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Are You Thinking About Changing Careers?

Maybe you have some ideas, you have worked through some options yourself or you are working with a professional Career Coach to help achieve the clarity you are seeking? Either way, it can be daunting to jump ship, straight from one job or career into something completely different, as how do you know if it right for you?

Exploring Opportunities – The Power of Volunteering or Work Experience

When you are looking at changing careers there are a number of different but effective ways you can test the water to explore opportunities and find out if they are right for you.

If you are employed you can volunteer for a secondment within your organisation, or else find opportunities outside the organisation to dip a toe in the water at weekends or by taking a couple of days leave. These opportunities may include working within a particular company or a totally different work environment, e.g. an outdoor job instead of an office job, or a sales job instead of a back office support role.

If you have already left your job or you are returning to work following a career break, as part of your career transition journey and to help explore opportunities, volunteering or ‘work experience’ can be excellent ways to dip a toe in the water to see if you enjoy a particular type of job, before changing careers.

Work Shadowing

Work shadowing is another very useful option that allows you to ‘dip a toe’ in the water to see whether a particular type of job the job, career, company or an alternative environment is right for you. This is particularly helpful if you have a full on employed job and don’t have much spare time, as you may only need to do this for a day or so, or a few hours here and there, working around your job commitments.

I will share a couple of different examples to demonstrate the benefits of work shadowing which highlight how you can rule things in or out to hone down possibilities for what you want to do next in a job or career, when looking at changing careers:

Firstly, there was a client who wanted to explore the possibility of setting up their own café or coffee shop. Maybe various TV shows have influenced people to think it would be cool to run their own café, as I have had a number of clients and friends who have considered this option. My client had been having discussions with a member of the family, who was running a café in a different part of the country. He agreed to take a few days off work to visit family and spend time work shadowing, to see first-hand what it was like to run a café before he did any further research.

This turned out to be an excellent strategy, as he knew after only a few hours such a venture was not for him. Why? Because, like many people, he had not anticipated many factors that were required to make such a venture a success, e.g. the work was highly physical and also placed great demands on personal time and finances. Aside of these demands, he had discovered it was a highly competitive market and clearly not easy to make a good living. The reality was very different to his perception, as is often the case! Certainly not a wasted trip as such a venture was something he could now rule out. He also was now much more aware of some of his skills and attributes he did want to use but in a very different environment.

The second example relates to an IT Director from the corporate world who had become disenchanted with large corporations as a result of their constant rounds of restructuring. He wanted to continue to use his high level IT skills, knowledge and experience, but in a different environment where he would be truly valued. I encouraged him to change his mindset and rethink his strategy. He decided he didn’t want to make a complete career change but to instead change tactics and explore whether working for a small company, where he would have much greater autonomy, would work for him.

He researched companies and made targeted, speculative approaches to the Managing Director or Chief Executive explaining his situation and objective, in a very positive way. This proved very successful, opening up opportunities with a couple of small businesses who agreed to him doing some work shadowing and then some work experience. He quickly established he would thrive working for a smaller business and in an environment where he could really make a difference and be true to his values. The result: one of the companies recognised his true marketability and offered him an excellent role which he was delighted to accept.


If you think that by volunteering you are just being exploited and you find yourself only focusing on the fact that you are working for nothing, reframe your thinking. I have worked with many clients and know plenty of other people for whom this approach has completely changed their perception and been the catalyst for achieving their successful career transition and changing careers. So, what have you got to lose?

Exploring Opportunities is Step 4 of my highly successful 6 Step Career Navigation Cycle process, which is a key feature in my coaching programmes and internationally acclaimed books Winning Through Career Change and Winning Through Redundancy both endorsed by Brian Tracy, internationally Renowned Speaker, Psychologist, Author of over 70 top selling books.

Steve Preston is recognised as The Career Catalyst ®, a leading Career Coach to professionals and executives, Author motivational speaker and MD of specialist Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People development) Ltd