"Information's pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience."
~Clarence Day, "The Crow's Nest"
The first two career research articles on this website focused on written resources and people. In this final article on career research I'd like to address the third type of research - experiential. By experiential, I mean trying something out.
Take A Class
First of all, you can try taking a class in something you might be interested in. If, for example, you're considering accounting as a possible career, you might want to take an Intro to Accounting course to see how you like it. Another spin on this is the home-study, computer correspondence, or long-distance course. Courses give you the chance to immerse yourself in the subject matter to see how interesting it is for you.
The Major Pitfall to Choosing a Career Based on School Performance
Here, I think, is a good chance to talk about a major pitfall with using courses to make a career decision. Let me begin by talking about an all-too-common situation I have with clients. The client will come in for career change counseling and confess that although they did well in the career-related courses in their training programs, they never really liked the courses. (You see, there are some folks who, because of their intelligence, can excel in almost any course they take. There are still others who have the study skills to do well in almost all classes). So, this client succeeded in their course of study despite a lack of real interest in the topic. And this resulted in the client taking a job in the career field associated with that course of study despite a lack of real interest in it. In essence, career-wise, they were their own worst enemy.
Many people will not succeed if they aren't interested in a subject, so they have almost a built-in guidance system for their choice of a career. But, again, some folks can succeed in anything, and their "success" leads them into a field that they can only put up with for so long before it becomes painfully obvious they need a change. And, usually, the fields these folks choose are either high-paying or "hot" fields. Fields the person never would have chosen if they had not been either high-income or good-outlook fields. And, of course, you also have the person who struggles like the devil to succeed in a course of study related to one of these high-paying or "hot" fields only to get a job in the field and end up hating it.
So, here's a hint - if a course of study is not interesting to you, and you have to struggle mightily to succeed in it - it's probably not for you, no matter how "hot" its associated career field might be. Now, there are some classes that are inherently difficult (Advanced Calculus comes to mind). Struggling in these classes is almost a given for most people, so they may not be the best measure of how much you're going to enjoy or not enjoy an occupation. But if you're struggling with just about every class in the curriculum (whether you're struggling to succeed or just struggling to stay awake out of boredom) it might be a good thing if you reconsider your choice of curriculum and/or career.
Continuing on the experiential research bandwagon, we come to something called shadowing. Shadowing simple means finding a professional in a field you're interested in who will allow you to follow them around on the job for a day or even half a day. My clients who do this say it is one of the best things that they did to help them with their decision. You can find people to shadow the same way you found them for informational interviewing (See the article on People Research. And, if the informational interview went well, you may even be able to shadow the same person who granted you the interview.
Volunteering in the Field
Can you volunteer to assist in the field in which you're interested? Although you may not be able to volunteer as a brain surgeon (if you are able to do so, please don't volunteer to operate on mine - thanks) perhaps you can volunteer to do grunt work in an area of the hospital where brain surgeons perform their operations. Indeed, even being in the environment and being around the professionals in that environment can help you to get a feel for the career.
A part-time job can be used to make a career choice in the same way as volunteer work. The up-side is that you also get paid. And, many have used their already acquired skills (for example clerical skills) to get a foot in the door at an organization where they'd like to work, with the ultimate goal of being promoted and/or educated (by company-paid training) into their dream career.
Co-op Education or Internship
Co-op education or an internship can be used in career decision making the same way as volunteering or a part-time job. Co-op education can be found in undergraduate curriculums, while internships are usually a part of a graduate or professional school education. Both give you the chance to earn credit toward your degree through paid or unpaid work experience. Some schools will give you the option of doing an internship/co-op experience or taking a class. From a career counselor's perspective, it would be best if you chose the internship or co-op for a few reasons.
First, it can help you decide if you really want to do something. Take it from someone who used it to do just that. I completed an internship in elementary school counseling and found out that it was not what I wanted to do. If I hadn't done that internship, I might have gone on to be an elementary school guidance counselor and you might not be reading these wonderful and enlightening words right now! (oh brother…).
Next, a co-op or internship can help you to gain marketable skills for a field.
And, of course, it can help you make some valuable contacts. So, my advice is to opt for the co-op or internship experience.
How To Conduct Your Research
A final word on research. The order in which the articles were presented on this website is the general order in which you'd want to conduct your research. Written first, then people, then experiential. In the ideal situation you'd be ready to do some in-depth written research into a handful of good career possibilities. That written research would help you to narrow down your options to two or three of the best. From there, you would use people research to choose what appears to be the optimum choice for you. And from there you would use experiential research to confirm that choice. My role as a career counselor is to help you get to the point where you have that handful of good possibilities, and to prepare you to do effective research into those possibilities.
"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." ~Auguste Rodin