Work experience for grown ups

When you decide that you want to try another career, how do you know for sure that it will be a good home for you? Sure, it may be based on some of your interests or pay a good sum of money, but how do you know what it is actually like? There are horror stories of people who have given up great roles within companies to start a new career which sounded great in theory but was radically different in practice. The reality is that there is no substitute for experience.

You need to spend time in the industries, companies and businesses that you perhaps want to dedicate a significant amount of your life to. When we are considering a significant change in career, we need to explore other realities before we commit to them fully. The difficulty is that unlike students who have all the time in the world, limited responsibilities and who generally won’t be sacrificing much when considering a change of career, established professionals, have developed a significant amount of knowledge, experience, contacts, loyalty and goodwill in their careers. All of this gives them the ability to add value and demand a certain income in exchange. This income needs to go towards paying school fee’s, mortgages and other living expenses. When you start a new career you are potentially risking a huge amount and perhaps even starting at the bottom. How then do established professionals who are employed 9-5 get enough work experience outside of their normal work routines to explore a career change effectively?

I would like to break few assumptions about work experiences:

  • Work experience is not just for students. They add as much value to retiree’s, professionals or entrepreneurs.
  • You don’t have to leave your career to get work experience. Many organisations offer sabbaticals. If you are committed to exploring an industry you could take a few days of your holiday to engage in structured work experience.
  • You do not have to spend a solid chunk of time in a company to get experience. Experience is more about a state of mind than time spent in an organisation. Quality work experience is where one seeks to learn as much about an industry or role as possible. This can be done through reading various documents from home, interviewing people at lunch, sitting in on specific meetings in the late evening and even taking a day’s holiday to observe a critical process. This process can be drawn out over a number of months without you spending more than a few days in the actual offices of the company you want to work in.
  • Work experience does not have to be unpaid. As a professional you have developed a significant number of skills that can be applied to other businesses. If you can understand the needs of the company in which you want to gain experience, you could perhaps offer a service that they would normally pay for at a discount in exchange for work experience.
  • You do not have to commit to just one work experience. When committing to a career change, why put all your eggs in one basket? Over 6 months, one could potentially experience a number of different industries.

What one discovers is that irrespective of whether or not you are leaving your career there is huge value in creating the space to learn. Learning about other industries, career paths and human journey of work! Conversations can spark new partnerships, businesses, the cross polination of new innovations or just a new friendship!