Five Ways Job Shadowing Can Benefit You

As the job market gets more competitive, applicants have to find new and creative ways to separate themselves from the pack. One of the best ways to do that is having professional experience, which can be tough. Many employers want you to have some experience… but you can’t get any experience unless they hire you… it’s a Catch-22.

What to do? You could start out working in low-level positions outside your chosen field, or you could focus on getting your foot in the door and try to work your way up. Of those two, the latter is preferable if you want to focus on your dream job.

There are two ways to gain experience: an internship or job shadowing. Both have their merits. An internship may be a paid position. The intern works independently, running errands, making copies, and doing just about any type of task the company requires. Job shadowing, on the other hand, is less hands-on but more direct. People who job shadow follow a professional around (anywhere between a few hours to a couple of months) and observe how they handle their day-to-day operations. Job shadowing is not a paid position.

Even though it’s unpaid, job shadowing has other advantages:

Networking Opportunities

The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is especially true in the business world. Getting your first job can be tough. Having professional connections to a variety of businesses can be the best way to do precisely that.

When job shadowing, making a good impression on the people you interact with will help you build your network. Dress appropriately, ask thoughtful questions, and be respectful and thankful for the opportunity to job shadow.

Observe Company Culture

Job shadowing allows you a unique perspective into an organization and the opportunity to learn first-hand how they handle their business. Observing a company while job shadowing will allow you to learn if you are interested in working for them. Every company has their own unique pulse and understanding a company’s culture will give you an advantage if you apply for a job there.

You will also be able to ask how the people who work for the company got their start. Did they move there from another industry? Did they get their start interning or job shadowing as well? How does their education line up with their position?

Actual Career Observation

People may have an unrealistic picture of the day-to-day tasks of their dream job; the real-life job may be different from what people imagine. Shadowing allows you an opportunity to confirm you understand the requirements and expectations of a job. Further, job shadowing allows a person to make informed decisions about pursuing a career before committing themselves.

Prepare for Entry

When you job shadow, the positive and negative experiences will help shape your perception of how you would do the job. The professional you shadow may do their job differently than you expected or are comfortable with. Spending time job shadowing allows you to understand the restrictions of the job and create a vision of what you want it to be.

For example, after shadowing a biologist who is studying birds, you realize that doing field work wouldn’t allow you very much flexibility to change your schedule if you have a pain flare-up. Instead, you decide to focus on research that would let you work in a lab, where you could have more flexibility in your schedule.

Improve School Performance

If you are shadowing a professional while in school, it can deepen your understanding of what you are studying. It can also help you decide if the classes you are taking are supporting your career goals, and if you should think about taking other classes.

Using the same example as above, after you watch the biologist interacting with vising schoolchildren as part of a class field trip, you might realize that you are really interested in teaching, and so you could take an environmental education class to learn how to teach about science, or you could volunteer at your local natural history center.

Job shadowing puts your dreams in a real-life context, allows you to evaluate your professional trajectory, and reinforces what you have already learned in school. These benefits go a long way to separating you from other job applicants.

For more information about job shadowing, check out Career exploration—Job shadowing from the Life After IEPs website. The site has information on how to set up a job shadow, questions to ask, as well as resources for setting up job shadowing experiences and exploring career options.

These sites also have information on how to get the most from job shadowing:

Photo courtesy of the Healthy Community Living Flikr page.

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