I just read a fascinating if a bit utopian essay in New Scientist magazine about the possibility of creating virtual twins for each of us. Our online twin would be programmed with all of our medical characteristics so that we would have a much better idea of what specific health care treatments will work for us as individuals, and what the long and short term effects would be. It would be like giving different treatments a test ride before deciding on them.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have our virtual twin also test out different careers or jobs for us? OK, no one’s working on this one just yet. But for now, maybe we can take some steps that will help us decide what careers are best for us without having to invest in years of training and coursework as well as months or years in jobs and careers that don’t really engage us or feel meaningful to us. Maybe we can give our careers a test drive first.
How to test out a career
1. Information interviews—the classic best way to network and find out about jobs can also give you a sense of whether you would like a career path. Not only do you learn about a job and career from someone in the field, you can also check out exactly what the interviewee loves and hates about the work. If you do a good interview, you’ll be able to find out how similar that person is to you in their work preferences, passions, and dreams. They don’t have to be just like you. But wherever they are similar to you, that’s where to find out how well they love or hate their work and decide if that might be your response.
2. Shadow (in a good way). This technique might be a good follow-up to an informational interview that went well with someone you feel an affinity with. Or it could be with someone else entirely. Ask if you can shadow or literally follow them for a day or half day just to see what their job is actually like in the trenches. This might be easier to pull off if you can do this as part of a school project.
3. Volunteer or intern for work in a field you might be interested in. You can find out what people actually do all day at their jobs and what the organization is like. That can be quite eye opening. You might find yourself very disillusioned about what goes on behind the scenes or you might find it thrilling.
4. Pilot and prototype. Ever thought you might like to be a travel agent? Interior designer? Caterer? For many consumer fields, you can test out your skills and interests with friends and family before launching into an actual job or your own business.
Learn about the field as much as you can (including perhaps being a client for someone else first) and then when you feel you can pilot your work, ask friends or family if they’ll be your guinea pigs. You can play travel agent by helping to plan a complex trip or try interior decorating on a room in a friend’s house, etc.
This isn’t like having a virtual twin test out the work, but it is a way to find out experientially how well the career or job will suit you. It offers you a bit more of the nitty-gritty about a career than reviewing course descriptions about a field or reviewing your skills and seeing how they match with what’s needed.
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© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint or pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the link to http://choosingacareerblog.com