Career Change: Conduct Experiments to Bridge into Your New Career

Having an idea about the career change you want to make is only half of the battle. You can greatly increase your chances for career change success by executing a number of motivating, insightful experiments about interesting careers that are appealing to you.

Career change experiments can range from simple, two-minute exercises that introduce you to important tidbits of information about that specialty, to more involved activities that may take several months to complete and allow you to immerse yourself to determine if a career is really right for you. Following are a list of sample career experiments, listed in order from least risky to activities that may require more confidence.

Internet Research

Researching career information on the Internet is a great place to begin your career experiments. Simply log onto your favorite search engine and type in keywords connected to your career interest area, and see what you can uncover. For instance, I once typed in “Asphalt Earring Design”, just to see what kind of results a random set of keywords would produce, and I actually found a number of websites describing earrings that were designed using asphalt. Just for fun (and to see what interesting career tidbits you can uncover) input keywords industries that interest you.

Practice Projects

As the name implies, practice projects are activities that allow you to experience a specialty without the pressure of having it be, “for real”. For example, let’s say you’ve decided to investigate what it would be like to change careers and become as a tree house builder. A logical practice project for this specialty, and a low-key way to start your career training, would be for you to actually build a tree house. This doesn’t mean that you need to run out to Home Depot and buy a truckload of lumber (although you could). If that seems like too big a step for you to take right away, there are a wide range of other practice projects that will allow you to learn more about this specialty.

For instance, you could begin by walking around your neighborhood to scope out trees that might be good candidates for a tree house. You could also pull out some paper and drawing tools and sketch a few ideas, or use a drawing app to create a blueprint. If you like the idea of actually building a tree house, you could get your hands on a Bonsai tree and construct a miniature version of one of your designs. Or, if you want to jump in completely, go ahead and assemble a tree house in your own back yard.

When it comes to practice projects, it’s usually best to start small and build momentum, so that you don’t get too overwhelmed. Remember, while you may be excited to learn about a new career, it’s still new to you. You’re bound to experience a learning curve as you attempt to learn about and execute the skills required for that specialty. Be kind to yourself and choose practice projects that allow you to begin with baby steps.

Field Trips

Say for instance that you’re researching a career change as a planner of sales conferences and retreats. A fun field trip might involve traveling to hotels and conference centers that host those types of events. Once you’re there, walk through the facilities on your own checking out rooms and resources, or request a tour from one of the representatives. If asked about your purpose, you can say, “I may be scheduling meetings here in the future,” (which is true) “and I want to know about the resources that are available.” Try to identify the work of various specialists on your field trip, from entry-level careers to higher-level specialties.

  • Visit businesses that hire people in the career you’re researching. Again, if asked about your purpose you can say, “This type of work interests me. I just wanted to see where the action takes place.”
  • Visit organizations that provide supplies or services for the kind of work you’re investigating.
  • Visit a school that provides training for the career you’re considering. Collect a course catalog and speak with an advisor about the programs offered. (Warning: After talking with an advisor, you may be tempted to sign up for training. Before you make that kind of commitment, be sure that you’ve researched the career thoroughly, to make sure it’s a good fit for you.)

Job Shadows

Want to learn more about a career change you’re considering…but not have to perform in it quite yet? Then consider a job shadow experience. Job shadowing allows you to observe a specialist in his or her work, while you sit like a fly on the wall watching from the background. Let’s say that you’re intrigued with the idea of a career as a computer programmer designing video games. One of the following job shadow opportunities would give you the chance to see the action from the front line:

  • Through a local video game programmer’s association, connect with a specialist and ask if you can watch him at his work for two hours one day.
  • Contact an area videogame programming school, and request the opportunity to sit in a lab class as students work on a project.
  • Check out your local job service center, library, or–a career information website—to see if a video clip of a video game programmer at work exists in the resource files.


Like the idea of gaining some real-world experience in a new career, but without the pressure of having to commit to it for the long term, or perform in it perfectly right away? Then volunteering may be an ideal career experiment for you. There are volunteer opportunities connected to nearly every career specialty, from entry-level careers to more specialized occupations.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a viable volunteer opportunity, contact your local library reference desk for ideas and referrals to groups in your area that may help you create the experience you seek.

Excerpted and adapted from “Career Coward’s Guide to Changing Careers” by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed.