How to Answer: “What is Your Dream Job?”

Most of us have been told to dream big. But dreaming too big can be unrealistic. When an interviewer asks you “What’s your dream job?” you don’t want your response to sound like you expect the moon to be delivered to you on a silver platter. At the same time, setting the bar too low can make it sound like you don’t have goals and aspirations. So how do you find that middle ground between “I want it all” and “anything will do?”

What is Your Dream Job

Here's how to land in the sweet spot:

Make it Mutual

The biggest mistake many candidates make when answering the “dream job” question is to make it all about them. True, the question asks, “What is your dream job?” However, there is no reason you can’t answer in a way that sounds beneficial to both you and your potential employer. For example, instead of saying, “in my perfect job I would make at least a hundred grand a year,” say “I want a job where I can substantially increase the company’s profits, so we can all reap the rewards of our hard work.” That way, you not only avoid sounding like money is all that matters, you also display that all-important “we” attitude managers love.

Make it Match

You definitely want to make sure the position you describe is something your employer can actually offer you. Some things are obvious, like not saying your dream job is to be a doctor when you're applying to be sales representative. However, there are subtler mistakes that are easy to make if you aren't aware. For example, say you're applying to be a graphic artist at an advertising agency, but what you really want is to be the creative director. What you may not know is that in this particular agency, there is no creative director because all of the sales representatives manage their own accounts. If you tell your interviewer that your ultimate goal is to be creative director, he may tell you that you need to look somewhere else. It's essential to avoid answering the dream job question blindly. Describing a position that does not exist where you're applying is most assuredly going to go awry. Do your research, and make sure what you are describing actually fits within the organization.

Capitalize on Your Strengths

Chances are, if you’ve gotten this far in the interview process, your assessor has already read your resume and is aware of your skill set. So the last thing you want to do is describe a dream job that's completely out of your wheelhouse. Stick with what you know and what you're good at. Don't say that your ideal position would be in a fast-paced environment when you actually prefer to slow down and pay attention to detail. Either your interviewer will be able to sense you're not being genuine, or he will believe you, and you might end up in a job with a pace that doesn’t suit you at all. Trying to craft the perfect answer is not the goal here. You want to be honest and genuine, and you want to word your answer in a way that will elicit the most positive reaction from your potential employer. 

Incorporate Values

Employers tend to get very excited when they know their employees’ core values are in alignment with their own. Don't let the opportunity to insert your parallel principles into your response slip away. For example, if you know the organization is environmentally conscious, and you are as well, you could say, “my dream job is one in which I can reduce my carbon footprint and contribute to the natural environment in positive ways.” This should offer you a chance to discuss your mutual interests, which will not only make you a more appealing candidate, but will also help you to build rapport with your interviewer. Again, make sure what you're saying is genuine, or it could backfire.

Don’t Paint Yourself into a Corner

During an interview, it can be tempting to say anything you think your potential employer wants to hear. However, some statements can have more of an impact on your future than you originally intended. You definitely do not want to stress over every word you utter. But at the same time, you don’t want to say something you’re going to regret; something that will haunt you for months, or even years, to come. A perfect example: “I have no problem working overtime—the more hours the better!” You will likely find yourself wishing for a rewind button after that statement, especially when you're still sitting at your desk at 9 pm wishing you were home with your family.

In the end, there is no perfect, pat answer to the question “What’s your dream job?” because every situation is unique. Over-rehearsed or formulaic answers tend to not go over well anyway. The purpose of the interview is to get to know who you really are, not see how well you can memorize statements to rhetorical questions. If you employ the tips given here, while still answering the question honestly, you should be on your way to securing your dream job, right here in reality.

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