**This is a guest post by Anne Wilson, careers coach and founder of Graduate Job Mentor**

I hate the term ‘dream job’. I think it’s exactly what the name implies — a fantasy, a big con.

In these times of recession, there’s so much emphasis on the slick CV, the perfect covering letter, the well-honed interview answer, that talking about the goal-setting element of starting a career has almost become taboo. Yet many of the grads I mentor week in, week out, struggle to distinguish between what’s expected of them, what they really want to do, and what they can realistically achieve.

Lois always wanted to be a writer — it says so on her CV. She has a modest degree from a Russell Group university, has had a few pieces published in a student paper and she’s done some hospital radio. She wants to be a TV journalist. She says she knows it’s competitive, but she reckons her CV shows her commitment and she’s confident about her interview. That’s the fantasy, now let’s look at the reality.

– Lois has very little idea about jobs in TV
– she’s not sure how you become a TV journalist
– she’s not aware of any websites for would-be journalists
– she can’t name three TV journalists she admires
– she’s not entirely sure what a journalist does
– she can’t articulate what skills a journalist needs
– she doesn’t write regularly
– she can’t afford to do internships with no pay
– she ‘s never tried to work for local papers, or freelance
– she only wants to be in London
– she doesn’t want to do long hours and she’s not that keen on shift work
– she doesn’t know what other jobs exist which might suit her skills

Lois is shocked when I tell her that most TV journalists are either Oxbridge educated with good connections, or start in jobs with no pay – or low pay – where they are treated little better than skivvies who exist only to take coffee orders.

Lois has a good degree and some very marketable skills — she’s great with people, she can write, she’s led a team (at her uni magazine), she’s ambitious and hard-working and — most importantly — she can back up every one of those statements with evidence. After following my advice, she’s now in a job with the internal communications department of a large company where she gets to write articles spreading the good news about company successes. Is Lois a failure? I don’t think so, and nor, I hope, does she.

What about Josh, who was short-listed for jobs several times but didn’t get an offer, so he started applying for jobs unrelated to his (very technical) degree. What does he actually want? To get away from home is the answer, but he also wants a job in the area for which he trained. I encourage him to identify companies that appeal to him in an area of the country where he has a place to stay. I help him persuade one of the companies to take him on as an unpaid intern for a week doing menial tasks, then as a paid intern for three months working alongside people doing the job he wants. Now he’s got a foot in the door, they see his value – and they’re giving him a chance. There won’t necessarily be a happy ending, but Josh is more realistic now about how companies work and is learning how to make his own luck.

Your first job won’t be your only job. Don’t expect too much. The most successful grads are those who are prepared to start at the bottom, make mistakes and to re-examine their choices and aspirations if things don’t work out first time.

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