If you’ve ever had buyer’s remorse, you know its pain. You heal, learn from your mistakes and, hopefully, make better choices the next time around.

Granted, some imprudent choices in life have far greater consequences than others. Choosing the wrong career can cause a ripple effect of negativity, from boredom to frustration, anxiety and even depression.

What if you could take precautions to avoid regret around career choice — and benefit others in the process?

While volunteering is a classic “win-win,” it can be particularly valuable when contemplating a new career.

Volunteering: A Career Test Drive

career coach Chicago volunteer

A car might look great on paper and get great reviews, but how can you know if it’s right for you until you take it for a spin?

In the same vein, one way to determine if a career move is right for you is to take it for a test drive.

Like any major investment — in time, money or any other limited resource — the first step is to conduct your research.

Shopping for a new home? You’ll likely limit your options to those that fit your budget and your preferences. Then you’ll take a look, visiting those that meet your criteria. Of course, you won’t know what it’s really like to live in it until the moving truck pulls away, but walking through your top contenders will allow you to envision living in them — or not.

Test-driving a car, or a career allows you a similar opportunity — with a twist. You get a glimpse into the company and they get the (pro-bono) help they need, whether it’s to provide services, further a cause or complete a project.

Both sides win.

Want to Be an Event Planner? Plan an Event

Chicago coaching volunteer to test career optionsAs our career coaches tell clients, one of the best ways to determine if a career is right for you is by actually performing the job. Say you want to be an event planner. Go to a non-profit, charitable organization, or community organization and volunteer your help. Before long, you’ll be knee-deep in planning an event.

Ask yourself: Do I like this job? Am I satisfied with the work? Does it excite me? Does another role on the team seem more interesting to me?

By volunteering your services, you’ve accomplished two things. You’ve given yourself a taste of what working in this career is really like — and you’ve added some relevant volunteer experience to your resume. This can be especially useful if you are between jobs.

If you are looking for volunteer activities, visit idealist.org and complete a profile. You will, almost immediately, start to receive email notifications when events and opportunities arise that match your interests.

Stepping it Up: Volunteering for a Board Position

Since networking can be one of the most effective ways to learn about job opportunities (and to get the job!), it’s important to make the right contacts. Volunteering can help. Consider the organization to which you will donate your time, and whose paths you might cross there.

career coaching benefits of volunteeringLook at the boards and (depending on your age and experience) junior boards of organizations in your area. Who is on them? What companies do they represent? Who do you want to meet? Who do you want to impress with your talents, skills and personality?

Board involvement offers you a unique opportunity to find the right career by filling a leadership role in an organization. All of this without the heavy time involvement that some lower-level volunteer roles might ask. For a couple of hours a month, you can interact with some high-level executives and leaders in your community as an equal.

Don’t stop there. Get to know members on a deeper level. Invite them out for coffee and talk to them.

Who knows, the next time they have a position at their company, you might be the first person they think of. Though some boards have a financial commitment, it might be worth it to get yourself in front of the right decision-makers who can see you in action.

Though this option takes a little more research (most boards don’t advertise vacancies online), it often pays in greater dividends. Rather than just test driving one job, you get a chance to see many different leadership-level positions and to make valuable network connections.

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