Exploring a new career takes serious commitment: No one’s ever getting back the three months turned over to a summer internship during college. And if you’re mid-career and itching to try something new, it can be impossible to explore new paths for financial reasons, but also, because internships don’t generally exist for older folks.
LifeSwap, a new startup from a group of Stanford business students and developers, won’t give you an internship. But it will let you shadow a professional whose path you might want to follow—for a few hours of her busy day—whether you’re 18 and straight out of high school or 65 and looking for a new career.
Browsing LifeSwap’s website feels like flipping through a catalogue of potential life paths (with a Bay Area bent, the only urban center where the website operates for now). There’s a yoga instructor, who will bring you to her meetings. There’s a baker, who promises to "show you the mixing phase of the baking process." And there’s the members of the LifeSwap team themselves: All are willing to let curious strangers take a peek into their work lives. Co-founder Bastiaan Janmaat says he tells hosts to give visitors a "representative experience, but don’t let it change your day." Interested parties simply have to fill out a short application explaining why they’re interested in that career, and hosts pick from the most interesting, enthusiastic applicants.
To get the word out about LifeSwap, Janmaat says that he and his co-founders Jack Dubie and Mike Dorsey presented at high schools, but they also advertised online and at events around the Bay to attract adults. "There are 18-year-olds who benefit from these experiences, but there are also 45-year-old lawyers who want to know what it’s like to be a teacher," he says.
For some, it’s just an interesting way to have fun. For others, their "swap" is eye-opening. Janmaat mentions an 18-year-old who thought she wanted to go into PR, so she arranged to shadow a PR executive through LifeSwap. The executive introduced her to a UX designer, whom she ended up shadowing the next week and liking even more. Janmaat calls experiences like this "powerful. I think [this] is the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to do."
Originally LifeSwap charged participants a fee to shadow someone, but they’re doing away with a paid model in favor of a free one. Janmaat says he thinks the data they glean from learning about the kind of jobs people are interested in will be more valuable over the long run. Nor does he think hosts need a financial incentive to offer their services, calling it "a unique way to get in touch with potential hires," adding that, "it behooves [companies] to know what their potential applicants may look like."
LifeSwap plans to expand beyond the Bay Area to other regions around the country in the next few months: Career switchers take note.