You've heard of the informational interview—sitting down with a person whose career you admire, and asking questions about their career and trajectory.
But what about experiencing their career? Or rather, a few days of it?
That's what Jennifer Turliuk did. After finding little satisfaction in her first corporate job, Turliuk quit the position and opted instead to try "testing out the different career experiences I was interested in, in the most low commitment way that I could for each option."
Her solution? Shadowing! Turliuk got invaluable experience working in different companies and industries, and came away with what she describes as an MBA's worth of business experience and self knowledge—for free!
Of course, the enlightenment will come at one cost: time. Since this exercise requires a day or five in a strange office, obviously, you'll be MIA from your own 9 to 5. If you truly hate your job, this might be worth using some vacation days. Otherwise, it's best left to those between engagements.
Still interested? Here's your plan of attack:
Come up with a cross section of companies you find interesting. This can be for a wide range of reasons—maybe you're excited about the prestige, the game rooms, or the mission statement. Try to include a wide range of different companies, from startups to Fortune 500s. Think of it like choosing college campuses to visit: you'll want big, small, buttoned up, casual, cerebral, and creative.
Learn a little about each of your targets. Follow the both the corporate twitter accounts and those of the CEOs (or the job title that corresponds with your interests). Check out "team" pages on the company website and learn a little about the backgrounds of who works there. Be sure to note any common interests or connections—sharing an alma mater with the office manager may come in handy!
3. Prioritize and organize
By now, you may have two brass rings for your company: those you're most excited about, and those you have an in with (you share a personal trainer with a risk manager!) Order these in a spreadsheet accordingly, and take down contact info for each—whether it's a twitter handle, or calling in a favor with a mutual contact.
4. Make your move
Ask and you shall receive. Dont' ask... and well, nothing will happen. Turliuk said she was surprised by the number of responses you she got from simply sending cold emails, but you can use any medium you're comfortable with: LinkedIn, Twitter, email. Just be use the four F's: friendly, flattering, feasible, and finite. Choose specific details to mention about the company to demonstrate your interest, ask for something reasonable (anywhere from an afternoon with a person or a week to rotate around the company works), and of course, be brief!
5. Let hope—not fear—guide you
It's important to keep a positive approach with this process. It may be scary to reach out, and yes, you may experience rejection. But one yes will be worth all the nos. And you may do better than you think! As Turliuk herself writes, "One thing that really surprised me during my experience was how easily approachable, open, and helpful most people are. Cold emailing has become perfectly normal, as has saying “I saw you on Twitter and thought you seemed interesting, so I wanted to reach out.”"
She also notes that with so much information at your fingertips—for example, Pinterest boards full of your target's hopes, dreams, and hobbies—you've got all the tools you need to make a connection.
Now go use them!
How I figured out what I wanted to do with my life (Forbes)
Day in the Life articles
Required Summer Reading for Recent (Unemployed) Graduates