Everyone has a dream job, and everyone wants to land that job sooner rather than later. However, the line between where you are now and where you want to be isn’t likely to be a straight one – especially in the early years of your career.
There are steps you need to take to build necessary skills for that ideal role, and trying to skip over them can lead to setbacks and disappointment.
Are You Qualified for Your Dream Job?
Sometimes candidates become so fixated on their next job being their dream job, they don’t pause to realize they don’t yet have the qualifications or skills required to be successful in those positions.
I often meet with candidates who want to transition out of public accounting and jump directly into a business operations or a financial planning & analysis (FP&A) position. They are not open to accounting roles and want to make the jump right away into something more strategic and “forward looking.” These candidates do not want a stepping stone opportunity, they want to land their dream role now.
But business operations and strategy can mean something different at every company, so the candidates are often not clear whether they’re suited for that role at a given organization. For example, if you’re a CPA but you’ve never built a financial model you likely need to gain more relevant Excel experience before you jump into a strategic finance position.
“The line between where you are now and where you want to be isn’t likely to be a straight one – especially in the early years of your career.”
It’s not until months later, when they’ve been turned down by several companies, that they create more realistic expectations. They’ll pursue an accounting position or a hybrid role that allows them to sharpen their existing skills while honing the chops necessary for their dream role.
Possible – But Not Easy
As a recruiter, I always want candidates to take a realistic view of their circumstances because I want them to succeed. The more grounded your perspective, the greater your chances of working up to a rewarding, challenging career.
But I understand why Bay Area candidates, in particular, expect their trajectories to move much faster. It’s very common to hear success stories of individuals landing amazing positions early in their careers. These stories, combined with the fact that it’s a candidate-driven market, give candidates a skewed perception of the opportunities available specifically to them.
The reality for most people is that they need to develop their career over time. My husband happens to work in finance and is a good example of this approach. He started as a CPA, then moved into a very technical role within accounting at a different company. He took the job in order to expand his experience and build a strong network in an industry he was passionate about. A few years later, his former boss hired him into a strategic role, completely outside of accounting at another organization.
Achieving your dream job requires a lot of hustle and network building, especially in the Bay Area. This is one of the hottest markets in the country, so you really need to prove yourself to get ahead.
The Path to Your Dream Job is Often Through Small Companies
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the best path to a dynamic dream job is through smaller companies or startups. Let’s say you’re an accountant and you want to move into FP&A. Your dream is is to land a sexy, strategic finance role. You’ve never done FP&A, though, and there are a flurry of experienced candidates in the market. That means you’re competing against them as well as all the other CPAs trying to make the same move you are.
You could go to a big public company like Apple or Salesforce. These businesses are usually more willing to hire candidates without as much direct experience because they have the resources to train them. However, the role you’d likely be offered would be more narrow in scope given the size of the organization.
“A startup can offer a rich day-to-day experience and help strengthen your position for when you’re ready to take the next step.”
Big companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of people in their finance departments. So you might be hired into a role focused on headcount expense forecasting, and that’s it. You won’t have as many opportunities to learn the intermediary skills necessary to move into a broader finance position where you manage the full scope.
On the other hand, you could work for a startup and leverage your accounting background into a broader role with the opportunity to learn new functions.
Maybe you’re at a startup and they don’t have a finance team, so you begin doing some cash forecasting and end up working directly with the Head of FP&A. Then you’re getting cross-functional exposure and gaining experience in a range of areas. You’re also building your network and showcasing your ability to pick up new skills and move into different roles. After a year or two, you may be ready to take on a more direct FP&A position at another organization.
When you look at them on paper, an FP&A role with Apple or Salesforce might sound sexier than working with a relatively unknown startup. However, a startup can offer a rich day-to-day experience and help strengthen your position for when you’re ready to take the next step.
Don’t Give Up, Just Stay Realistic
None of this is to say you should abandon your dream job, just that it might take longer to get there than you expect. The upside is that as you gain experience, you’re equipping yourself to excel in that role. You’ll have built the skills, mindset, and connections to not only land that position but also do great things in it — and that is what dream jobs are really all about.