What Is Job Shadowing?

Definition & Examples of Job Shadowing

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Job shadowing involves spending time following a professional as they work. By observing the professional for anywhere from a few hours to several weeks, you can get a better understanding of their particular career.

Find out more about how it works, its benefits, and how to prepare if you're going to shadow someone.

What Is Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing is a useful way to learn about a particular job of interest. 

Each job-shadowing experience can be different. However, you typically will follow an employee and observe them partaking in their day-to-day work. They might ask you to help with certain tasks, as well.

Depending on how long you shadow an employee, you might even learn skills critical to the job. Some employees will give you opportunities to ask questions throughout the day or at the end of the experience.

How Job Shadowing Works

Job shadowing can be done as part of a formal program organized by a high school or university, or it can be scheduled informally.

You can usually find a formal job shadowing program through your high school guidance counselor or your college’s career services office. Schools might also have a list of alumni who are willing to let students job shadow.

If you cannot find a formal program through your school, you might meet with a career counselor for help finding a shadowing opportunity or reach out to people in your network. Some large organizations and government agencies also offer job shadowing programs to students.

Though most job shadowing opportunities are designed to help high school or college students determine their ideal career choices, it's possible to job shadow as an adult, too.

If you're thinking of changing careers then job shadowing might be a good idea. Start by meeting with a career counselor or get in touch with your college career services office if it provides assistance to alumni. Or, you can just reach out to professional contacts, friends, and family to see if you can spend a day with them in the office.

Benefits of Job Shadowing

Job shadowing can be useful in a number of ways, including helping you decide whether or not you'd enjoy and feel passionate about a job. You'll also find out if your skills match the career field of interest and whether your skills from school and other jobs might translate to this job.

Because job shadowing is a short-term experience, it can be a great way to decide whether or not you want to pursue a particular career before applying for jobs or internships. 

Job shadowing also helps you develop contacts in your career field of interest. When shadowing someone who is competent in their field, you have the opportunity to gain a useful resource as you begin to seek and apply for jobs and internships.

How to Prepare for Job Shadowing

It's important to be prepared for a job-shadowing experience so you can get the most out of it.

Coordinate Your Schedule

Pick a time that you can commit to. If you are a student, this might be over a summer, spring, or winter break. However, you also need to consider the job. For example, if you want to shadow a teacher, it will be harder to find one working during the summer.

Do Your Research

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the person you will be shadowing. It's also a good idea to visit the company's website. This context will be helpful during the experience. 

Stay in touch with the person you are shadowing—they will be an invaluable networking contact as you begin to look for a job. Also, write a thank-you note to the employee for giving you the opportunity to learn from them.

Check Your Wardrobe

Because you are going to a person’s workplace, you need to dress professionally which depends on the job and the industry. When in doubt, ask your guidance counselor, career counselor, or even the person you are shadowing for advice.

Prepare Your Questions

You likely will have an opportunity to ask the employee questions about the job, so prepare some ahead of time. You should also ready to talk about your career goals, where you've worked or interned previously, and why you're interested in the job.  

Take Notes

You will want to record what you learn throughout your shadowing experience and write down any additional questions that arise. Bring a notepad and pen, so you're prepared.

Key Takeaways

  • Job shadowing involves observing a professional as they work to get a better understanding of their particular career.
  • Job shadowing can help you determine whether a certain job is right for you, whether you're looking to start or change a career.
  • You can find a job shadowing placement through a formal program organized by a high school or university, a career counselor, or a network contact.
  • To get the most out of a job shadowing experience, do your research, ask questions, and take notes.