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72% of workers who haven’t achieved their dream jobs regret it

Research of 1,000+ workers exploring their childhood career aspirations and whether they come true in adulthood.

Agata Szczepanek
Agata Szczepanek
Career Expert
72% of workers who haven’t achieved their dream jobs regret it

Childhood dreams are sometimes far from reality that hits us as adults. Astronauts become office workers, while dancers or singers end up as preschool teachers. 

Have you achieved the career you dreamed of in the past? 

84% of our research respondents achieved one of the jobs they had on their childhood dream list. 

These are:

  • 80% of women and 89% of men 
  • 77% of respondents with bachelor's or associate’s degrees vs. people with no college degree (92%)
  • 74% of IT/Software workers vs. education sector workers (90%)

But, 72% of those who haven’t achieved their dream jobs regret it. 

This fall, ResumeLab surveyed over 1,000 U.S.-based workers to ask about their childhood career desires and whether they achieved them. Our study revealed the status of the success of American workers, the level of job satisfaction, and why some have failed. We also zoomed in on their first experiences with the job market, resume writing, and interviewing. 

When Dreams Take a Detour: Exploring Unfulfilled Career Aspirations

As mentioned, 72% of workers who haven’t achieved their childhood dream jobs regret it. 

Information about people regretting not achieving their dream jobs

But we can't accuse them of not trying. 

  • 76% of dream job non-achievers have taken steps in the past to pursue that career.
  • Now, 67% still dream of the job they dreamed of as a child.
  • However, 61% don’t pursue that career anymore. 
  • Most notably, more than half (61%) of respondents would take the leap if they could trade their current career for their childhood dream job.

As we all know, life creates different scenarios, and each of us lives in a different environment and experiences different conditions. So sometimes, resigning from a dream job has become necessary. 

Top reasons why people haven’t achieved their dream jobs include:

  • Family reasons – 53%
  • Financial reasons – 52%
  • Didn’t actively pursue the career – 39%
  • Bad economic conditions or different market trends – 30%
  • Change of interest – 27%
  • Lacking the necessary education or qualifications – 26%
  • Lacking talent – 18%
  • Feeling that achieving the job would be impossible – 18%

The top two reasons for women were financial reasons (53%) and the fact they didn’t actively pursue a career (48%). For men, these were family reasons (66%) and financial reasons (49%).

For people with no college degree, the reasons they failed covered bad economic conditions or different market trends (81%) and lack of talent (69%). Workers with a master’s degree or higher mentioned financial reasons (56%) and lack of necessary education or qualifications (53%).

However, working in a different profession than the one dreamed of in childhood can also be fulfilling. 

In total, 86% of respondents are satisfied with their current work.

This is because perceptions of the dream job may have changed over the years, and employees have found what makes them happy. 

According to our respondents, a job is a dream job if it offers:

  • Work-life balance – 42%
  • Fame or notoriety – 36%
  • Job security – 34%
  • Career Advancement – 34%
  • High salary – 32%
  • Exciting job duties – 30%
  • Feeling that job duties have meaning and significance – 29%

Achieving a dream job is for everyone.

First resume endeavor

There is no process of finding a job without crafting a resume first. 

73% of respondents positively evaluated their first resume, including:

  • 18% said it was very good 
  • 55% rated it as good

For 22%, their first resume was acceptable. Only 6% of respondents said it was bad or very bad. 

And in the ever-evolving professional development landscape, the commitment to enhancing resumes remains steadfast. 92% of respondents have diligently revised their resumes since beginning their job searches.

What's even more commendable is the dedication to ongoing updates. A substantial 91% of respondents prioritize regularly reviewing and enhancing their resumes.

Statistics about updating resumes

First job interview impressions

The next step after preparing a first resume is taking part in a first job interview. 

66% of respondents say that the first interview was a positively “exciting” experience for them. 34% admit it was “terrifying.” 

Additionally, 9 in 10 respondents felt adequately prepared for their first job interview.

Preparation is the key to success. Whether people got a job or not, 75% were satisfied with their performance during the first interview, while only 26% felt embarrassed. 

From education to work reality

Summing up the discussion on navigating the job market, initial successes, resume crafting experiments, and the first job interviews, all these experiences turned out to be generally positive.

  • 66% were pleased with what the job reality appeared to be like.
  • 34% were disappointed with the job reality.

Moreover, 58% of respondents say their first job positively shaped their career aspirations. While 36% admit it had a negative impact and shifted career goals.

In addition to exploring the initial aspirations, we delved into the unforeseen lessons and challenges encountered during participants' inaugural employment experiences.

  • 51% acknowledged that their first job offered valuable insights and positively influenced their path to their dream career.
  • 43% found their initial employment provided unexpected insights, leading them to reconsider pursuing their initially envisioned dream job.
  • For 7%, the first job did not introduce new insights or challenges relevant to their ultimate career goals.

Challenges people experienced when entering the labor market

These findings underscore the nuanced nature of early professional experiences, demonstrating that they contribute to a richer understanding of the professional landscape even when not directly aligned with long-term objectives. These initial encounters serve as valuable learning opportunities, guiding individuals to refine their career paths and make informed decisions.

About Us

ResumeLab is here to help you take your career to new heights, no matter what generation you are. Make use of our expert-approved resume templates, see resume examples for jobs in different career sectors, including jobs for Generation Z, get the perfect cover letter template, and everything you need to land your dream job.

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Agata Szczepanek
Agata Szczepanek
Agata Szczepanek is a career expert at ResumeLab. With her professional insight and thinking outside the box, Agata's mission is to help people from all backgrounds find their dream job. A master's degree graduate in Journalism and Communication and English Philology, her work has been featured by top media outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Motley Fool, and HR Dive.

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