Would you buy a house without looking at it or a car without driving it? Then why would you consider making a career change without testing it first? This is a question I often ask my coaching clients when they tell me they plan to change jobs or careers without thoroughly investigating their options.
The idea of test-driving a new career is essential to future happiness. Yet, many people don’t realize the importance of doing it or know how to go about it. Reading company websites is a good way to start to learn about an organization that interests you but when was the last time a company website highlighted their challenges or offered a candid appraisal of their culture?
There’s no way to know with 100% certainty if you’ll be happier in another career—but you can increase the probability by test driving it. Here are four ideas to get you started.
Interviewing people who work at organizations that you have targeted is a great way to learn about what they like, the challenges they face and the company culture. One of my clients, whose position had been eliminated in a reorganization, found these networking meetings energizing because she learned that many people had been through similar experiences and were willing to be helpful because others helped them when they were in transition. She also found that her networking contacts reminded her of accomplishments and skills that she had overlooked.
Spending a day with a person working in your field of interest will help you see what they really do on a day-to-day basis. Opening a pastry shop might seem a fun way to spend your day if you enjoy baking. You might find after shadowing a cafe owner that you’ve chosen the right field, or you may realize that getting up at 4:00AM every day is not for you. There’s nothing quite like first-hand experience to get a feel for whether you’re really excited about a certain role.
Perhaps you’re not in a financial position to leave your current job. Volunteering strategically is a great way to try something new without forgoing your paycheck. As business and workplace author Alexandra Levit says, “The only way to find out if you’re passionate about something is to try it, ideally with as little risk as you can manage.” Choosing the right volunteer activity is important. You’ll want to target volunteering assignments and organizations that synch with your career-switching goal.
4. Creative Income Generation
There may come a point in your career investigation that working full-time does not give you the flexibility to explore your new direction. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll need to consider alternate sources of income. This is a time to think creatively. Do you have freelance writing or editing skills? Have you done web design or have a product you can sell on Etsy? How about nannying or waitressing?
Most important is to lay out a plan with measureable next steps. Thinking about a change without taking action will not get you there. Only through a carefully constructed step-by-step approach will you be able to clarify your direction and make your dreams come true.