Your First Job Isn't Your Dream Job? Here's Why That's Okay (and How You Can Change It)

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

Is a dream job your only path to career fulfillment?   Many people think so. They believe that finding their dream job is the only way for them to ensure happiness. This mindset can lead to real disappointment, especially if you think there is only one job that is perfect for you. You'll be desperate to land that dream job and your focus will close you off to other possibilities and blind you to opportunities.   So what happens when society tells you to follow your dreams and do what you love, but you simply can’t get that perfect job? The whole experience can leave you devastated, feeling like a failure, and resolved to a life of career emptiness.   The truth is that many people fail to land their ultimate dream job. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy their work or the people they work with. In fact, most often they do find themselves in careers that satisfy them in terms of their compensation requirements and emotional and mental health needs.    And, believe it or not, jobs that may seem less desirable can actually end up being the ones that lead you to your ultimate dream job.   Photo by You X Ventures

Fit theory vs. develop theory

There are two schools of thought on how passion for work is attained, according to research published in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology bulletin. The Fit Theory follows the belief that there is one job that is the perfect fit for each person. Develop theorists, on the other hand, suggest that your actual ideal job may not be love at first sight, but that over time, you’ll develop a passion for it.   In other words, you can end up just as happy and satisfied in a job that wasn’t what you expected initially. Some people report that they are actually happier in the long run with jobs that weren’t necessarily the perfect fit originally, but chosen for financial considerations.  

How do you know if you’ve found your dream job?

Before you start turning down job offers because you think they’re not the ideal fit for you, you need to define exactly what makes your dream job.  It's important to assess what you expect from a job that would completely engage you. Consider those things that are most important to you.   Here are some examples:
  • Is the compensation package a determining factor?
  • Does the job have to be linked to your one overriding passion?
  • Is it crucial that your job be flexible enough for you to spend time with your family?
  • Does your dream job utilize your education and any special skills you’ve developed?
  • Is it important that your job falls in line with your morals and beliefs?
  • Will this job allow you to grow your skills and career?
  Answering these questions will give you a clearer sense of what’s really important to you. You’ll be able to better determine if a job offer might be worth considering, before discounting it completely.   Photo by Jose Aljovin

Why you shouldn’t worry if you don’t get your dream job

You may have imagined your dream job since you were in elementary school before you even knew what opportunities were out there. Instead of focusing on that one job you hoped you would get, try to find the good that comes with your current position or job offer. See if it can fit in with what’s important to you now and with your future goals.  

Does the job have meaning?

When talking about their dream jobs, people want their work to have meaning. Ask yourself if your current position holds meaning for you. It may require that you redefine the concept or broaden it. For example, knowing that you are contributing to something larger than yourself may put your current job into a different perspective.  

Does it provide you with your desired work/life balance?

Work/life balance can make people happy or unhappy with their jobs. Whether it’s enough time off for you to recharge or to spend more time with your family, the balance of work life and private life is important. Determine what level of work/life balance you wish to achieve and consider if your current job or job offer fulfills that need.  

Does the job provide growth opportunities?

Another critical part of enjoying and being successful on your career path is having the opportunity to grow and advance. A job should allow you to learn new skills and improve on the ones you already have.  Determine if the position you’re in now or are considering will provide you with the knowledge, skills, and experience required to make a successful foray into what you consider your dream job if the opportunity should arise.   Photo by Austin Distel

When you accept (or are in) a job that's not your perfect fit

Maybe you need a paycheck, or perhaps you need to get more experience under your belt. No matter the situation, many people will end up taking a job offer, even if it doesn’t fall in line with what their dream job may be. If that is the case, there are a few things to do to help make the process less stressful and help you to settle in better.  

Always make the most of the situation

Start by resetting your expectations so that you don’t dwell on the fact you are not working in your dream job. A job is not a waste, and sometimes can be a vital stepping stone to your future career goals. This can be especially true for graduates entering the job market, where you are likely to have to work your way up from entry-level jobs to get a break in your chosen industry.  

Find outlets for your passions

If you have a dream job in mind, you likely have the skills and passion to work in that field. Even if your new job doesn’t require those skills, it doesn’t mean you should let them lapse. Find other ways to practice and sharpen your skills and interests. You may find that hobbies may be fulfilling enough, making you content with your new job.  

Take advantage of networking opportunities

You are much more likely to land a dream job if you have a referral accompanying your application. The best way to get referrals is by networking. Even if the people you meet are not in your chosen field, they may know someone who is. The broader your network, the greater your opportunities.  

Take the time to further develop your skills

Do your skills match your dream job? Maybe they do, but you need a little more experience. A new job can help you to sharpen those skills and gain the additional experience that you might need to land your dream job in the future. If you need skills that your current job doesn’t require, but your dream job would, consider taking an online course to learn them.  

Don’t give up the hunt

Just because you have accepted a position doesn’t mean you need to give up on looking for opportunities. Research has shown that people who frequently change jobs may attain higher incomes and overall higher job satisfaction.   Keep an eye out for new job opportunities, keep your resume updated, and network online and at in-person events. Apply for positions that pique your interest. Even if you don’t get an offer, you’ll obtain valuable interview experience.