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Blog>Guides>Job Shadow Interview: Definition, Tips, What to Ask & More

Job Shadow Interview: Definition, Tips, What to Ask & More

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What Is a Job Shadow Interview?

You might already be familiar with job shadowing, which concerns itself with experiential learning in the workplace, usually arranged for the benefit of a high school or college student exploring a career. Externships typically range from a couple of hours to a full workday and can be done in person or virtually. Through direct observation, students glean important information about a preferred field.

A young man being instructed by a woman in the office.

While similar in some respects, a job shadow interview is, on the whole, a different experience — one that's reserved for an unrelated cohort. A job shadow interview, or simply a shadow interview, allows a job candidate to follow an employee around as they carry out their daily responsibilities at the company.

This is normally done at the employer's behest, although it can be requested by the interviewee when appropriate. It's typical for this to occur as one of the last stages of the interview process since the company wants to assess how you'll do going forward if they give you the job. So while a shadow interview is a good sign, it ultimately does not always mean you have got the job yet. But you are certainly close!

Types of Shadow Interviews

It can be very costly to train new employees. In fact, the Association for Talent Development found that the average organization spent upwards of $1,200 per new employee. Not to mention, it’s incredibly time-consuming. With a record number of opportunities in the job market, it is more important than ever to ensure employees are a good fit. The positive spin for job seekers is this is a two-way street. By shadow interviewing, both you and your prospective employer can ensure that the job is a good fit for both parties. Where else can you experience this form of “try before you buy” in a professional setting?

Treat the day of your shadow interview as another formal stage in the interview process. Arrive early, and come prepared with some questions to ask the person you'll shadow. On top of assessing your technical know-how, assume the company is also monitoring your attitude, personality, and interpersonal skills. Remember to be courteous to the person you're shadowing and the rest of their colleagues with whom you'll interact throughout the day.

A manager teaching two interns.

Before the agreed-upon day, determine if you'll undertake any job duties yourself. If so, dress appropriately. Some shadow interviews won't require you to perform any responsibilities; however, a part of the interview may determine how comfortable you are with these tasks, like using technology, managing data, or project management.

Job shadow interviews aren't common across all industries. But some jobs — especially those requiring manual labor or specific hands-on skills — will have a potential hire shadow a current employee after a round of interviews. This form of job shadowing is generally unpaid unless you are already an employee looking to move into another department within the company.

There are essentially two types of job shadowing interviews:

  • Fly-on-the-wall observation type, where you will watch and learn. You will essentially shadow another employee already doing the job you are looking to fill. In doing so, you can learn about the job and the expectations before you are required to start doing the work yourself. It is mainly used to onboard new employees and to help current employees transition into new positions within a company.
  • The hands-on type, where you will actively participate. This job shadowing typically occurs when you already work for a company. You may be a new hire needing on-the-job training or looking to move into a different career within the company. This type of job shadowing involves you spending either a workday or several workdays with an experienced employee, trying to learn what they do so you can replicate it yourself.

Common Job Shadowing Industries

Virtually every job or career has some form of job shadowing — some may just be more formal than others. The following industries often include aspects of job shadowing:

  • Restaurants, retail, and service positions. These types of jobs often have you follow an employee for at least one shift to get an idea of how to interact with customers and do the job effectively.
  • Product development, marketing, technical support, sales, and customer service. Job shadowing can often be an essential part of training for these types of support positions.
  • Manufacturing. These are often learn-by-doing jobs. You will learn as you go by watching someone else first.
  • Skilled trades. Construction and labor jobs, as well as plumbers and electricians, almost always involve some form of internship with job shadowing to learn the intricacies of the trade.
  • Medical careers. Doctors, nurses, and most medical professions have an element of job shadowing in their training.
  • Administration. Receptionists, secretaries, and administrative assistants often have job shadowing as part of their training.

How to Prepare for a Job Shadow Interview

When you are shadowing someone for a new position, it is important to be prepared. If the company is completely new to you and the shadowing is part of the interview process, do your research on them ahead of time. Find out what the company does and what it is about. Try to get as much information as you can about the position before you start shadowing.

A man offering a handshake in the office.

If you are making a move within the same company, aim to understand as much as you can about the new position, field, or career ahead of time.

10 Questions to Ask When Job Shadowing

To get the most out of your experience, consider asking the person you are shadowing these questions:

  • What types of skills do you need for this job?
  • How has your training or education helped you with this career?
  • What do you like most about the job?
  • Has the position changed or evolved over time? If so, how?
  • What presents the biggest challenges for you with this job?
  • What is the career path? What are the advancement opportunities associated with this job?
  • What are some of the most important things I need to know to succeed in this role?
  • What helped you the most when you were starting out?
  • Can you describe your typical day at work?
  • Can you tell me anything that someone might not know about this job?

Keeping Track of Everything

Doing a shadow interview instead of a conventional one can teach you things that are easier to learn by seeing and doing than by telling. You can only learn so much by watching training videos, reading training materials, and listening to lectures. If you need to learn how to operate a specific piece of machinery, for example, the best way is to watch someone else do it first. It can also be easier to remember how to do something if you actively do it yourself, with the help and guidance of someone with experience to assist you.

Repetition is the key to storing things in your memory bank, NBC News explains. There are several things you can do to help you better absorb the information that may be coming at you at a rapid pace during a job shadowing shift:

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before, and eat a healthy breakfast that morning. These will keep your energy and stamina up and make focusing easier.
  • Dress for success, but also be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you are likely to be on your feet most of the day. Arrive early and ready to work.
  • Take the job seriously. Remember, you are actually working and need to be present and engaged.
  • Pay attention and concentrate on what your mentor or interviewer says to you. It can be beneficial to bring a notebook and write down pertinent information.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Clarify things and work to relate them to things you understand to better store them in your memory bank.
  • Learn the communication style in the office or field, and learn how things are done.
  • Read all pertinent documents carefully.
  • Ask for feedback at the end of the day.

Review your experience at the end of the day or shift with the person you were shadowing to better solidify the experience in your brain. This also allows you to hear their perspective on how things went and what the expectations are.

What Not to Do While Job Shadowing

It is helpful to avoid questions that will have short “yes” or “no” answers. Try to engage the person you are shadowing and get them to talk openly and freely about their job and what they do. This can help you to get a better understanding of what the job is actually like.

It is vital to treat the experience of doing a shadow interview as much like a real job as possible. Stay engaged and present. Put your phone away for the day. Be open-minded and prepared for anything. In addition, try to be as positive as possible the entire time.

Prepare yourself ahead of time. Do as much research as possible so you know what to expect and are not blindsided. Job shadowing can be a helpful tool for both you and employers alike. With a little prep work, you can get the most out of it.

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