Setting a career goal isn’t easy: It takes soul-searching and getting real with what you may want to do versus where your skill strength might lead you. It also takes feedback and “head’s down” development planning, not to mention the support of people around you: your partner, your friends, and even your current manager.

Once you’ve identified one to three target areas or roles of interest, you will want to take the important step of getting a sense of what it’s REALLY like being in that business area or performing that role. There are a few ways to test whether the career objective is a good fit; here are four recommended steps:

Step 1: Passive research

Step 2: Informal networking

Step 3: Conducting a networking meeting

Step 4: Arranging for a job shadow or volunteer opportunity

These steps, range from low to high engagement and low to high risk/return. How do you decide which step to take? I recommend against arranging for a job shadow or volunteer opportunity (Step 4) until you have done one or more of Steps 1-3. So, before you conduct a networking meeting (Step 3), do some informal networking (Step 2), and prior to that, gain some knowledge of the industry, company, or role (Step 1). Googling databases for information on your target field is a good start. One informative website is the O*Net database, http://www.onetonline.org, which contains rich information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on everything from job outlook to skills and training required for entry.

Another way of looking at the process of setting a career goal is to assess how risk averse you are. Clearly Step 4, job shadowing and volunteering, is more time-consuming and involves contacting many people to carve out and implement a role. If you’ve been doing your self-assessment, asking for feedback from key people, and building solid networking contacts, then you are in a good place to ask for support.

If you are curious about the different options to “reality testing” a career goal, Katherine at WorkPaths Consulting can help you navigate the steps involved.