Why it’s important to test out roles and how to do it

Now that you have done your research, it’s time to test out your assumptions. Career exploration includes trying out roles to see if they are a good fit. There are many ways to do this, as I will describe shortly. This method allows you to test drive before making a full career change. It can help you avoid committing to a role before knowing enough. It’s not a guarantee, but it does provide a low-risk way to see if it’s really for you. 

As we continue this blog series, this link will take you to the first one,  addressing each chapter of The Purple Parachute: A Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Winds of Career Change; this post will address ways to test your assumptions and verify the facts you uncovered during your initial research (Chapter 9). The “T” in the A.S.T.E.R. Career Model stands for “Test” because it is necessary to dig deeper into your exploration to see the landscape of your new potential path. 

There are many ways to test out roles. Some jobs do not allow for this, such as spy or internal auditor. Jobs like these, that allow access to sensitive information, will usually not have informal ways to observe the role in action. In those cases, informational interviews might be the closest you can get to the information you seek. However, lots of jobs can be tested and I list ways to do that below.


1) Volunteering

Volunteerism is a great way to learn more about an organization you wish to work for or to test out a role. If you are looking for a high-level approach, you might volunteer on a Board of Directors to understand how the organization works. If you are looking to see what a job will be like, you will want to take on a more hands-on role to get a true feel for it. 

Volunteering can build a connection with a targeted employer. I’ve seen many times where volunteering turned into a fruitful employment opportunity. It makes sense. You are fulfilling a need. The organization gets to see you doing the work, and you get to see how the employees are treated. When they see you are a smart and reliable hard worker, they are more likely to think of you when an opening becomes available. In the same vein, you get to see what it’s like to work there without going through the hiring process.

You may be impressed with their internal workings and respectful treatment of employees. On the other hand, you may be turned off by disorganization, politics, or a toxic work environment. Sometimes, people turn down a job opportunity because they do not feel aligned with the organization after volunteering, or they only want to be a volunteer. However, I’ve seen people move into full-time roles. It’s OK to start volunteering, hoping it will become paid employment, but you shouldn’t count on it. Nothing is guaranteed, and you don’t want to come across as entitled.

2) Try new “ships” to sail to your next gig

Internships have been around for a long time and are usually reserved for students, but new versions of this tradition have materialized in the workplace. Midternships are similar, but for people who are mid-career. Returnships are targeted toward women who are returning to work after a gap in their careers. No matter what type of “ship” you might select, these opportunities offer a great way to learn about a role (or a company) by providing hands-on experience. 

3) Job shadowing

This type of testing out involves following someone for a day or two to see what an average day is like in that job. These can be harder to find because you need to network first to find someone willing to provide this opportunity, but it’s worth the effort. Even if only for a day, job shadowing offers a unique insight into the day-to-day demands of the job. 

4) Formal training programs

Many companies offer internal training programs, meaning if you are hired, the company will fully train you. This is how companies like Rite-Aid and CVS attract new pharmacy technicians.   Enterprise Car Rental is well-known for its management training program. These types of programs usually offer intense short-term training, and the company asks the trainee to commit to a minimum length of employment after training ends.  Even if you don’t stay long-term, these programs can provide great experience for your future career.

With industries lacking enough workers, there are often short-term training programs to get you up to speed. This is common in geographical locations with shortages of teachers, along with jobs in technology or healthcare. New programs have cropped up to create more nurses faster. Nursing assistant certification programs exist just about everywhere. Information technology (IT) is another field in need of more workers. You can find many programs to learn coding, and some are free. My niece made a career move from research scientist to programmer about five years ago. She realized the insecurity of jobs that always count on grant funding and found a robust and free training program near her. She is happily growing in this new field, which offers consistent opportunities and a stable income.

5) Developing in place

This term involves staying where you work but experimenting with new responsibilities. Sometimes, you love your employer, your team, or your boss, but you are bored with your job. In these cases, it’s worth looking internally to try out new roles. If you are a valued employee, the company will likely try to work with you so they don’t lose you. Sometimes, you can be cross-trained, mentored, or cover someone else’s role while they are on leave. Trying a new role with your current employer can help you stay motivated without losing seniority and long-term employee benefits like pensions. 

6) Temporary work

Kelly Services, Randstad, and Adecco are nationally known temporary employment agencies. Odds are there are other local employers providing similar services near you. All these companies place professionals in jobs to provide short-term solutions to employers. There are many reasons a company might choose to hire a temp agency. Sometimes, they provide a seasonal influx of workers for the holidays. Sometimes, they offer temp-to-perm roles that are designed to turn into full-time employment if you work well during the temporary assignment.  Temp jobs help you to see what specific companies and work environments might be like. They also offer flexibility because assignments are usually short-term. 

7) Entrepreneurship

Experimenting with entrepreneurship can be a powerful way to test out a role (or two or three) because when you first start out, you will usually have to wear multiple hats. If you have an expertise or skill that is marketable you might try to start a business.  It’s safest to try this when you are working full-time so that you have a steady income while you explore. Having a consultancy can be a great back up plan for time between jobs and extra income when you are otherwise employed.

In closing, you can see there are so many ways to test out a potential role. It behooves you to find ways to experiment with new responsibilities before switching careers or quitting a job.  This phase of research can help you avoid jumping into a bad fit.  Take a minute to brainstorm two ways that you could test out a role that you have been thinking of doing in the future.  Let me know what you come up with. 


P.S.  I was honored to be a guest on two great podcasts recently. Please listen and share with folks thinking about making a career change. 

1) Psychologists Off the Clock podcast: Job Changes and Pivots with Paula Brand First aired on March 20 as Episode 347 (1 hour 14 min.)  

2) Midlife Midsters podcast:  Career Crossroads – Are You Ready for a Career Change?First aired on March 29th as Episode 9 of Season 2 (34 min.)