Job shadowing goes a step beyond informational interviewing and can give you even better insight into a particular field or job. It is also a bit trickier to set up, however, and is not for everyone.
To job shadow means that you spend several hours, a day or even longer, “shadowing” a particular employee as they do their work. This technique can be particularly good if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, because it gives you a chance to explore various jobs and how they’re carried out on a day-to-day basis.
Job shadowing also can be beneficial for those who have a pretty good idea of what type of work they would enjoy, based on their knowledge and skills. For example, you know a lot about hand tools and are thinking about becoming a carpenter’s assistant. Find a carpenter, and ask if you could “shadow” them for a day. You would go to their job site and watch what they do, maybe help out a bit in the process.
How to create a job shadowing opportunity
In order to job shadow you need the cooperation of the person you want to shadow, plus sometimes the permission of the company where that person works. Although this tactic takes time and effort to set up, it will provide a firsthand experience of what a certain type of job entails. And it will give you a new contact or two of people who are working in a field you might like to pursue.
To get the most out of the experience, treat it similarly to an informational interview. Make a list of questions to ask, and as you follow the person through the day observe exactly what they do, what type of tools and equipment they use, and how they interact with co-workers and clients (if they have them).
Also try to talk to the person’s coworkers, who may be doing slightly different jobs and can give you even further insight into the field.
If you can afford it, offer to take the person you are shadowing out to lunch. It’s a small price to pay for the time and attention they are giving you.
When you’re actually applying for work at a later date, you could come back to them to see if they have any jobs and mention some of the things you observed during your job shadowing experience. You may also see something you could improve in their operations, a problem that could be solved or a need that you might be able to fulfill.
Don’t forget a thank you note
After the experience is over, don’t forget to send a thank you note. Although an email note is OK, a hand written card will make a better impression.
While job shadowing may offer an unparalleled opportunity to gain inside knowledge and information about a particular career and/or company, perhaps the best thing it can do is increase your network of contacts and offer one more person who hopefully will be happy to help you on your pathway to employment.
And while you’re busy setting up job shadowing opportunities, you might want to use some of your free time to take a look at the jobshadow.com website, which includes interviews with everyone from a fast food restaurant manager and roofer to a firefighter and fly fishing guide.