What Your Childhood Dream Job Looks Like In Reality

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Adobe Stock / Tyler Olson

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June 23, 2024 at 12:3PM UTC
Spending your days dreaming of life outside the cubicle? 
Maybe you love your job. Maybe you hate it.  Perhaps you simply never really shook your childhood dream. As you plug away at your day job, you can’t help but wonder — what would that career as an astronaut really have been like? 
We may have the answer. Check out everything about the ROI of common childhood “dream job” roles — plus jobs you never knew existed — and how to get them below.

8 Fun Jobs You Didn't Know Existed

1. Waterslide Tester

For some serious fun, test waterslides for safety and function at parks.

2. Food Stylist

Make food in magazines and on TV look beautiful and tasty.

3.  VideoGamer

Get paid to play video games in leagues.

4. Hacker

Do some legal hacking as a way to bolster companies' security systems and find potential threats.

5. Crossword Puzzle Writer

Ace wordsmiths can make bank writing these games.

6. Bed Tester

Getting paid to sleep on amazing beds? Sign me up!

7. Chocolatier

Turn chocolate into masterful, edible desserts.

8. Personal Shopper

Style masters can monetize their fashion sense by picking out clothes and other items for clients.

5 Real-Life Dream Jobs

1. Astronaut

Who didn't wonder what it would be like to explore the universe as a kid?  The space industry has a surprising amount of opportunity! There have only been 536 people in space, and women are underrepresented at only 40. But if you are willing to stay earthbound, there are plenty of opportunities. 
You will need a hefty resume. Requirements for a NASA astronaut include a doctorate level education and/or 1,000 hours of flying (in command after at a minimum of three years of military service).
Entry-Level Job Salary: $65,000 
Mid Career Salary: $140,000
Cost of Education: 8-10 years & $135,000

2. Pilot

A commercial airline pilot is a glamorous career path, though the reality is a bit less inspiring. Unionization is a good benefit, and compensation is certainly above the national average. The stress can be overwhelming, especially when large-scale weather events play havoc with your work schedule. Women are still underrepresented in the commercial ranks, comprising 5,600 (3.9%) of 144,000 total pilots in the US. Airlines are actively recruiting female pilots.
Requirements for a commercial airline pilot are a bachelor's degree and 1,500 hours flying. You'll likely have to start off at a small company or opt for the military route.
Entry-Level Job Salary: $45,000 (as a first officer)
Mid Career Salary: $85,000
Cost of Education: 4-5 years & $35,000

3. Doctor

The fantasy of parents everywhere — your child becomes a doctor! Medicine requires dedication. After spending eight years in school, be prepared for another three to eight years in residency, depending on the specialty. Residents also have little control over where they end up. It's a wild ride, but there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Entry-Level Job Salary: $51,000 (as a first-year resident)
Mid Career Salary: $250,000 (upwards of $400,000 for some specialities)
Cost of Education: 10 - 16 years & $150,000

4. C-Suite Executive

Female executives in Fortune 1000 companies are still underrepresented, though the tide is slowly shifting. Eighteen percent of executive positions are held by women, though only 7% in the CEO slot. Big Corporate is taking active steps to increase representation and equity. The best thing about a corporate career is that performance has a strong influence on the path forward.
Entry-Level Job Salary: $50,000-$70,000 (varies significantly, shown is Business Analyst, Financial Analyst)
Mid Career Salary: $250,000 (upwards of $400,000 for some specialities)
CEO Level Salary: $13,800,000 (average of F1000 CEO)
Cost of Education: 0-12 years & $0 - $120,000

5. Software Developer

There's so much demand for developers that many companies can't hire fast enough, and the pool of talent is so short they have to go outside the US. Everyone needs this critical function to stay relevant. There are many specialty areas, and the need is extremely high.
Entry-Level Job Salary: $70,000 
Mid Career Salary: $135,000 (upwards of $200,000 for some specialities)
Cost of Education: 2-6 years & $20,000 - $60,000

How to Make Your Dream a Reality

It’s never too late to opt out of that current job and pursue your dream. If you are, indeed, looking to change careers, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

 1. Be sure you want it.

The world is competitive and just getting any job is hard enough. So you need to be committed to it. As much work as it will be to actually land a new position, it will also take years to succeed.
Talk to actual people who work in the field about what their careers are really like. Want to work at a hedge fund? Talk to someone who reconciles trades in operations even if you want to become a portfolio manager.  Want to work as a product manager at a hot tech start-up? Find someone who does customer service there and learn about the grittier parts of the company.

2. Do your research.

If you're sure you want to make the leap, read everything you can about the industry. That includes books: more information has been memorialized in print (i.e. before the internet age) and can't be replaced by online research. 
Be sure to go beyond books trying to help you understand how to get the job. If you want to do marketing, make sure you understand industry trends and career paths. You'll have a better understanding of the field. And you'll be more prepared when you start interviewing.

3. Decide whether you need credentials or education.

Sometimes, you can make a career change much more easily if you go back to school or earn a credential. Other times, it's a prerequisite of the job. For example, you obviously can't practice medicine or law without degrees and credentials. Even if your prospective career doesn't require this, education can help. 

4. Network.

Tell everyone you know what you want to do, especially people who've had a similar background to yours and have your dream job, even if they came to it out of sheer luck. Be sure to network in all the standard ways and if you run out of people you know, don't be afraid to keep pushing beyond your comfort zone.  Use your alumni network, contact strangers on LinkedIn and contact women on Fairygodboss. Go to industry events, Meetups, and conferences. 

5. Talk to recruiters.

Recruiters make money when they place candidates, so it may be difficult to gain their support in your position. However, it's a reality check that will prepare you for an interview. Recruiters have no reason to sugarcoat their opinions,  which means you'll get an honest assessment. Recruiters will also tell you what the standard candidate looks like. Based on their feedback, you'll improve how you position and prepare yourself for the career change.

6. Apply for (lots of) jobs.

You will have to apply for jobs more aggressively than a candidate with the "standard" background because your resume won't have the keywords and experiences that fit into cookie-cutter roles. To some extent, for all candidates, job applications are a numbers game. 
Also, apply to positions around the periphery of your desired role. For example, if you want to be a TV producer but you're a writer for a newspaper, you might have to get a job being a writer at the TV show first.

7. Be willing to take financial risk.

Making more money may be one of the reasons you want to make a career change. That may all eventually work out, but there will be initial challenges. Many times, career changers have to accept a less prestigious, lower-paid position to gain the experience they need for the bigger change they're after. You'll need to accept that yourself as well as convince your future employer you're okay with the salary cut. 

8. Set realistic expectations.

You may be able to switch careers, but it's unlikely that it won't affect your pay grade or seniority negatively. So, don't sit on it. Make the change as quickly as you can because the younger you are and the less responsibility you have to support families or others, the more likely you will accept the reduction in salary or title. 

9. Do the thing you want to do — even if you're doing it for yourself.

If you want to become a designer, design something. If you want to become a writer, write something. Instead of waiting for someone to pay you to do something, launch your own project. Not only can you do this on your own time, but nobody is judging you except yourself. You'll learn about your motivation and ability. Plus, you'll gain experience.

10. Get relevant experience at your existing employer.

Sometimes, if you want to make a career change, the easiest way to do it is at your own company. That way, you've eliminated the job hunt. Even if you don't love where you work, it might be worth it to stick around and get relevant experience somewhere you know that will actually pay. If you can't get a job in a different department, try talking to the department's manager about working there unofficially. Just make sure to clear it with your own manager first.

11. Volunteer.

Volunteer in order to gain experience. Don't expect to be paid cash, but the lessons — plus the resume fodder — may help you tremendously. From your prospective employer's point of view, you've already demonstrated you're passionate about the field. Plus, you never know, the organization may actually hire you.
A big career change can take years. But understanding the steps and having reasonable expectations will help you along the road. Be sure to lean on friends and family during the tough moments, and if you can afford it, consider consulting with a career coach, who offer career change tactics and encouragement.
Renee Hopkins is a contributor to Fairygodboss, sharing her own version of the New Feminist American Dream. She's the textbook high-functioning-anxiety ridden overachiever; an early thirtysomething who has a pocket full of fairy dust and a map to navigate Big Corporate straight to the C-suite.

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