The average person spends one-third of their life at work, so it’s disheartening that, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, most are unhappy in their jobs. If you’re just starting your career and want to avoid being a statistic, or you’re one of those people just checking a box, it may be time to shake things up.

If you’re feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated at work, getting your dream job might sound far-fetched, but with the right preparation your dream can become your reality. If you're ready to make your next career move, here's how to land your dream job in 10 simple steps.

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How to Get Your Dream Job

1. Make a Plan

The first step toward achieving your goals is setting them. To achieve your career ambitions, articulate your goals and develop a plan to get there.

Start with your vision, or where you want to be in five to 10 years. Then, identify the organizations you admire and the specific roles that will help you get there. Identify achievable roles and some that are a stretch—then get to work.

2. Hone Your Skills

Part of your planning process should be an honest assessment of your skills compared to those required for the roles you’re pursuing. If your career goal is to eventually move into a position of management or leadership within your organization, what skills will be most instrumental in getting you there? Where do you currently excel, and where do you fall short? Where there’s a glaring hole, look for online courses and certifications that can help round out your experience.

For example, perhaps you excel at directly managing your team and ensuring they stay on track with projects but find it difficult to articulate your department’s contribution to overhead or the return on investment (ROI) of a given initiative. In this case, completing a course, such as Economics for Managers or Financial Accounting, can help you develop your understanding of those concepts and make you a well-rounded candidate for managerial roles.

Alternatively, perhaps you’re applying for a role at an organization that puts heavy emphasis on its data-driven decision-making processes, but you don’t come from a data background. In a case like this one, taking a course like Business Analytics or Data Science for Business can help you position yourself as a standout applicant during the hiring process.

3. Tailor Your Resume

One common mistake job seekers make is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing themselves for a job. Don’t just dust off your standard old resume. Take a close look at the requirements for your dream job and make sure your resume highlights those essential qualities.

Make your resume stand out not just to recruiters, but also to computers. According to CNBC, more than 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen resumes for relevant keywords and qualifications. Using keywords from the job posting can help your resume move through the screening process into the hands of a hiring manager.

4. Cast Your Net(work)

Building and making use of your network may be the most critical step to landing the job of your dreams. Many career experts say less than two percent of online applicants get an interview, so rather than relying on applications, make LinkedIn your friend. The larger the universe of people you can call on to put your resume on the right desk, the better.

CNBC reports that up to 70 percent of all jobs are not published on job search sites, which further emphasizes the importance of networking. Through your connections, you’ll likely discover jobs before they’re advertised, giving you a competitive edge.

Related: 6 Networking Tips for Online Learners

5. Ask for Help

Once you have your shortlist of dream employers and a robust personal network, turn to your connections and ask for introductions. Most people are willing to spare a few minutes for a friend or a friend of a friend. Even if there’s no immediate job opportunity, you may get some free advice and introductions to people they know.

6. Prepare and Practice for Interviews

Once you secure an interview, either virtual or in person, do your homework about the organization. Spend time on its website to learn about the business and its leaders. Look for news articles and check Glassdoor to see what employees are saying.

Equally important is researching the individuals with whom you'll meet. Learn as much as possible about the interviewers and compile a list of questions to ask. Interviews are not just about the employer asking questions. In fact, according to research conducted by Harvard Business School Professor Alison Wood Brooks, “Asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.”

In addition, be sure to prepare and practice answers to common interview questions. Just like sports or the school play, the more you practice, the better you’ll perform. Ask a friend to role-play and pose difficult questions to make sure you’re ready to think on your feet.

7. Dress for Success

In this era of casual dress codes, what to wear to an interview can be perplexing. Ask the person who schedules the interview about the company dress code. If it’s casual, a suit is likely overkill. There’s still something to be said for dressing for success, and you want your appearance to convey that you’re serious about the opportunity.

8. Prime Your References

Almost as important as your interview performance is the quality of your references. Prospective employers need third-party validation that you have the appropriate skills and right temperament to succeed in the role they need to fill.

Be prepared with at least three references—whether former employers, colleagues, professors, or mentors—who can speak to your skills, character, and work ethic. Ask permission before you give out contact information and tell your references the key points you want them to make.

9. Follow Up (The Right Way)

As a child, you may have been taught to always say please and thank you. Never is it more important than after an interview. It’s imperative that you follow up after your interview to show you’re grateful for their time and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

The question is: Will an email suffice? That depends on time. A hand-written note is a great way to stand out, but if the prospective employer is moving quickly to fill the role, you need to act fast and send an email within 24 hours of your meeting. It’s not just a polite overture, but a valuable opportunity to remind them of the key qualities you’ll bring to the job and emphasize points they may have missed in your interview.

Thanking your references is just as important. Often, it’s your references who help you seal the deal. Be sure to tell them how much you appreciate their time and effort. Your gratitude will go a long way toward ensuring they’ll be there for you the next time you need a reference.

10. Negotiate Your Job Offer

After receiving a job offer from the organization of your dreams, it can be tempting to hastily accept the initial offer out of excitement. However, it’s important that you remember to negotiate your job offer to maximize your earning potential.

Take your time to respond to the offer so you can prepare talking points that speak to why you deserve a better compensation package, and what it might comprise. Do your research to determine the standard pay range for someone with your experience and education.

There’s a reason the company is offering you the job and not another candidate, so remember your worth and negotiate confidently.

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Taking Your Career to the Next Level

With thoughtful preparation, skill development, and networking, you can take your career to the next level.

It may seem like a distant fantasy, but with grit, determination, and dogged networking, you can land your dream job and truly do what you love.

Are you interested in furthering your career? Explore our online courses to see what skills you can develop to prepare for a new role and gain a competitive edge.

This post was updated on June 29, 2021. It was originally published on September 20, 2018.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.