The Prepped Team
March 10, 2023
Making choices is a necessary part of forging your career path and eventually finding a job. From choosing the right post-secondary program to deciding which industry to work in, it’s normal to feel uncertain, if not completely overwhelmed at times.
With so many options available today, job shadowing can be a valuable way to learn more about a career path before you begin your job search as a recent graduate, or even to help you choose a post-secondary course of study.
In this article:
Job shadowing is an experiential learning opportunity in which you follow and observe a professional (the host) in their workplace setting for a set amount of time. While this is typically done in-person, some job shadowing opportunities are also available virtually. This type of experience may also be referred to as an externship. The length of a job shadowing opportunity can range from a few hours to several weeks.
Job shadowing is ideal for university or college students with no work experience who have recently graduated or will soon graduate. However, it also may be practiced in some workplaces to train employees or to help people explore alternative career paths within an organization.
Throughout the course of your job shadowing experience, you can expect to follow your host to get a behind-the-scenes look at the profession. You’ll often know in advance how interactive the experience will be.
Regardless of which job shadowing style you experience, you can expect to spend some time asking questions and learning about your host’s career pathway.
The general purpose of job shadowing is to learn aboutillustrate the duties and skills of a particular profession that you’re interested in. You’ll learn what a typical workday is like, its workplace setting, and a general sense of the duties involved. Of course, this can vary tremendously from one profession to the next, which is why job shadowing can be so illuminating for students or recent graduates who are trying to figure out which career path to choose. This exposure to what your future career may look like can help you make a more informed decision.
To set up a job shadowing experience, you may be able to register with a program provided through your university or college career guidance centre. Certain programs of study may include such opportunities as part of the curriculum. An established job shadowing program will have a structured format to help ensure you get the most out of the experience. However, if your school does not have such a program (or you don’t qualify), you can informally request to job shadow professionals who you know. This requires building and tapping into your existing network and , where necessary, making additional connections in the field you wish to learn about.
Job shadowing isn’t just for students and recent graduates, some organizations routinely include job shadowing in their employee onboarding and orientation process. Additionally, if you’re a recent graduate who has already started your career and you want to examine different career pathways either within, or outside of your current company, job shadowing may be the right path forward.
There are no set rules that limit which industries you can job shadow in. Opportunities may be available in a variety fields, including:
Not sure if job shadowing is right for you? There may be more benefits than you realize. Even if you commit to just a few hours of job shadowing, its potential advantages include:
Learn about other roles in an organization: Once you’ve begun your career as a new graduate, you may discover other roles in the organization that appeal to you. Job shadowing professionals in your positions of interest can help illuminate which skills and qualifications you require to move laterally in the company.
Setting up an opportunity to job shadow a host is straightforward when you apply through a program offered by your university or college. On the other hand, finding and setting up a job shadowing experience on your own will require a little more resourcefulness—from researching where you want to job shadow to making a formal connection, and scheduling the time and duration.
Many colleges and universities offer job shadowing opportunities through the career centre or a specific academic program. Although the application process may vary, it’s usually not very complicated. You’ll likely have to submit an application that details your professional interests which may be followed up with questions to help match you with the ideal host. Check your career guidance centre for registration deadlines as some programs may provide only one placement window per year.
Once you’ve determined the type of professional you wish to shadow, and in some cases selected an organization to target, it’s time to make the ask. If you already have contact with a potential host to job shadow, you should send a formal email directly to that individual. Alternatively, you should reach out to the organization through the department you’re interested in, or human resources, to enquire about opportunities.
Your email should introduce yourself, describe your academic background and professional aspirations, as well as why you’re interested in the organization. Be sure to include what you hope to learn from the job shadowing experience. Keep it clear and relatively brief. If the potential host is receptive to your ask, you can provide more details and set up a date or time that works for you. Be considerate of the professional’s time. Based on their availability, you may be invited for just two hours one afternoon, or every morning for a week.
Once you’ve set up and scheduled your job shadowing experience, keep these tips in mind to ensure your time with the host is informative and rewarding:
Now that the number of hours and specific dates are confirmed, be sure to plan your schedule accordingly to be courteous of your job shadow host’s time and to make the most of the learning opportunity.
You’ve likely already done some research on the company hosting you, especially if you set up the job shadowing opportunity yourself. Even still, it’s helpful to review the company’s website and, in some cases, the host as well. If you’re shadowing a medical professional, for example, it may help to be familiar with the host’s credentials and academic background. Whereas, if you’re shadowing a business professional at a company you aspire to work for, the more you know, the better you can present yourself as a potential candidate. If in doubt, simply ask the host for guidance on how to prepare.
Whether you’re job shadowing at a healthcare facility, a construction site, or a corporate office, presenting yourself professionally is important. Dress appropriately for the work setting, be punctual, and stay courteous the entire duration.
While some job shadow experiences last days or weeks, others may only last a few hours. Preparing questions in advance can help ensure you learn everything you need to meet your objective—whether it’s to help you define your career path or improve your candidacy for your job search. You also want to be prepared if your host asks you to share what you want to learn from the experience.
Good questions include those related to your host’s career path, skill set, and industry knowledge, along with broader questions about the profession, industry, or company. For example: What skills do you regularly leverage? Why did you choose this discipline? Are there any certifications or skills-based programs you recommend? How did you get started in your career? Do you have any advice for someone looking to enter this field? What’s the most difficult part of your job? Are there any other tasks you do that I did not get to see today?
This may not be possible for every job shadowing opportunity, such as a hands-on experience in a skilled trade. Regardless of your work environment, however, bring a notebook or have your phone handy to take notes. Details like recommended programs of study, softwares you should learn, or technical skills are easy to forget.
Similar to a post-job interview follow-up, you should send a thoughtful thank you email within 24 hours following your job shadow experience. It’s good practice to include two or three learnings from your time with the host in the email. This is also the ideal time to connect with your job shadow host to grow your LinkedIn network, if you haven’t already.
If your university or college set up the job shadow experience, you may be required to share what you learned through a survey. The employer may also ask you to share your reflections.
As a student, preparing for the job market and charting out your career plan before it’s time to begin your job search can give you a significant advantage. Sign up for Prepped for valuable career and job search tips and access to our AI Interviewer and ATS Resume Scanner.