How to Job Shadow and Learn the Most from Your Experience
Updated 7 October 2022
New entrants into the workforce, such as fresh graduates, may find themselves disoriented when they first visit an office. Job shadowing refers to the process of following a more experienced professional throughout their workday and observing their activities to gain a greater understanding of how they perform their job. As a fresh graduate or a student, you can consider pursuing a job shadowing opportunity to help you gain a better understanding of a particular industry. In this article, we examine what job shadowing is and discuss how to job shadow effectively.
What is job shadowing?
Job shadowing involves following an experienced professional throughout their workday as they perform their daily activities. The objective of job shadowing is usually twofold. First, job shadowing enables individuals who are new to professional offices, such as students and fresh graduates to get a better understanding of how a company operates daily. Second, job shadowing can help if you're unsure about whether to pursue a career in a particular industry. By learning what professionals in a specific industry do, you can make a more informed decision.
Job shadowing opportunities may vary in length. Some may last a few hours, and others may last longer than a week. Many individuals may think job shadowing is like internships and apprenticeships, but here are some of the key differences among these three concepts:
Job shadowing vs. internships
Unlike job shadowing, an internship typically offers an individual the opportunity to gain some experience performing basic office functions. Often, an individual who is job shadowing only watches a professional draft documents. In contrast, an intern may help with the formatting or compiling of these documents. Also, internships tend to be longer compared to job shadowing opportunities. Some internships can last for months, and interns usually receive a small allowance, unlike those who engage in job shadowing.
Job shadowing vs. apprenticeships
Unlike a job shadowing opportunity, an apprenticeship is typically a programme that an individual can join to learn industry-specific technical skills. For example, an individual who wants to pursue a career in construction may undertake an apprenticeship to learn basic construction and building skills. In addition, apprenticeships also tend to last longer than job shadowing opportunities and usually take one to two years to complete. Apprentices typically receive a regular salary, unlike individuals participating in job shadowing.
Job shadowing steps
Here are some steps that can show you how to have a effective job shadowing experience:
1. Choose an industry
Before you apply for job shadowing opportunities, it can be a good idea to choose an industry that you're interested in. This can help to decide which companies and organisations to apply to. If you're a student, you can consider which career you might want to pursue in the future. Alternatively, you can choose industries based on your areas of interest. For example, if you're interested in studying medicine, you can seek job shadowing opportunities in the health care industry.
2. List the companies that you're interested in
After you've selected an industry that interests you, shortlist the companies where you wish to pursue job shadowing. Since your first choice may not be available, it's important to make a list of companies and positions you would like to follow. If you can, it's helpful to find at least three potential options.
Most people pursue job shadowing with local companies, but if you want to pursue a career outside your present location, online job shadowing is an option. Though online job shadowing does limit your ability to observe a professional as they work, you can connect with an individual over video or phone call to ask questions about their current job, their past work experience and how they started in their field. In addition, with many companies increasingly implementing remote or flexible working arrangements, online shadowing may be more convenient for professionals in certain industries.
3. Apply for job shadowing opportunities
You can then apply for job shadowing opportunities at the companies you've shortlisted. Since companies rarely post job shadowing opportunities on job portals, you can check their website directly to see if they offer such opportunities. For example, if you're looking for job shadowing opportunities in the healthcare industry, you can check the websites of medical clinics and hospitals. If they don't publicise these opportunities, you can email organisations directly to ask if they would be open to offering you a job shadowing opportunity.
If you're still a student, you can also consider emailing your school's career counsellor or advisor for assistance. They usually have contacts in various industries, so they may provide you with the contact information of professionals in an industry you want to work in. You can also check if anyone you know has a personal connection to the company you want to shadow. For example, if a friend or family member works for a company, you can approach them with your job shadowing request.
4. Ask questions
When you find a company or professional who accepts your request, ask them to clarify what they expect from you. In their response, your professional contact may provide information about when you can come in and who you're going to shadow. If they ask for any additional information from you, it's beneficial to promptly fulfil their request.
It's usually helpful to ask any question you may have. For example, you can ask them what time they expect you to arrive, the appropriate attire to wear and whether to bring any materials with you. Knowing these details ahead of time often ensures that your experience goes smoothly and can help you feel more relaxed while you follow the professional.
5. Be professional
During the actual job shadowing opportunity, remember to be professional at all times. Although you may not be at the company for more than a few hours, days or weeks, it's important to leave a favourable impression on the people there. This is because you may eventually pursue a career in the industry, and a strong reputation as a professional may increase your chances of getting a job in the future. Here are some tips to help you maintain your professionalism during your job shadowing opportunity:
Arrive on time or slightly before the workday starts.
Dress in appropriate attire.
Avoid interrupting the person with whom you're shadowing during meetings or important conversations.
Ask questions only when the situation feels appropriate to do so.
6. Follow up with a thank-you note
After your job shadowing opportunity, follow up with a thank-you note. It's courteous to send a brief email expressing your gratitude after shadowing someone. This can help create a lasting impression on the people working there and can build professional connections, which may benefit you when you're ready to start applying for jobs.
Tips to learn the most from a job shadowing experience
Here are some tips that can help you learn the most from your job shadowing experience:
Prepare ahead of time. Research the company and the position you're shadowing before arrive at the workplace. This can help you learn about the job, the company and the workplace rules, which may make you feel more prepared for your experience.
Ask for a tour of the workplace in advance. There may not be time to accommodate your request if you ask on your first day, so let your professional contact know beforehand if you're interested in a tour.
Greet everyone you meet. Politely introduce yourself to everyone you encounter, let them know who you are and why you're there. You may not have lengthy conversations, but introducing yourself in this way can help you meet people and expand your network.
Ask if you can help with any tasks. Helping the employee with a work task may allow you to gain skills related to your career goals. Assisting with their daily responsibilities also teaches you what to expect from this type of job.
Take notes. Ask questions and note the answers and your observations. Take notes using a pen and paper rather than your phone so that it's clear that you're focused and ready to learn.
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