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How often do you find yourself zoned out, cheek pressed to your palm, as you stare at the wall clock and count down the hours until freedom? There are few moments worse than when your job turns into a grind. Could the problem be a bad work environment under poor management? Sure, but there’s also a chance that you just aren’t compatible with your current career.
Millions of workers pursue career changes every year. It’s not a foreign concept by any means. What’s scary about making a career change, then, is the fear that you may end up replacing your old, crummy job with a new job that’s equally, or more, crummy. What’s even scarier is that only you know what the best job for you will be. That’s a lot of pressure to handle on your own.
Thankfully, there are resources – many of them freely available online – that can help you narrow down your options. If you really hate your job and you’re serious about finding a more fulfilling alternative, here’s what you can do about it.
Career Aptitude Tests
Princeton Review. The Princeton Review is meant to prepare graduating high school students in their transition to higher education. Yes, Princeton Review provides help for testing and gathers data on schools of all kinds (college, law, medical, etc.), but they have a 5-minute career quiz that will tell you what sort of jobs line up with your interests AND what sort of jobs line up with your work style. I found these results to be very much in line with my own career introspection.
Note: You’ll need to register a free account for the Princeton Review to take this test.
LiveCareer Interest Test. In direct contrast to the Princeton Review’s 5-minute quiz, LiveCareer offers a career interest test that will take you somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes to fill out. This test takes into account various spheres of your life, including what you like, what makes you unique, what your skills are, and more. It’s considered America’s #1 free career test and the resulting report is far more detailed than any other I’ve seen.
Note: You’ll need to register a free account for LiveCareer to take this test.
True Colors. The True Colors Career Quiz is less of a “Which careers are good for you?” quiz and more of a “What sort of worker are you?” Essentially, it’s a personality quiz. But hey, if you aren’t one for a lot of personal introspection, this quiz could help you see aspects about yourself that you never knew about, and that is important when finding a compatible career.
Once you have a general idea of which career you’d rather pursue, you need to start looking more into that field to see if it really is what you expect it to be. One great method for this is to audit classes at a local college or university. Auditing a course basically means taking the course without any obligation for homework or tests – your performance won’t be graded, but you won’t receive credit.
Academic audits are great because you can experience the course material without being too financially invested. Depending on your state and the universities nearby, you may be able to have class tuition fees waived – for example, some colleges offer free audits to senior citizens. Audits are often arranged on an individual basis so explain your situation and see if you can get any discounts or waivers.
I spent four years of university tuition and walked away with one truth: computer science wasn’t meant for me. Even if you have to spend money on an academic audit, it’s a much cheaper alternative to enrolling for a degree outright – especially if it helps you realize that it wasn’t the career you wanted all along.
An alternative is to view free video lectures online. With resources like OpenCourseWare and KhanAcademy at your disposal, you can learn a lot about different fields without ever paying a cent. This option is definitely worth your while even if it’s just for career exploration and not actual learning.
Speak With Experts
Making the right career decision can be tough, so why not speak to those who have more experience and have made those decisions already? By speaking with experts in the field, you can gain insight that you wouldn’t find in books or articles. There are two kinds of experts that you will want to talk to.
Experts in your current field. Anyone who has been in a particular field for a lengthy period of time has also gone through all the ups and downs inherent in the field. Before you switch careers, see if experts in your current field have had to deal with the same doubts and problems. It’s almost a guarantee that they’ve thought about quitting at least once – find out why they didn’t!
Experts in other fields. If you’re set on switching careers, then speak to experts in the potential fields you want to pursue. Will the new field really be any different from your current field? Will your current troubles translate to the new field as well, rendering the switch pointless? Really dig in and see if the career change is a good fit.
Not sure how to find and contact said experts? Aaron has written a great guide on using LinkedIn to research your next potential job and Angela shows how to make the most of LinkedIn to further your career.
Become A Volunteer / Intern
The absolute best way to know if a potential career is right for you is to experience it firsthand. Many career fields have ways for you to work for a short time, whether through volunteering or internships. In the case of volunteering, you can do it part-time without leaving your current job if your schedule allows.
Of course, volunteering and interning may not be a suitable option for you if the pay is substandard and you have bills to pay. But if you can make it work, they can be fantastic for getting a taste of a field before committing to it entirely.
In all of this, be sure to keep a realistic mindset. Some people will say that you should only work where it doesn’t feel like work. The sentiment is nice, but the reality is that every career path has its own set of difficulties and pressures. Switching careers won’t be a magical panacea.
On the other hand, it’s a very real possibility that your current job is a horrible match for you. Use the tools and tips outlined above to see if you should switch careers, and if so, which careers you should look into. Good luck!