What Comes First: Dream Job? Or Becoming a Dream Employee?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a group of students in Washington DC. Afterward, several of the students and I got into a discussion about “finding their dream job”.

The students were quite concerned they would work their butts off in college only to drudge along in a less than desirable job after graduation. My advice was simple:

Stop stressing about finding that dream job. Instead, become a dream employee.

My logic here is simple: Dream jobs just don’t happen. They are cultivated and nurtured through the culture and mission of the company, the passion of the management team and – most important – by finding the ideal candidate whose goals, personal mission and capabilities closely match the expectations of all stakeholders.

In other words: unless you show the company you are their “dream employee”… you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell (or a Washington DC heat wave) of getting that dream job.

Jaws dropped. Eyes rolled. Sponsors squirmed. Clearly, this is not the motivational advice they expected.

One student, however, calmly asked: “Okay, what does it take to be perceived as a ‘dream’ employee? How do we make sure we’re ready when we think we’ve found our dream job?”

Fair question. And in the continuing dialogue we came up with the five areas a candidate must absolutely excel (assuming all other requirements are met). Some of these have become clichés, we admit… but just try to get your dream job without all five.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Not in the “I’m going to start my own start-up someday; I’m the next Zuckerberg!” way, of course. When we use “entrepreneurial” here we mean the ability to own a challenge as an individual while working well as part of a dynamic team. We mean working the hours and days necessary to move the mission forward. We mean always thinking and working while drowning in innovative thoughts – and still maintaining a singular focus.

Most important, this entrepreneurial spirit means you come to the team with solutions instead of problems – and solid answers to questions, sometimes even before they are asked.

Pure Passion

Recruiter extraordinaire Steven Levy (@levyrecruits) asked me recently what exactly I look for when trying to determine whether a candidate has passion. Frankly, it took quite a while to come up with a decent answer: “The spirit in their actions, the energetic yet articulate way they speak, quantified statements… all contribute to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the passion issue.”

I relayed the exchange with Mr. Levy to the students. I then added that because clearly defining passion can be more than difficult, I often default to the answer provided by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when asked to define “pornography” in the landmark 1964 case. Justice Potter simply and bravely said:

“I know it when I see it.”


I do not know when “hustle” became uncool. And as employer, mentor, entrepreneur, coach and father… I don’t like it much.

Want to really impress an employer? Sit outside the office for a bit in the morning and get yourself a little fired up. Drink some of the proverbial “kool-aid” to get motivated. Make up your mind that nothing will distract you from the mission you’ll accomplish that day.

Then, from the time you walk in the door until it is time to go home: hustle.

Healthy Respect for Culture

On paper, you may appear to be the model candidate. You have the best GPA and advanced coursework; premier internships are featured on your resume; you have an amazing personal network and sterling recommendations. You meet every single requirement in the job description; the industry is perfect for you.

And yet, you may be a terrible fit – and grow to absolutely hate the experience.

Do yourself a favor: before allowing yourself to be convinced that a particular job is your “dream” job, do your homework.  Make damn sure the culture and mission is a good fit, for you… and that you are a fit for the employer.

Humble Confidence

Confidence allows us to be coachable, flexible and open-minded. It enables us to demonstrate our emotional intelligence during the inevitable difficult workplace situations. Confidence, above all else, helps us to voice our opinions – we know our voice is going to crack and tremble as we state our positions. Confidence allows us to compete, and persevere.

Humble, sincere confidence is contagious. Arrogance is cancerous.

How many of these must-have traits do you have in your career tool box now? More important, what can you do – right now – to acquire those you do not have? What mentors do you have in your stable to help get you there?

Want your dream job?

First, become a dream employee.



About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, YouTern CEO Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in Forbes, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, and Under30CEO.com regarding internships, emerging talent and the current job market – and was recently honored to be named to GenJuice’s “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” list. Follow Mark on Twitter!



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