Tips for Teens: Four Ways to Try Out Careers Before Choosing One

For most teenagers, the working world may seem like a faraway destination, but it’s never too early to explore career paths, deepen your knowledge and develop your skills.

Maria McGinnis works in career services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and assists students in all phases of career development. According to McGinnis, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do right away.

“Being unsure about your career path is totally normal,” she says. “In fact, it’s good to be open to many careers rather than focused on one option.”

A great way to begin thinking about your chosen career path is to experience different types of jobs. Here are three ways to “try out” careers before you commit to them.

1. Volunteer.
Perhaps you’re required to complete a few hours of volunteer work through a class or FFA. Pick a project that will challenge you to learn something new. Whether you love or hate the experience, you’ll learn more about the kind of work that best fits you. For example, if you are considering a career as a veterinarian, volunteer at your local animal shelter. Or if you think you’d like to be a teacher, volunteer at an after-school youth facility.

2. Job shadow.
Many professionals are more than happy to spend a couple of hours sharing their insight and experiences. Your local FFA alumni chapter is a good place to start making these contacts. When you go on a job shadow, be prepared and make the most of the professional’s time. McGinnis recommends perfecting the way you introduce yourself so that you can share your skills and interests in a meaningful way. Also, be sure to ask the person you’ll be shadowing some basic questions about what to wear, what materials to bring and what timeframe they can commit to you. The more prepared you are for the day, the more you’ll learn and gain from the experience.

3. Get a part-time job.
Sometimes, you can earn money while learning about a future career. Potential meat or food scientists can often get part-time jobs at local grocery stores or meat markets, where daily interaction with career professionals can make a major difference. Animal enthusiasts often find work at a veterinarian’s office. When pursuing a part-time job, make sure it’s something you are ready to commit to. You’ll be treated as part of the team and afforded more opportunities if you can work there for months or years at a time. Be honest, up front, about the number of hours you can work each week. If it’s not enough time to justify the position, some businesses will still allow you to job shadow or volunteer without pay, just to gain the experience.

4. Pursue an apprenticeship or internship.
Unlike other part-time jobs, internships and apprenticeships are generally offered for a specific duration of time. Just like your supervised agricultural experience program, they offer hands-on experiences that build upon what you’ve learned in the classroom.
McGinnis recommends picking the internship that will challenge you the most.

“Interns who ‘push the envelope’ tend to come away with experience that will be useful when they graduate,” she says.
Some internships are paid while others are not. McGinnis reminds students that unpaid internships can provide experiences and skills that make the investment of time well worth it.

Can you do it all?
Balance your time wisely. If you’re concerned you don’t have time for a job, start slowly with a few volunteer hours or job-shadow experiences. Take on an internship or part-time job when you feel you’re organized enough to fulfill all of your responsibilities.

“We encourage students to find connections between what they need to do and what they ought to do,” McGinnis says. “Students gain many professional skills completing experiences that either combine academics with professional development or take place when school is not in session.”

– Andrea Bloom