Job shadowing can help you determine if the job you are considering is actually something you can and want to do. This type of unofficial training has long been a type of externship for students exploring different careers. It can also work for anyone looking to make a career change or get more information about a specific field or career path.
Job shadowing is often used as part of the interview process for both you and an employer to better understand each other and decide if the fit is right. It can also be part of the training process for new hires. It does not entail rigorous training protocols; rather, you will just observe an employee already doing the job so you can learn about it.
To get the most out of job shadowing, be sure to ask a lot of questions and take notes to help you absorb the information that is being presented.
It can be very costly to train new employees, upward of $1,000 per employee, Forbes reports. Not to mention, it’s incredibly time-consuming. In the current job market, it is more important than ever to make sure employees are a good fit.
Job shadowing can be used as part of the interview process for both you and an employer to decide if a particular job is going to be the right fit for you both. It is a form of “try before you buy” for the employer, and is also valuable for the hiree because it gives them a first-hand look at what they are applying for.
Students often job shadow as an educational tool to help them learn about different careers. Many jobs — especially those in fields that require manual labor or specific hands-on skills — will have a potential hire shadow a current employee after a round of interviews to ensure that the job is a good fit for both parties. This form of job shadowing is s generally not paid unless you are already an employee and looking to move into another department or job within the company.
There are essentially two main forms of job shadowing:
Fly-on-the-wall observation type, where you will just watch and learn. You will essentially shadow another employee who is already doing the job you are looking to fill. In doing so, you can learn about the job and what the expectations are before you are required to start doing the work yourself. It is also used to onboard new employees and to help employees transition into new positions within a company.
The hands-on form, where you will actively participate. This type of job shadowing typically occurs when you already work for a company. You may be a new hire who needs on-the-job training, or you may be 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.
Job Shadowing Guide
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.
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.
Ask the Right Questions
To get the most out of your experience, ask 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 job 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 this job?
Can you describe your typical day at work?
Is there anything you can tell me that someone might not know about this job?
Keeping Track of Everything
Job shadowing 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 right there 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 also make it easier to focus.
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 really concentrate on what your mentor or interviewer is saying 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
As explained by the Career Services Network at Michigan State University, 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 this experience as much like a job interview or 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.