Your Dream Job Step Three: Figure Out Where You Stand

I think the idea of pursuing a dream job is something every worker should aspire to. You should enjoy your work, use your strongest skills, and be paid well. Even in this recession, it’s possible to pursue and find your dream job; it just may take a little longer. So here is another step to finding your dream job eventually. Figure out where you stand in the market for this job; what do you need to do to compete and succeed?

Determining your value and competitiveness in the market is one of the hardest things you’ll do in your job search. There are several factors that go into your overall competitiveness:

  • Your credentials: education, certifications, licenses and training 
  • Your experience: years count, of course, but don’t forget to think about what you can do.  Are there certain types of complex tasks, projects or accounts you’ve mastered?
  • Your specific skills: are you bilingual? Familiar with industry software? Do you have what the ads are asking for?

And the ads are what count for this exercise. Make it a habit to clip and keep (electronically or on paper) advertisements for jobs that catch your eye. You’re doing this for two reasons: first, to check whether your skills and experience are matching the level of job you’re looking for, and second, to make sure your resume reflects the language the ads are using.

Here’s how you figure out whether you are qualified at the entry-level, mid-level, or senior level; it’s where many jobseekers in transition make their mistake. The levels are based mostly on skills, not years of tenure. We use years of experience as a kind of shorthand for what employers are really looking for: things you can do on the job.

It’s important to remember that if you’re changing occupations, your previous years of experience may not help you much. I hear from professionals all the time who are frustrated by the offers they’re getting for jobs they are new to. “I know I’ve never done this particular job before, but I have 15 years of experience in my field,” they say. More often than not, they’ll still get an offer close to the entry-level point. Think of it as a training penalty; employers would rather pay for someone who can be productive on day one; training takes time and costs money. You’ll have the most success negotiating a raise after you’ve been on the job for a while and proven your worth.

Education is another source of frustration for individuals who grew up in their industries and learned on the job. “Twenty years of experience should be worth more than a four-year degree,” they complain. And they may be right. Education doesn’t necessarily mean you know the job better. But it is an easy way to sort candidates. In some employers’ minds, education represents your willingness to invest, learn and persevere. If education is keeping you from getting interviews, do what you can to fix that. Start a certification or degree program; learn that software. If the recruiter asks about education, you can truthfully say that you’re enrolled and working on it while you showcase your advanced on-the-job skills.

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