Confirming That Your Dream Career Won't Be a Nightmare

A career idea has captured your attention. You know something about this potential career from visiting Web sites, doing informational interviews, and reading about the work, but you still don't know whether it's the right career for you. Now is the best time to test the waters to discover all you can about the work you're considering.

Taking a relevant class or two

Early in your exploration, look for a short course that can give you a taste of your potential career. Your goal is not to get fully trained in the field at this point, but to explore whether the field is a good fit for you.

Pick up class schedules for local community colleges, universities with local satellite campuses, and specialty schools in your area or search the Internet for online courses or teleclasses.

As you take the course, notice whether you feel excited by the material or bored. If you're excited, pay special attention to what aspects of the course intrigue you most. If you're bored, is it because the class is too elementary or because the topic isn't as interesting as you thought? Is there a related topic that might be more interesting?

If you run across a full-degree or certification program, make note of it but don't commit to it — even if it looks like a perfect match. Starting a training program before you've confirmed your direction limits your career investigation and your future career choices.

Searching for online sources of information

As you search the Internet for informative Web sites about your target career, keep your eyes open for relevant online newsletters, discussion boards, and blogs that can tell you more about your possible career and profession.

Each of these resources is free and takes just a moment of your time to read. In return, you gain access to hot topics within the field, key events for professionals like yourself, crucial issues that may impact how you work, new techniques and perspectives you can incorporate into your work, and key players in the field.

Immersing yourself in trade journals

Reading a trade journal gives you a window into the priorities, politics, profession-specific language, and humor associated with the industry or profession. If elements of these areas are counter to your interests, pay attention! Now is the time to become aware of a lack of fit if there is one.

Your reading also gives you a synopsis of current and past events, upcoming special events, and key issues that are impacting the profession. Gaining an accurate understanding of the state of the profession is crucial to your ultimate comfort as you step into the career.

Interacting with people in the field

As you consider becoming an active member of a profession, find ways to interact with others in the profession. Locate a local chapter of a key professional association. Attending these meetings allows you to get a sense of how it feels to be in the company of those in your target profession. You can learn a lot by listening, observing, and interacting with others in the community. In the process, you enrich your understanding of the career, begin building a thriving network, learn from more experienced members, hear about local job leads, and enhance your visibility within the profession.

Attending a professional conference

A professional conference can be a great place to get a sense of a profession while building your skills. As you review conference brochures that come across your desk at work, evaluate how the conference could give you a better understanding of your target career. This opportunity is especially likely if your new career is related to your current position.

If your target career isn't related to your current career, your inbox probably isn't going to deliver the information you need to find a conference that's relevant to your target career. Instead, turn to trade journals, association Web sites, professional discussion groups, or your informational interview contacts to identify possible conferences that meet your needs. Keep your eye out for regional conferences as well as national or international opportunities.

Observing someone on the job

Watching someone interacting with clients, co-workers, suppliers, and management and doing the tasks you might perform gives you a great opportunity to evaluate how well that potential career fits you and your needs.

Before you ask your contacts if you can shadow them for a couple hours or a day, think through what you hope to gain from the experience. Make a list of what you want to look for during the observation. Build in time at the beginning of the appointment to determine the length of your observation time, whether you can take notes about what you see, and the appropriate time to ask questions — for example, on the spot or during a break.

Getting hands-on experience

To get some hands-on experience with your new profession (and strengthen job-relevant skills while you're at it), search for a way to work on a project that's relevant to you. You might consider volunteering to work on a relevant project or committee within a nonprofit, taking a part-time job, getting an internship, or helping a friend with a project. This extra project doesn't necessarily need to be a long-term commitment. Your goal is to see how it feels to engage in this sort of work.

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