What Is Job Shadowing and How It Can Help Your Career

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Job shadowing is a useful way to learn about a particular job of interest. It involves spending a limited amount of time (usually ranging from a couple hours to a week) following around a professional in that job. By observing a day (or days) in the life of the professional, the person shadowing learns what that job is really like.

Job shadowing is a great way to learn whether or not a job of interest is right for you. Read below for more information on job shadowing, and how to find a job shadowing opportunity.

Benefits of Job Shadowing

Job shadowing can be useful in a number of ways. It is a great way to get a snapshot of a day in the life of a job. This can help you decide whether or not you think you would enjoy and feel passionate about the job.

Job shadowing can also help you decide if your skills match the career field of interest, and how your skills from school and other jobs might translate to this job.

Because job shadowing is a short-term experience (sometimes only half of a day), it is a great way to decide whether or not you want to pursue this career before applying for long-term jobs or internships.

Finally, job shadowing helps you develop contacts in your career field of interest. When job shadowing, you follow around someone who is competent in his or her career field. This person will be a useful contact as you begin to search for and apply to jobs and internships.

Formal vs. Informal Job Shadowing

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

To find a formal job shadowing program, check with your high school guidance counselor, or your college’s career services office. Often, schools have formal programs that you can apply for. They 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. You can also make a list of potential companies you would like to job shadow at, and then see if anyone in your network works at those companies. You can then reach out to one of them to ask for a job shadowing opportunity.

Some large organizations (including government agencies) offer job shadowing programs to students. You might check out organizations of interest to see if any of them have such a program.

Though most job shadowing opportunities are designed for high school or college students to figure out their ideal career choice, it's possible to job shadow as an adult too. It is a great idea to job shadow if you are thinking of changing careers. You can meet with a career counselor, or get in touch with your college career services office (which often provides assistance to alumni). You can also just reach out to professional contacts, friends, and family to see if you can spend a day with them in the office.

What Do You Do During Job Shadowing?

Every job shadowing experience is different. However, typically you will follow an employee around and observe them partaking in their day-to-day work. They might ask you to help with certain tasks as well. Some employees will give you opportunities to ask questions throughout the day, or at the end of the job shadowing experience.

Depending on how long you shadow the employee, you might even learn skills critical to the job.

How Long Does a Job Shadow Last?

A job shadow experience can be as brief as a few hours or a day, or may be as long as a week or more. However, job shadowing that extends beyond several weeks is more like an internship.

Note that in almost all cases, the time you spend while shadowing someone will not be paid.

Tips for Job Shadowing

  • Prepare questions ahead of time. You will likely have an opportunity to ask the employee questions about the job. While you will come up with questions throughout your experience job shadowing, write down a couple questions ahead of time.
  • Dress professionally. Because you are going to a person’s workplace, you need to dress professionally. What is considered “professional” 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.
  • Bring something to write on. You will want to take notes throughout your shadowing experience. You will also want to write down questions that arise. Bring a notepad and pen so that you are prepared.
  • Pick a good time. Pick a time to job shadow that works best for you. If you are a student, this might be your summer break, spring break, or winter break. However, you also need to consider the job. For example, if you want to shadow a teacher, it will be hard to find one working in the summer. Take both your schedule and the job’s schedule into account.

    Job Shadow Follow Up

    Job shadowing is often done as a favor from established professionals to help people looking for a job, so if you do come across a job shadowing opportunity, you should be polite, professional, and grateful for the opportunity.

    Be sure to write a thank you note to the employee for giving you the opportunity to learn from them.

    You might also ask to meet with the employee briefly after the job shadowing experience (or on the last day you shadow) to ask follow-up questions about what you saw and experienced.

    Be sure to stay in touch with the person you are shadowing. They will be useful people to network with as you begin to look for a job.