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There’s nothing quite as exciting as beginning a new career at a new company.
But once you’re on the job, you may realize that the experience isn’t quite what you were hoping for.
This happens more frequently than people realize. It’s difficult to anticipate whether you’ll truly enjoy a career unless you have some insight into the reality of it.
Job shadowing is designed to provide you with that insight before you make a decision about your career. Let’s discover what job shadowing is, why you can benefit from it, and how you can prepare for an insightful job shadowing experience.
What is job shadowing (and how does it work)?
The job shadowing definition is:
An on-the-job learning experience where you work directly with another employee so that they can show you what they do.
Job shadowing typically happens in a real work environment. Instead of teaching you what to do, the employee you’re shadowing will instead show you exactly what their job entails. You get a realistic picture of what a day in the life of that employee looks like.
Several colleges, universities, and even high schools have job shadowing programs to help you find opportunities. If you’re currently a college student, ask your advisor if there’s a program available at your school.
What is virtual job shadowing?
Virtual job shadowing is fairly new. It involves shadowing an employee using an online connection.
From there, you can follow what they do and ask them any questions while you’re at home. This can include:
- Video conferencing
- Screen sharing
- Pre-recorded videos when the employee isn’t available live
Virtual job shadowing is more prevalent now because of the changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some employees thrive better at home, which means you wouldn’t be able to shadow them in person.
Plus, some companies only offer work-from-home jobs. In this case, virtual job shadowing gives you a complete picture of what the job would really entail.
Job shadowing benefits
There are many benefits of job shadowing. This is true whether you’re shadowing in person or virtually.
Firstly, you get to learn more about a company, including its company culture. For example, you can see what their policies are regarding diversity and inclusion.
73% of companies report that executives have made diversity and inclusion programs a priority. While this is a step in the right direction, it means that some companies still fall short of that. Shadowing an employee can give you a glimpse of those programs.
You can also ask about benefits, like health care or retirement plans, to get an idea of the full compensation plan.
If you’re doing a virtual shadow, you may even get to spend a day in the company communication app. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions to several people and make more connections.
Additionally, job shadowing provides a unique opportunity for career exploration and planning. It helps you decide if you want to pursue a career or additional education in a field.
You may discover that you’re in love with the work once you see it with your own eyes. Or, you may find out that it’s not for you after all.
Finally, you can discover what professional in-demand skills you need to improve. Since you can learn a ton from the job shadowing host, you’ll have a clearer picture of what it takes to succeed in this field.
Job shadowing examples
Don’t know what to expect as a job shadow? Here are five examples of job shadowing activities you may experience.
1. See client interactions
Some job shadows get to see client interactions for themselves. This helps you learn what type of interactions you could expect daily in a similar role.
2. Tour facilities
If you’re doing a live job shadow, you may get an opportunity to tour the facilities. You’ll get to see the ins and outs of an office or workplace and meet potential colleagues.
In the case of virtual job shadowing, the person you’re shadowing could still give you a tour of the company’s virtual hub. This could include:
- What their project management tools look like
- What opportunities are available for colleagues to chat about topics unrelated to work
- How their chat system works
3. Sit in on staff meetings
In some cases, shadows may be allowed to sit in on staff meetings like a fly on the wall. This lets you see how decisions are made and how managers lead a team.
If you’re doing virtual job shadowing, you may get to join a video conference call while you’re muted so that you can observe. However, consider asking if you can signal to the host if you have a question.
4. Explore different career paths
Consider asking if you can shadow more than one person during your time at a company. This will help you understand several career paths.
This can also help you develop your career goals and aspirations.
5. Take part in projects
In some cases, you may get the chance to participate in projects for hands-on learning. You usually won’t have much responsibility, but you’ll still get to experiment with what the work is like.
Job shadowing vs. internship
Job shadowing usually involves observation and some hands-on work experience. But the majority is observation.
The shadower follows around one or several people to understand the job. These people act as mentors for the length of the job shadowing experience.
Job shadows don’t have responsibilities. They simply follow someone to learn what those responsibilities are like.
An internship involves real work experience. Interns don’t always follow someone around. They have their own responsibilities to attend to. Some interns also get paid, while shadows don’t.
How to arrange and prepare for job shadowing
Interested in learning about your ideal career? Here are seven steps to help you become a shadow so that you can get a sneak peek at a potential career.
1. Research companies
Do your homework on the companies you want to shadow for. Find out what the company values are. Study their mission statements.
You should also check their website to see if they have any information about job shadowing. Some organizations may state that they welcome shadows, while others may specify that they don’t accept shadows at the moment.
Others may not specify, so you’ll need to reach out to get more information.
2. Reach out to companies about job shadowing opportunities
If you know anyone at a company, start by reaching out to them first. Let them know you’re interested in shadowing someone at this company.
If you don’t know anyone, search for the Human Resources department’s contact information to ask if they accept job shadows.
Finally, reach out to the specific department you want to shadow in if you can’t get through to someone from human resources.
3. Figure out when you’re available
It’s important that you’re fully focused on the shadowing experience when it happens. Make sure your schedule is clear of anything else during that time. For instance, don’t organize a job shadow the day before a college exam.
4. Draft a list of questions
The more you learn while you’re job shadowing, the more you’ll have a realistic idea of what the role entails. In order to get the most out of the experience, it’s good to go in with a list of questions you want to ask. We’ll look at some possible questions in a later section.
5. Make a good impression
First impressions count, especially if you want to grow your network with this shadowing opportunity. Make sure you know the correct start time and follow the dress code. Try to be as respectful as possible with everyone you interact with.
Treat this as a networking opportunity, not just a chance to get a sneak peek at your potential dream job.
6. Prepare to take notes
Make sure to bring the tools you need to take notes. Then, write down anything important or interesting but also anything that’s confusing to you so that you can ask about it later.
7. Communicate with the person you’re shadowing
Make sure you confirm any details before you begin shadowing.
You can also send an email after you’re done shadowing to show your gratitude for the opportunity. Additionally, you can add them on LinkedIn to grow your network.
Questions to ask when job shadowing
The more questions you ask during a job shadowing experience, the more you’ll get out of it.
Let’s review some potential questions you can ask:
- What is the hiring process like?
- What is the onboarding process like?
- What’s the process for talking to managers and other high-level employees?
- What is the company’s main goal?
- What’s your favorite part about your job?
- What’s the best part about working for this company?
- What’s your least favorite part about working here?
- How did you begin this career?
- How has your career evolved since you began working here?
- What was your area of study?
- What growth opportunities are available for this career in this company?
- How should I prepare myself for a role like this one?
- What are some of the challenges you encounter in this career?
- What does your average day look like?
- What are the most important soft skills to succeed in this role?
- What are the most important hard skills to succeed in this role?
- What advice do you have for a newcomer to this role?
Use job shadowing to kickstart a new career
When you prepare correctly, job shadowing can be an amazing opportunity for you to network and kickstart a career you’ll love.
With BetterUp’s personalized coaching experience, you can get even more insight on how to build your own career path and achieve your full potential. Request a custom demo to get started.