by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
While she was in high school and college, Sarah took every opportunity to shadow a variety of professionals in her quest to narrow her career choice. Job shadowing gave her a small, but critical, window into the day-to-day operations of a number of different careers. In a few instances, she also gained a key person she could add to her network to seek further advice, career tips, and internship and job information.
Job shadowing simply consists of a day (or part of a day) spent observing a professional as she or he goes about his or her job. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about a career and a chance to practice interacting with adults on a professional level.
Many high schools and colleges help their students get placed in a job shadow, but you can also be proactive and set up your own job-shadowing experiences. Find some tips at the end of this article.
How can you make certain your job-shadowing experiences are best — for both you and the professional you are shadowing? Follow these job-shadowing tips.
Critical Job Shadowing Tips
- Confirm time and location of the job-shadowing location.
- Map out job-shadow location and allow extra time to ensure you are not late.
- Dress appropriately — dress as though you are going on a job interview. You don’t need to wear a suit, but no t-shirts and shorts either.
- Use proper personal hygiene (deodorant, mouthwash, etc.) and don’t go overboard on the cologne or perfume.
- Research your job-shadow employer/organization and host to better prepare you for the day. Go to the organization’s Website and conduct a search using its name to find other news.
- Develop a list of questions you could ask your job shadowing host/mentor. You could even consider sending a list of the questions you most wanted answered ahead of time so your host can prepare answers. [See, Questions to Ask While Job Shadowing.]
- Take a notepad, laptop, or recorder to record observations and insights.
- Understand and use basic table manners in case your shadowing experience involves a meal.
- Consider your career aspirations and be prepared to answer questions about your interests and goals.
- Prepare for changes — things could happen that might end the shadowing sooner than expected. If something like this happens, react positively, and ask about possibly rescheduling for a better time.
- Strive to have a positive outlook and make the best of the shadowing experience. If you don’t like the shadowing experience, avoid making it obvious and do your best to make it through smiling.
- Turn off your cell phone and resist the urge to text, tweet, or update your Facebook status.
- Make good first impressions. As you introduce yourself — or get introduced — shake hands with everyone you meet, smile, and make good eye contact.
- Find common ground and attempt to establish a good rapport with your host.
- Address people as Mr. or Ms. or Dr. unless they tell you otherwise.
- Act professionally throughout the job-shadowing experience, showing your enthusiasm and appreciation.
- Listen and learn as much as possible during the shadowing.
- Participate/attend as many activities/meetings/events during the shadow experience.
- Ask to experience as much as possible — from meeting workers in related career fields to a tour of the facilities.
- Gather business cards from the people you meet so that you can add them to your network — and to thank them for taking time from their work to meet with you.
- Thank each person you spend time with during the shadow — and follow up with an emailed thank-you note after you’ve completed the shadow experience.
Final Thoughts on Successful Job Shadowing
Having a good attitude and a sense of humor, along with a healthy dose of curiosity mixed with respect, should help you have a successful and rewarding job shadowing experience. Thanking and following up with the people you meet could also result in additional job-shadowing or other positive experiences that can help you with your career choice.
Finally, if your school does not offer a shadowing program — or does not have the contacts for your career field, consider taking the initiative to create your own. Here are a few tips.
- First, ask your family, friends, and neighbors if they know anyone working in the career field you want to shadow.
Second, research organizations that employ people in the career field you want to shadow.
Third, contact the people from your network and/or organizations to request a shadow experience. You can achieve this task by phone or letter/email. See a sample letter requesting a job-shadow experience.
Fourth, after you have received confirmation of your job shadow request, contact the person you are shadowing and reconfirm the date and time of your shadow — as well as the exact address and location.
See also the tips, tools, and advice we offer in our Job and Career Resources for Teenagers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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