The Ultimate Guide to Job Shadowing

By Brittany Loeffler on October 26, 2020

There are so many job opportunities out there. How do you pick just one industry to study and work in after you graduate from college? The answer is job shadowing. Job shadowing can help you decide what industry or job you should work in without wasting your time trying to find something you enjoy and excel in.

Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for doing the same job. You have to find what you are good at and actually enjoy doing. Job shadowing can help you come to this conclusion much faster than simply guessing you want to pursue a career, spend years studying, only to find out that it isn’t exactly how you pictured.

Below, you’ll find the ultimate guide to job shadowing, the benefits of it, and how you can prepare yourself for a day of job shadowing so you can confidently pick a career you’ll love.

job shadowing

via Unsplash

What is Job Shadowing? 

Job shadowing is when you follow a professional throughout their day while at work. This professional will host you for the day, or maybe even a couple of days, and walk you through their daily routines, work schedule, and projects they work on. Job shadowing offers you a chance to see what a day in the life of someone working your dream job is actually like.

You’ll get to see the phone calls they receive, the meetings they attend, the projects they work on, and more. It’s a great way to witness the reality of working in a career you would like to pursue, especially because it may be completely different from what you expected.

Job Shadowing vs. Interning

Some people may confuse job shadowing and interning. Internships hold much more responsibility and go through a hiring process. You must apply for the position, interview, and be accepted by the company. As an intern, you will still see the daily workings of the office, but you’ll also be assigned tasks to help the employees. While this can be great experience, it doesn’t always offer you a great view of what to expect while working in the industry.

Job shadowing usually is just for a day or two and doesn’t have any type of application process. You are there solely out of curiosity and the eagerness to learn more about the job. You will spend your time observing rather than working on projects or tasks. In some ways, job shadowing may be even more informative than interning because you can spend your time learning rather than worrying about completing a task.

Types of Job Shadowing

There are three main types of job shadowing that you can do to get a realistic view of what a specific job position entails.

Observation

Observing someone going throughout their workday is the most common type of job shadowing. You’ll literally be a shadow to your host, standing behind or beside them, watching them and taking notes about what they are doing. You’ll have the chance to ask questions and make conversation, but the main reason you’re there is to observe, watch, and listen.

Regular Briefings

Some job shadowing takes place over a period of time. You may be interested in a project someone is working on and want to keep up with what they’re doing. Over time, you’ll shadow your host on multiple occasions and receive briefings about the job or project while also observing.

Interactive

Similar to an internship, job shadowing may also include getting some hands-on experience. You may have the chance to complete some tasks, get involved in projects, and more while observing a host or even a team.

Who is Job Shadowing For? 

There are many people who can benefit from job shadowing. The main group of people who decide to shadow someone is students. These are mostly high school and college students who aren’t sure what direction they would like to go in when it comes to choosing a career. This is a great time to shadow multiple jobs to keep your options open and see what best fits your interests and your skills. If done in high school, it can save you a lot of time while in college because you can study something you actually want to pursue rather than finding out at graduation it isn’t actually what you want.

Job shadowing is also for people who are looking for a career change. Remember, just because you chose one career after graduation doesn’t mean you have to stick with it all your life. You can choose to pivot and change your career at any time! For those who know what they don’t want to do, job shadowing is a great resource to find what it is they actually do want to do.

job shadow

via Unsplash

How to Find Someone to Shadow

If you are a student looking for someone to job shadow, ask your career center or counselor if they have a program. Many alumni will stay in touch with their alma mater just to help students like yourself decide which career they would like to pursue and even help them make connections.

Ask your network if they personally work in the industry you’re interested in or if they know someone who does. You’ll be amazed by just how many people are connected with others who may be helpful to you. Put out a post on LinkedIn asking if anyone will be willing to let you shadow them for a day, too. This will increase your network even more.

If all else fails, you can contact companies directly and ask if they have a job shadow program or an employee who is willing to host you for a day. When it comes to larger corporations, the human resources department usually does have a program for this, which will make it easy for you to schedule your job shadowing day. Don’t be afraid to craft an email or pick up the phone. The worst they can say is “no!”

Lastly, if you are stuck in one location and cannot travel to a certain company to job shadow, there are services that allow you to virtually job shadow. This not only saves you time but is super convenient and comfortable. You’ll be able to learn about a job right from the comfort of your own home while having access to so many more jobs than you would if you were to physically job shadow.

Benefits of Job Shadowing

We’ve covered what job shadowing is, but why should you take the time to do actually do it? There are quite a few reasons that will benefit you in the long run.

job shadowing

Infographic by Brittany Loeffler

Explore Career Options

Job shadowing will help you explore the different career options that you are considering before you spend the time studying and working to pursue them. This will help you narrow down what you enjoy doing and what you thought you would enjoy doing. Many of us grow up with an idea of what we would like to pursue as a career only to find out that it isn’t actually what we want!

Don’t waste your time studying for four years in college, stressing over exams, and doing internships only to decide that you want to work in a completely different industry at your graduation. Job shadowing will save you this time and energy and help you focus on the career you actually do what want to pursue.

Who knows? You may even discover you want to pursue a career you never even considered before.

Evaluate Your Skills 

As you job shadow, you will have special insight as to what skills are required to successfully complete the job you’re interested in. You will see how your current skills match up and if you are on the right path to pursuing the career. You will also see what skills you need to learn or improve before you can apply to job positions similar to the one you are shadowing.

This information is extremely beneficial because you can create an educational plan as to how you can achieve your dreams of working in a certain job role or industry. Take classes, online courses, and more to enhance your skills and continue your education to help you land your dream job.

Grow Your Network

Networking is everything. The people you know are half of what will make you successful and achieve your dreams. As you’re job shadowing, you will make connections with people in the industry. Talk to as many people as possible and collect their contact information. If this is truly the industry you would like to pursue a career in, then they are going to come in handy later on down the road.

How to Prepare to Job Shadow

Just like an interview, you don’t want to show up unprepared to your job shadowing day. Coming prepared and ready to learn will make you seem more professional to your host and will help you get more out of the experience. Here is how you can prepare for a successful day of job shadowing.

Pack Your Bag

While you don’t need to bring much, there are some essential items you should have with you during your job shadowing. Make sure to pack a notepad and a pen so you can take notes and write down your thoughts as you go throughout the day. This can also be done on your phone, but make sure it’s turned on silent or vibrate during the day, you don’t want to disrupt your host.

Dress the Part

Getting ready to spend the day in someone else’s office means dressing the part of an office employee. You want to be taken seriously, right? The best way is to come dressed in business casual or business professional attire. This means no jeans, t-shirts, or flip flops. Dress as if you were going for an interview.

Research the Company

Don’t show up without any knowledge of the company you are about to witness. Visit the company’s website, stalk their social media, read any news articles that they have been mentioned in before you meet your host. This will help you make conversation with your host and know what to expect while job shadowing.

Prepare Questions to Ask

You want to get as much information as possible about the job and industry while you are job shadowing. You may feel nervous and overwhelmed at first and completely forget to ask your most burning questions. To avoid this, prepare the questions you have the night before and write them down on your phone or on your notepad.

Make sure to write down questions that come to you during the day to ask at the end, too! Ask as many questions as you can to get the most out of your day job shadowing.

Stay in Touch

Once you have finished your day of job shadowing, make sure to send your host a thank you note. Not only will this show them how much you appreciated their time and help, but it will solidify them as a contact within your network. Keep in touch with them if you have decided their industry or career is one you would like to pursue. An occasional email asking how they’ve been and updating them on your own achievements or an invitation to coffee can go a long way.

Get the Most Out of Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is an excellent way to witness what working a job is actually like. You will follow a professional around and see what their day to day is like while working in their job position. Ask them the questions you’ve always wanted to know about their career. This is also a great way to determine what career is right for you. It’s a good idea to job shadow multiple people in different positions and industries to be sure of your decision when it’s time to make it.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to go after new things if you’re really interested in it. You can achieve anything if you work hard and stay motivated.

By Brittany Loeffler

Uloop Writer
Brittany is a senior English major with a concentration in creative writing at Temple University. After growing up in a very rural part of Pennsylvania, she found her calling in the streets of the big city of Philadelphia. Aside from writing, she enjoys reading, movies, baking, and photography.

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