Not Sure What Career Move to Make Next? Here’s the Best Method To Find Out

It’s often fairly easy to identify the things that we don’t want in our next job. But knowing what you don’t want is only a glimpse of the whole picture.

What’s more challenging is figuring out what we do want – the role, responsibilities, culture, work environment, etc. And when we have a lot of options in front of us, this can be overwhelming.

How can we know if we’ll enjoy something or not, without being able to predict the future?

We have to start prototyping.

Prototyping is a stage of the design thinking process in which we build, test, and iterate a product or idea. In this case, the idea to prototype would be a potential career.

According to Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, authors of Designing Your Life, “Prototypes should be designed to ask a question and get some data about something that you’re interested in. Good prototypes isolate one aspect of a problem and design an experience that allows you to ‘try out’ some version of a potentially interesting future.”

To first isolate a variable, consider what you would like to understand better by prototyping the experience. For example, perhaps you’d like to know if you would like working in London. You’d also like to know if you’d enjoy working in the healthcare field. And you’re also curious to know if you would like working with kids. That gives you three different variables to isolate for different prototypes.

Evans and Burnett also clarify that “A prototype is not a thought experiment. It’s a physical experience in the world.” Daydreaming about it isn’t enough – you’ve got to try it on. How?

I’ve outlined 5 different ways to prototype below and some reflection questions to consider as you do:

1. CONDUCT Informational Interviews

An informational interview is one in which you, the interviewer, seek advice and input about careers, industries, and/or corporate culture from a professional in the field. Think of this as an opportunity to ask your future self what the work you imagine yourself doing is actually like. Use my informational interviewing guide to get started.

Questions to Consider:

What does this person know that you don’t? What would you like to learn from them? Keeping in mind that this meeting is solely about gaining information (and not a job), brainstorm the types of knowledge they can impart. For example, perhaps you’d like to learn more about industry trends, organizational culture, or resources to help you learn more. Once you’re clear about how this person can help you, you’ll be able to write a clear yet detailed request. And most professionals are willing to help out once they understand what value they can provide.

2. Volunteer

One of the best ways to build your portfolio, gain experience, and determine if you enjoy a certain career or work environment is to volunteer. You can find listed volunteer opportunities on sites like volunteermatch.org, idealist.org, or your local United Way site. You could also certainly branch out on your own to find an organization or a project you can help someone with and ask to get involved.

Questions to Consider:

What skills would you like to enhance or build in a hands-on way? What new work environments or types of organizations would you like to experience?

3. Shadow or Observe

Similar to volunteering, shadowing allows you to see the work in action first-hand. Shadowing can be particularly helpful in industries where it is difficult to practice the work without a license or credential. For example, someone who is interested in healthcare may want to shadow a family physician, physical therapist, nurse, and surgeon. Or perhaps they’d like to shadow within different settings such as a hospital, private practice, and free clinic.

Questions to Consider:

What types of roles, environments, and organizations would you like to gain exposure to? What type of work would be particularly helpful to see in action? Who do you know that you could ask to shadow? For what length of time would you like to shadow?

4. Start a Side Project

Sometimes the best way to try something out is to just simply do it yourself. For example, someone who is curious about a career in UX/UI design could start building websites or mobile applications. Someone who is curious about journalism could start a blog or podcast. Someone who is interested in education policy could compile and analyze data from their local school system to help improve policy on a small- scale level. You get the idea—there are lots of possibilities!

Questions to Consider:

What problems could you help solve through a side project? How could you use your strengths to add value to an industry or group? What issues or topics do you find yourself spending a great deal of time thinking about? Once you get started, what medium(s) could you use to share your project with others (i.e. blog, website, podcast, book, presentation, social media, etc.)?

5. Take a Class

Completing a class, certificate, or educational program of some kind can be a great way to learn anew skill set and determine if you enjoy a particular topic. Plus, you’ll often be able to add your new coursework to your resume or LinkedIn profile to demonstrate that you have gained some exposure and skills in this new field. With the convenience of online options now, you may have a great deal of flexibility in choosing when to fit your learning into everyday life.

Questions to Consider:

What are your gaps in knowledge or expertise? What classes could help you fill these gaps? How would you prefer to complete classes (in person vs. online)? What institutions or sites offer these courses? What are your time and money constraints?

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Keep in mind that these are not the only ways to prototype different careers. There are many more possibilities for you to explore! If you’re looking for ways to brainstorm or at a loss for where to start, download my Career Clarity Workbook.