You could do a personality questionnaire. You could ask your friends what they see you doing. You could assess your strengths – but these methods will always fall short of giving you the real data you need to make a better and more informed decision.
I had a friend who sold his business and told me he was buying a small hotel in the Lake district. He’d been to view several and had narrowed the selection down to 2. I told him before he made any drastic moves, to spend one day- yes, just one day with my brother (who ran a small hotel and pub – voted the best pub in the country, so he knew what he was talking about). He did. He sat in on a management meeting, observed a lunch service – scraped a few plates and took some orders. My brother reviewed his business plan and put him straight on a few financial realities. At the end of the day, my friend couldn’t quite believe the amount of work involved in running the business for such a tight profit margin. As a former CEO, the reality of how customers spoke to him was an eye opener. Feeling what it was like to spend most of the day on his feet was data he couldn’t get from a book. This insight was enough to shape and change his plan. He didn’t buy a hotel but did buy a house and now does walking tours – a much lower risk business, more flexible to demand and one with negligible set up costs.
The reality of different jobs isn’t found in a blog post or in our imaginations. When we are frustrated in our current jobs or dreaming of a new one, we fill in the blanks we don’t know with hopes and optimism: the optimism bias. To ensure we aren’t making career moves based on bias, the only way to really find out what is the perfect career for you is to try it out. Even a day can be informative. Why? Because we already know a lot about ourselves. When making a really huge decision (like buying a house) you wouldn’t do so without viewing it first but when you do, one or two viewings is usually sufficient. It is similar with jobs. Spending time doing a job for a day – or ‘shadowing’ a job for a day is incredibly important to get the information you need. On this basis, how do you go about getting that all important shadowing experience?
- Approach people who are already doing the job. Don’t approach anyone – there are hundreds of people out there and some are doing it far more successfully than others. Do your research and approach them.
- Be prepared to get rejected. I run a service which does this and for every 5 people I approach, 4 don’t want to do this. It isn’t for everyone and don’t take it personally if someone can’t make the time for you.
- Understand their fears: if you are wanting to go into a new industry, you might ultimately be a competitor. By being up front and addressing the fear by indicating you will be operating in a different sector or location, will massively help to put people at ease. For example, if you want to shadow a florist, indicate you have no intention of setting up in their town/village area. To this end:
- Be prepared to travel. This is your life people. If the best person to shadow lives in Newcastle and you’re based in London, go an make a short break out of the opportunity. Where and who you shadow should be based on their expertise and their ability to help – not how convenient it is for you.
- Offer them something in return. In my role at the ABP, I get asked alot by a lot of students and those switching into the career to go out for coffee. Yes – I do like helping others, but I simply don’t have the time and the harsh reality is, there isn’t really anything in this for me. I know others feel the same – so you have to evaluate – how can you ‘earn’ your time? If someone volunteers for the ABP – or even if all they do is turn up to an event and we end up talking, it is far more likely I will make time for them. I will bend over backwards for some of our best volunteers. I once had someone turn up to one meeting, deliver nothing then ask me for a reference for his volunteering. But you did NOTHING! Stop wasting my time!
- Obviously, it goes without saying that if you spend time with anyone, thank them. Tell them 6, 12 months down the line how you are getting on. If someone has invested time with you, they will love hearing how they’ve helped. But don’t overdo it. Unless they’ve made the offer or unless you’ve developed a relationship where you feel certain of the parameters, keep your distance and respect their time.
In summary, the right second career for you is something you will learn through experience. You won’t ‘find’ your passion by reading, dreaming or thinking. You will find it when you invest time and energy in doing. It is the collective data you get from experiencing something that you need to give yourself the best insights you can. It is this rich information you take with you then you are exploring different options. You’ll know if something feels right when you try it.
If you’ve changed jobs or are happy to be a mentor to others who’d like to shadow you at work, I’d love to hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucy Standing is the Founder of ViewVo, Chartered Business Psychologist, Social Entrepreneur and Vice Chair of the Association for Business Psychology.
If you’re looking to launch your own start-up and would like to shadow me I’d be delighted to share what I’ve learnt along the way! You can view my mentor profile and connect with me here