What Is Job Shadowing? (Plus Benefits and How To Prepare)

Updated November 9, 2022

Observing an experienced professional while they work can show you what to expect in a prospective role. Job shadowing is a way to examine the things you've learned about a job by observing someone as they perform their duties. Learning what job shadowing is and how to have a productive experience can help you determine if a role is right for you. In this article, we answer the question "What is job shadowing?" and discuss how it works, who uses it, why it's beneficial, and steps you can take to prepare for your experience.

What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is the process of following a professional through their daily work routine. Job shadowing experiences can last a few hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the situation. Students and college interns usually take advantage of job shadowing opportunities, but companies also often offer job shadowing to their employees to see what other types of roles they might enjoy pursuing. Some companies may also consider job shadowing to be a key part of their employee onboarding and training processes.

  • Related: How To Create a Career Plan in 9 Steps

  • Related: How to Gain Experience to Advance Your Career in 12 Steps

How does job shadowing work?

Employers can organize job shadowing through formal programs or through informal requests. Formal programs might be part of onboarding, where all new hires must shadow someone in a similar role for a few days before performing their job duties. Schools may also have formal job shadowing programs for students to see what a day at a particular job is like. Guidance or advisory offices may have a list of volunteers for individuals to sign up with and shadow. Informal shadowing might be a request from an employee to shadow someone else to see what their role is like.

Who uses job shadowing?

Several industries use this technique to train and educate their employees or interested candidates:

  • Health care: There are a lot of general procedures like safety and hygiene across the health care industry, but specific roles require practical training and job shadowing. Aspiring or new nurses or physicians may shadow experienced professionals to learn how to use equipment and interact with patients.

  • Marketing: Job shadowing in marketing can help teach students or new employees about the different areas of marketing and what tasks they perform. Shadowing social media specialists, graphic designers, or brand associates can give you a detailed view of the broad industry of marketing.

  • Finance: Finance professionals perform a lot of different tasks, like data analysis, forecasting, accounting and researching. Shadowing accountants, analysts, investors, and auditors can show you what's required for each of these duties.

  • Education: Educators learn a lot of theories and practices throughout their education, but shadowing can help teach what an actual classroom experience is like. When shadowing an educator, you might observe classroom management, how to teach effective lessons, and how to handle conflict.

Related: A Guide To Marketing as a Career

Benefits of job shadowing

There are a variety of benefits you can achieve from participating in a job shadowing experience. Review these examples to determine how you can benefit from shadowing jobs:

  • Provides you with networking opportunities: Job shadowing helps you meet and engage with professionals in your field of interest. It also introduces you to potential employers and allows you to establish meaningful, professional connections you can approach for career advice.

  • Helps you determine whether to pursue education or jobs in a specific field: Whether you want to figure out what college to go to, which major to choose, or which jobs to apply for after obtaining a degree, job shadowing can help you gain clarity about your career aspirations. This is because you witness the daily work environment and job responsibilities required of a certain job title.

  • Gives you the opportunity to learn more about a company: If you want to consider employment opportunities with a specific company, job shadowing is a great way to determine whether a company's work culture and values align with your needs.

  • Allows you to discover transitional roles to pursue at your company: Job shadowing is a great way to explore other career interests with your current employer. By working with the HR department, you can shadow your coworkers in other departments and decide whether you want to make a transitional role change if there is a job opening.

  • Helps you decide what professional areas you need to improve in: When you job shadow, you can make a note of any technical or interpersonal skills that a specific job title requires daily. This helps you determine what additional education and skills you need to qualify for and succeed in that role.

Related: 11 Types of Networking Events To Attend For Professional Growth

How to prepare for job shadowing and enhance the experience

Follow these steps to prepare for job shadowing to ensure you gain valuable professional experience:

1. Determine your availability

It's important to dedicate time to shadowing, which means your only responsibility during the time is to focus on learning. If you're in school, consider shadowing on nights, weekends, or holidays. In an office or similar setting, be sure your schedule is clear from deadlines and that you can commit the necessary time to shadow. Similarly, ask about the schedule of the person you're shadowing. These people might schedule certain days or time slots dedicated to job shadowing.

If you're working with a formal program, clearly communicate what dates and times you're available so that intermediaries, like your manager, human resources, or advisers, can help coordinate a date.

2. Do research on the company and job title

Before you start your job shadowing experience, take the time to research the company you plan to shadow. This includes reviewing their mission statement and values on the company website and looking at the products or services they offer. By doing company research, you can engage in meaningful conversations with employees and show how much you respect their company and the opportunity to shadow there.

Besides company research, it's also helpful that you review the typical job duties and education requirements for the job title you plan to shadow. By doing this, you can develop a better understanding of the job title and come up with questions to ask.

3. Develop a list of questions to ask

For an effective job shadowing experience, plan questions you have about the particular role, company, or facility. People that allow you to shadow them often show you how they spend their day, so depending on the industry, they might explain how they operate equipment, when and why they send emails, or how they might handle conflicts. Questions can help you determine if the role or company is a good fit for you. Here are some questions about the role, career, and the company you can ask:

  • What's the best thing about working for this company?

  • How did you get to this position?

  • What's your proudest achievement?

  • What's the best advice you can give to someone starting this role?

  • Are there any specific skills or technology I should learn to pursue this role?

  • What are the job or salary growth opportunities?

  • Related: 11 Examples of Effective Probing Questions To Improve Your Communication Skills

  • Related: 40 Interview Questions To Ask About a Company

4. Communicate about start times, dress codes, and other important details

Even though job shadowing is a voluntary opportunity, it's still important to make a good impression. This is because the company and professional that you shadow might become a networking connection of future employer. To ensure you make a good first impression, contact the person you plan to shadow and ask them questions about the dress code, office environment, expected start times for work, and their expectations for you.

Related: Reasons Why First Impressions Are Important (With Tips)

5. Take notes during the experience

Taking notes increases your engagement with an experience and can help you better retain information and refer to it later. If you're shadowing someone for training, notes can help guide you when you start working independently. Write down what the person does, how they do it, any recommendations they have, and why it's important to the job. Writing things that are confusing or challenging can help you ask specific questions as well.

If you shadow someone to learn about a position, consider noting what you liked or found interesting and what was less interesting to you. This can help you determine if a career in that role is right for you.

6. Reflect on your experience

During your job shadow experience, employees might ask you questions about your career aspirations and the reason you shadowed at their company. By refreshing your memory of why you want to shadow for a particular job or at a particular company, you can present strong answers and convey your professionalism. Review your notes carefully to see if you have any additional questions.

7. Send an email before and after shadowing

It's important to contact the person you will shadow the day before to confirm any details. This shows your enthusiasm and helps you avoid any confusion. Sending an email after you shadow someone shows both your gratitude and interest. Shadowing is a form of networking, so creating that positive relationship can help you if you decide to look for a job in that organization later on.

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