Job Shadows

Job shadowing is the opportunity to visit with an employee (or employees) of a particular business and “shadow” or follow people around in order to observe what they do on a day-to-day basis. It also provides you the chance to ask targeted questions of employees in an intimate setting so you can better understand both the work being done as well as what it took for people to get to their current position. All this will help you as you work through the idea of whether or not it might be a future career pathway of interest for you as well.

Why is job shadowing so important? Maybe you’d like to be a nurse one day. Without ever doing some significant job shadowing, how could you be certain it is the right career for you? Would simply basing what you see on TV or hear off-handed from other people be enough for you? Are you willing to spend 4-5 years of your life and well over $100,000 preparing for something you’re not sure about? What if you get to the end, only to find out you don’t like it? Believe it or not, scenarios like this are actually quite common. Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to do some research about your choices of interest before you invest a bunch of time and money into it? Regardless of the career path you choose, multiple job shadows can give you a much better sense of what you’re getting into long before you get there.

Thinking about future careers and wondering what different jobs are like? Read this guide to learn about job shadowing for high school students, how you can find great job shadowing opportunities, and tips for making the most of your job shadow experience.

Job shadowing is an experience where you spend a day or a few days observing a professional on the job. While job shadowing, you can easily learn about different jobs and help decide which careers you would enjoy the most.

In general, job shadowing involves following one worker, often called a mentor, as they go about their work day. A job shadow mostly involves listening and observing, but they often give you the chance to perform some simple job duties (but you won’t be able to do things that require special training). You may focus specifically on one job or observe multiple jobs within a company. You will also usually have the chance to speak to other workers and ask them questions about their jobs and career paths.

Job shadowing has many benefits for students, and three of the most important are discussed below:

  •  Learn about Different Jobs - It lets you directly observe different jobs so you can better understand what different careers entail. Shadowing a job can help you learn if it’s really something you would enjoy. It’s much better to learn which jobs you like and dislike now.
  • Network with Professionals - Making connections with professionals can make it easier for you to find a job or an internship in that field down the road. If you had a great experience, try to keep in touch with the people you met. They may be able to help you or put in a good word.
  • Be Introduced to the Workforce - It lets you experience what having a job and being in the workforce is like. This is useful because it will give you a better idea of what to expect when you begin working.

If you have a negative experience or a bad mentor, it can turn you away from a job you had previously been really interested in. The important thing is to remember that you only spent one day at one place, and that does not represent the entire career by any means. If this happens to you, you should try to set up another job shadow, either at a different location but for a similar job, or at the same place but with another mentor.

Here are some ways you can set up your own job shadow experience:

  • Check with Your School - Ask your academic adviser for a list of organizations you can contact. If you aren’t sure where you’d like to do your job shadow, they can talk to you about your career goals and help you choose a place that will fit your interests.
  • Contact Places Where You'd Like to Work – Call or email someone from the company’s human resources department, or call or e-mail the main contact line. Say that you’re a student interested in learning more about certain careers, and you’d like an opportunity to do a job shadow with someone from the company. List some reasons as to why you chose that particular company.
  • Try Community Boards – Check specific company websites, or view sites like Indeed or Monster and do searches for possibilities. If you see interesting companies hiring for workers or interns, you can also contact them to see if they’d be willing to let you job shadow there.

The more effort and preparation you put into your job shadow, the more you will get out of it. Here are some things you should consider before, during and after your job shadow:

Before Your Job Shadow: 

  • Do some research on the company so you’re prepared. If you know who you’ll be shadowing, research their position, too, so you’ll know what to expect.
  • Be prepared to discuss yourself and your career goals. If you’re not sure, that’s OK. Just be honest and explain that’s why you wanted to do the job shadow - to learn and explore.
  • Prepare some questions you should ask while shadowing. These questions can be about the job itself, the career field, or advice you’re interested in getting.
  • Make sure you know where and when your job shadow will be taking place, and confirm with someone from the company a few days beforehand.

During Your Job Shadow:

  • Know how to get to the location and allow extra time to ensure you are not late.
  • Dress appropriately. Unless you will be getting dirty, dress similar to how you would for a job interview. Don’t wear t-shirts, shorts, or flip-flops.
  • Bring a notepad so you can take down notes and things you learn.
  • Keep your phone off during the job shadow and resist the urge to text or check your social media messages until you’re back home.
  • Be enthusiastic and participate in each activity suggested. You want to learn as much as possible from this experience.
  • Shake hands and introduce yourself to every person you meet.
  • Be respectful of people's time. While most people will be happy to talk, remember you are at someone's workplace and they need to work, so try not to dominate any one person's time.

After Your Job Shadow:

  • Send thank-you notes to the person or people you shadowed, and share what you learned.
  • Write up a few sentences on your job shadow experience for your own personal use to remember in the future the details you might otherwise forget.
  • Save contact information and business cards so you can reference them if you need to contact someone, ask follow-up questions, or if you end up applying for a job there.

This piece is adapted from Christine Sarikas’ PrepScholar article (8/19/18) titled: “Complete Guide: Job Shadowing for High School Students”. Used with permission.