.

Since then a lot of friends have asked me: how did you do it?

It wasn’t easy, but I worked hard and my efforts paid off. I’ve boiled the strategy I used to land my dream job down to three key pieces that you might wish to try out to help you in your own journey. Note: this blog isn’t about figuring out your dream job, its about how to land it once you know what you want to do.

For those who are curious but haven’t read the “About Me” section of my website, or the Miami transition blogs I posted in 2016, here’s my backstory in a nutshell.

The Backstory

I lived in Miami, Florida from 2006 -2016. I moved there from Maryland to attend law school and then practice as an attorney. I went through a lot of transitions, as one does in life. A lightbulb finally went off for me in 2013: I realized that I was dissatisfied with the career path I was on, so I changed tracks and set off in pursuit of an environmental related career. I had no real background or experience in the field, but I was determined to work at a job where I can have a positive impact on the world through better environmental outcomes, whether in the law or a policy field.

I spent three confusing and frustrating years working towards my goal in Florida before calling it quits and saying goodbye to Miami in 2016. Very few jobs became available in environmental law or policy in Florida, and those that did offered very low pay. Frequently, jobs were advertised at such a low salary that I didn’t even bother applying, knowing that I couldn’t afford to live at that price point (and ever get out of student debt!) The Florida jobs that did advertise a sustainable salary were snapped up by attorneys with much stronger credentials than me – often with years of experience where I started with none.

As a result, in 2016, I sold or gave away most of my stuff after packing up the essentials that would fit in my car, and drove across the U.S. to Seattle, Washington, to start a new life.

After 3 months in Seattle, I’m so happy and proud to say that I achieved my goal and got the dream job: I was offered and accepted a policy position working for an environmental non-profit. My company offered a living wage, the team was incredible, and I strongly believe in the mission.

So how did I do it?

  1. Momentum

When I landed in Seattle, there were a few things that gave me the momentum I needed to land my dream job.

First, I read and followed the advice in Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute (at https://amzn.to/2EUz7I7). I cannot recommend this book strongly enough for anyone who is job-hunting or seeking to change careers. It covers, from start to finish, how to identify your values, strengths, and types of jobs you might enjoy, to how to build your resume, to how to prepare for an interview and ace it, and how to land that dream job. You can stop reading this blog right now and read his book, and it’ll probably be far more helpful for you to land your dream job!

In the event you decide to read on, there were three additional factors that helped me build the momentum I needed to land my dream job.

  • Experience

Pursuing a job in a field you have no background in doesn’t really make sense. It will be an uphill battle for you unless you have relevant experience. For this reason, starting in 2013 I strongly pursued every opportunity to get experience, network, and build my resume in ways to provide a foundation for a career in environmental law or policy.

Starting in 2013 in Miami, I attended conferences on environmental law and policy related topics, participated in environmental law bootcamps and classes, invited environmental attorneys and other professionals to informational interviews, joined and volunteered to work for environmental non-profits, and offered to work on environmental cases for free to gain experience and build my resume. These are all tactics suggested in What Color Is Your Parachute.

At one conference I met a Manager from National Parks Conservation Association and was able to earn a fellowship with their office. Through networking, I was also able to learn of and accept opportunities to represent several non-profits pro-bono in environmental disputes.

These resume building activities were critical for me to be able to demonstrate knowledge of and commitment to environmental law and policy. The connections I made also helped me to learn about new job opportunities as soon as they became available.

  • Time + Effort

Once I arrived in Seattle, I followed previous tactics that I’d employed in Miami. I spent all day every day job-hunting, lining up meetings and informational interviews with attorneys and other professionals in the environmental field, and attending attorney, professional, and environmental related networking events.

I had a temporary job lined up in Seattle to start in October, so I had 2 months once I arrived to spend all day every day hustling, networking, and learning. This was critical. Having a job is a distraction from job-hunting. Job-hunting is a full-time job. The freedom of not working afforded me the time to build momentum needed to get my dream job.

Not only did I devote 100% of my time to hustling my way into the dream job, but that’s where I put all of my energy as well.

  • Grit

It takes a lot of courage to stick to a course that isn’t immediately paying off. There were many times, since 2013 when I first decided to pursue a career in the environmental field, that I questioned myself and wanted to quit trying. I questioned my knowledge and experience, I questioned the wisdom of my decision, and I questioned whether I was good enough.

I was tempted to start applying for other jobs, any job, for the money and the security. There were times when I felt so low, I questioned whether I would be able to get any job. Struggling for years and failing to accomplish a goal can really damage your ego. But that’s what you have to do.

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. If you want to achieve a goal, you HAVE to fail – fail forwards. Improving and growing takes effort, and when you fall off track, you have to get back on or you’ll never get where you want to go. Though its hard, you’ve got to grit your teeth and try harder, and smarter. When you think you’ve exhausted every avenue, look again – because you haven’t.

2. Make sure you’re in the right place at the right time

In addition to momentum, it was being in the right place at the right time that helped seal the deal for me. In order to get the job you want, you have to repeatedly put yourself into the right places: the places where the doors of opportunity are. Those doors will likely be closed when you first start exploring. But, if you can repeatedly put yourself in close proximity to the doors of opportunity, you’ll be poised to walk through one of those doors when they open.

What do I mean? This goes back to the tactics of networking, meeting professionals in your desired field and attending events related to your dream job. Schedule informational phone calls, schedule in-person coffee meetings, shake down all possible connections, volunteer, and learn! Ask people about their experiences, suggestions, and knowledge. Most people are more than willing to help you out because most people can relate, and have also been helped out in the past.

For me, I participated in a volunteer event with my future boss and the Director of another environmental non-profit 2 months before my job became available and was posted. I was able to reference my participation in this event in my cover letter. And, I would not have learned about the job opening at all had I not met another environmental attorney for a coffee in November. She told me about three open job opportunities in my field – one of which became my job!

3. Preparation is everything

Finally, as with all things, I strongly feel that preparation is everything. Preparation will make or break a presentation, interview, meeting, speech, or even a difficult conversation.

When you go out to network, have a strategy and gameplan for each event including goals (how many people will you meet, get business cards from, follow up with after, etc.). Come prepared with a killer elevator speech. Have personal business cards reflecting your skills and desired job. It goes without saying that your resume, Linkedin, and other online profiles should be up to date and crystal clean and clear before networking.

When you meet contacts for informational interviews, do your homework first. Know who they are, their background and experiences, their expertise. When you meet, ask knowledgeable questions about their former and current jobs, and be prepared to explain your experiences, skills, and interests in a way that relates to their world. Don’t be afraid to ask for contacts who you might also reach out to.

Finally, when you go in for that dream job interview, come prepared. First, have your amazing personal story prepared to show why you’re the perfect fit and meet all of criteria they’re looking for. Prepare a portfolio of your work and past accomplishments to bring with you. Second, and this is a no brainer: research the company ahead of time to fully understand how it works, who they are, their mission and the job. Search the news and internet for articles and stories about their work. Search Linkedin for staff member profiles. Who had your job before you? Can you reach out to them for an interview to get their thoughts and input on the position? Third, find out what kind of problems, issues or needs the company is currently facing. Solve them.

If you really want to wow a company, the star candidate will come prepared with the solution to the problem the company needs to solve. This can be a tricky one, and sometimes you might not learn this until the first interview, but there will ALWAYS be a problem or project that they need help with. If you can demonstrate your ability to fix this problem or ace this project up front, you’re almost guaranteed to land the job.

Hopefully if you’re looking for your dream job, this blog helps inspire you to take action today. And again, I strongly recommend Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute (at https://amzn.to/2EUz7I7) as a great resource for all stages of your job hunt.

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