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Job Shadowing: An Overview
The Internet has opened up whole new worlds of information and is a fantastic resource for researching companies and careers during a job search. But for all its wealth of information, even the Internet can't beat the experience of learning about a company or career by experiencing it in person in the shadow of a working professional.
Definition of Job-Shadowing
"Job shadowing is a work experience option where students learn about a job by walking through the work day as a shadow to a competent worker. The job shadowing work experience is a temporary, unpaid exposure to the workplace in an occupational area of interest to the student. Students witness firsthand the work environment, employability and occupational skills in practice, the value of professional training and potential career options. Job shadowing is designed to increase career awareness, help model student behavior through examples and reinforce in the student the link between classroom learning and work requirements. Almost any workplace is a potential job shadowing site."
-- Paris, K., & Mason, S. (1995). Planning and Implementing Youth Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Center on Education and Work.
That's the premise behind job-shadowing, an activity that enables a person to spend some time observing a professional on the job.
Job-shadowing is often touted as a career-exploration activity for middle-school and high-school students to help them determine a career path to follow. Shadowing also helps students see how their textbook learning can be applied in the real world. But there is absolutely no reason why college students and older job-seekers cannot also participate in this invaluable practice.
The career-exploration aspect of job shadowing is certainly one of its benefits. Young students just starting to think about careers and college students about to embark on careers can try on jobs by visiting workplaces and observing what goes on. But the experience can be just as valuable for established job-seekers considering changing careers. If you know you want to change careers but are not sure what career is right for you, job-shadowing can give you a taste of what various careers are like. By experiencing a workplace first-hand, you can learn a great deal more about a career than you can through research in print publications and on the Internet.
You can also learn a lot more about companies by experiencing them in the actual trenches than you can in any other way. If, for example, you know what type of career you want to enter but are unsure of which companies in that field to target in your job-search, job-shadowing can reveal inside information about company culture that can guide you in determining which companies to apply to. Do you prefer that breezy dot-com atmosphere where the attire is ultra-casual and folks roller-blade through the corridors and get regular chair massages? Or do you fancy the corporate world of plush corner offices, mahogany furniture, and suits and ties? You can find out about these cultural differences through job-shadowing.
So, just like any kind of company/career research,
job-shadowing can occur at various stages of one's career
And what exactly is job-shadowing and what does it entail? Job-shadowing is a close cousin of informational interviewing, in which career-explorers or job-seekers conduct short interviews with people in their prospective professions to learn more about those fields. Job-shadowing can be thought of as an expanded informational interview. Where an informational interview typically lasts about a half hour, a job-shadowing experience can be anywhere from a few hours, to a day, to a week or more, depending on what you can mutually arrange with the person you've chosen to shadow. Many of the same rules apply to job-shadowing as apply to informational interviewing, from preparing for the experience, to scheduling it, getting the most out if it, and following up on it.
During your job-shadow experience, you follow the professional you're shadowing through his or her work day. You observe the rigors of the job, the company culture, and ask lots of questions.
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.
Katharine Hansen, Credentialed Career Master (CCM), is a former speechwriter and college instructor who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and prepares job-search correspondence as chief writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters. She is author of Dynamic Cover Letter for New Graduates; A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market; and, with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters and Write Your Way to a Higher GPA, all published by Ten Speed Press. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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