If you are in the exploratory phase of your professional life, job shadowing can be a great way of figuring out which path to take. The beautiful thing about it is that it doesn’t force one to commit to an entire semester or summer of work, when he or she may simply be trying to decide whether they’d be interested in pursuing a learnership in that field. It’s a brief educational experience that may reap a lot of benefits, if you do your best to maximize your time.
What is job shadowing?
There is something to be said for getting hands-on experience, and job shadowing is an incredible way for young students to dip their toes in a potential role. Job shadowing involves following a professional around throughout their daily tasks to get an idea of what his or her role entails. From sitting in on meetings to assisting with tasks, a shadow can get the “day in the life” experience. This can take place over the course of one day, or more, depending on what the student is hoping to get out of the experience and what kind of time a professional is willing and able to provide.
To understand the position at its height, a shadow may inquire as to what time of year their professional of choice is the busiest, or when he or she may have an interesting event or meeting going on; something that allows them to really observe key tasks and actions.
What can you get out of it?
- You get to envision yourself in the role. As students, we dream of being doctors, veterinarians, artists, entrepreneurs, engineers… you name it. Many go through a rolodex of interests before they really find their calling, and job shadowing truly helps one figure out where they belong. To see someone you look up to literally do what you want to spend your professional life doing AND to be given the chance to contribute puts a shadow in a unique position that may really be the catalyst for their future. Or, observation may make one completely change their mind.
- You get to network. Like a learnership, being a shadow gets your foot in the door and gives you the opportunity to create relationships with future references. Having someone that can vouch for you is essential when you are applying for jobs, whether you are seeking a role at a different company or you are trying to get hired for a position at the company for which you shadowed. This is particularly true when you’ve made a good impression on the person you are paired with. Remember, there are hundreds of other people looking to land the same job as you, so references can go a long way.
- You’ll learn lessons. Many learn what’s right and wrong by observation and experiences; what to do and what not to do. Being in real life situations allows a shadow to see both the good and the bad of job, walking away with lessons learned. Whether they see mistakes in real-time or the team learns that certain practices are not as efficient as they could be… it’s all educational. The beauty? You’re just there to learn.
- You get to understand the way things work. There is so much more to a position, a team and a company than meets the eye. You may see yourself as a corporate lawyer but not realize how the tier system works within the law office walls. Who reports to whom? How are tasks prioritized? How frequently do team members attend meetings? Are their cliques? What are the office rules? Is there room for growth? While you may not end up working at the company where you shadow, observing general office dynamic will help you prepare for situations at other locations. Being aware of what to watch for and how to act will put you at a great advantage when something arises at a future job.
- You’ll learn what managers look for on resumes and applications. There’s nothing like being flat out told what someone wants or needs. Who wouldn’t want to know EXACTLY what a hiring manager is looking for as he or she sifts through hundreds of applications. You’ll learn the keywords that stick out, what skills are desired, what points are more important than others, and what makes one resume stick out more than another. In the end, you’ll be ready to write a resume and cover letter that sells!
- You can get your questions answered. What about the position are you curious about? What does it take to advance one’s career to this point? You’re there to determine whether it’s something you can see yourself doing, right? You’re there to learn. Ask questions. All of the questions. This is not the time to be shy. This is the time to learn as much as you possibly can! Not only will you get the answers you need to decide what to do next, but you will leave a great impression. They are taking the time to teach you and will appreciate your interest. Be sure to ask insightful questions that will aid your efforts in the future.
Some questions to consider:
- What did you study in college? Are there any particular courses or training you would recommend?
- What was the first position you held in this field?
- How long did it take you to get to where you are now?
- What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
- What is the easiest part of your job?
- Do you have goals in sight? What do you hope to accomplish within this role and is it in reach? If so, how do you plan to get there?
- Do you know of any opportunities in this spectrum that I should explore?
The opportunities are endless! If you have the chance to shadow someone who is living your dream… do it!