Job shadowing is undoubtedly one of the most useful and important experiences any student can have. Find out the key benefits of job shadowing, and read what professionals have to say about this valuable experience.
If this article were about personal and professional success, I’d probably start with a quote like the following by Leonard Lauder:
“When you live in the shadow of a big tree, you have to run twice as fast to get into the sunlight.”
I’d serve you a corny but valid explanation of how you, of course, inherently are the sunlight, and need to work on discovering your brilliance. I’d point out that you need to let your inner light shine across the trees and valleys of your life, and soon you’d be a shadow no more.
But alas, is this article not about how job shadowing is a step in the direction of success? Indeed it is. So does the idea of being someone’s shadow not contradict the idea of shining your inner light? Nope, it doesn’t.
What is job shadowing?
It’s quite simple. When you job shadow, you follow a professional through their workday, as though you were their shadow. You spend a given amount of time with that person in their workplace to learn about their day-to-day working life, ideally within a career field that matches your studies. It’s like a mini version of an unpaid work internship.
Colin Tichauer works in the local transportation, bridge, and geometric design engineering industry. He says the following about job shadowing.
“Many scholars develop a “rose-tinted” view of the profession which they would like to do when they leave school. Job shadowing gives them an opportunity to understand, a little better, the nature of work and opportunities that are available in the profession they are considering.”
As a shadow, your job is less about doing, and more about observing, and taking in as much information as you can – by watching, listening, interviewing people, and taking mental and written notes about the kind of job and career you are exploring. These notes can include all kinds of aspects, like the person’s working hours, salary, hands-on tasks, or the general work atmosphere.
Job shadowing is essentially about getting the gist of what it means to be a… you name it. As a student, this can be a real game changer. It can catapult your ambition to finish your degree, but it can also divert your entire course of sail and lead you to drop your major.
Key benefits of a job shadow experience
Exposure, Exposure, Exposure
When you job shadow a professional, you take the initiative to put yourself out there and get insight into a specific career. You get to see the real deal – how a company works, what daily tasks are involved, or even if professionals in the respective industry seem to enjoy what they do.
According to Colin, the greatest benefit of job shadowing is when the student is exposed to companies that are multi-disciplinary, because the student will gain exposure to a larger range of disciplines. He explains,
“Within different industries there are also different fields of interest. It is exposure to these different fields of interest that can provide to the student greater insight into which field of interest is the most attractive/interesting. This in turn would guide them when making subject choices in high school and university.”
Part of what makes the exposure so valuable is your opportunity to bombard professionals with questions. All the things you’ve been wanting to know about the career field – the good sides, bad sides, and everything in between – will be available to you. In general, people are happy to answer questions, especially if you interview them with a friendly and eager attitude.
You can study, read, and hear about a specific career as much as you want, but nothing can ever substitute actually physically being in a specific workspace to evaluate what you think of it. During a job shadow experience, chances are that you’ll run straight into a reality check and become aware of many sides of the career, which you didn’t anticipate – both good and bad.
John Keats said,
“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.”
Before becoming the Editor in Chief at EduOne, Kristin Bredenkamp grabbed the opportunity to explore the world of journalism at Getaway Magazine in order to learn more about what it means to pursue a career in this field. The reality check was great in preparing her for the career she has today.
“The 7 weeks I spent at Getaway Magazine really opened my eyes to the world of producing content for the web, and for print magazines. This opportunity allowed me to experience the pressure of deadlines, the process involved in the print magazine industry, and skills needed to research and produce stories.
I wouldn’t have been exposed to all of those aspects had I not gone out into the industry to get a taste of it.”
It’s easy to envision the glamorous and appealing sides of an industry – being the award-winning master chef at a 5-star restaurant, designing the next fashion trend, or saving lives as a doctor. But unless you submerge yourself into the actual scene, you won’t understand the hot stress in a 5-star kitchen, or how competitive the fashion industry is, or what a horrendous sight some emergency patients can be.
Once you’re more familiar with various aspects of a career, it will be much easier to decide whether you want to go for it or not.
Dodging a Bullet
Imagine that all your life you’ve wanted to be a vet. You love animals, you want to do good in the world, and on top of it all, you have a knack for science. Imagine you went to job shadow a vet, and the next thing you know, you witness them put down an adorable but sick little kitten, and you feel your heart shattering into a million little pieces. You suddenly realise nothing in this world could ever make you push down on a syringe to end a life. Ever.
Apart from being slapped by that reality check, you may just end up reconsidering your entire dream career. And had you not job shadowed the vet, you might have only come to that realisation years later, well into your studies.
My own mother, Xandra Bolliger, used to work in ICU and echoes this point:
“Let’s say you see yourself becoming a nurse. After a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, you might picture yourself all angelical, gently assisting your surgeon by dabbing a tissue on their forehead during an operation. However, in reality you’re going to be washing old and sick people, measuring intake and output (as in – emptying urine bags), and having to inject people correctly. Is this really what you wanted?”
Job shadowing is one of the absolute best ways to find out if a career is really as appealing as it seems, or if, in actual fact, it ain’t your cup of tea.
Inspiration & Connections
In case it’s exactly your cup of tea, and the experience only confirms your desire to pursue a specific career – you can start to think quite far ahead. It’s not uncommon for a job shadow experience to lead into a future work position. Job shadowing is a networking strategy, not only for the student, but for potential employers.
You may end up loving your experience so much that you hope to work at the company after you graduate. And they may end up recognising a skill set and asset in you that will secure you a future job interview.
Spend time with professionals in different industries, and use your job shadow gigs to talk to people and learn about how they achieved success. If you go for it and hoist your energy into as much networking as you can, you’re bound to end up with a backpack full of connections.
And what do we say to good connections?
“Why, hello there…”
As a former nurse and current estate agent, mom has always encouraged us to spread our wings and explore as many avenues as possible, so we can find what we truly want.
“As a mother of three, and a career women who has worked in two very different professions, I absolutely encourage young people to job shadow all kinds of professions. You never know who you might meet, and whether you’ll end up choosing a career you never even thought of before.”
– Xandra Bolliger
Does job shadowing boost your CV?
Absolutely. Nowadays experience is as important as a qualification (sometimes even more so). If you arrive at a job interview as a fresh graduate, and you already have various job shadowing gigs and internships listed on your CV, that gives you a huge advantage.
Not only does it show that you have had exposure to the working world, but also that you are a go-getter and will go the extra mile to get what you want. When companies hire new employees, they look for more than just a piece of paper. They look for personality, innovation, and someone who will be a genuine asset to their company.
As a young job applicant with a decent amount of job shadowing experience, you already communicate that you are someone with innovative, diligent, and ambitious tendencies.
Be a shadow, then emerge
To get back to the point of all of this. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, sometimes roaming around in the shadows is a good thing. You can use the shadowy space to observe and learn from the more experienced.
When the time comes, you’ll take what you’ve learnt – from your studies, from exposure to job shadowing and internships, and from personal experience – and shine your inner brilliance as bright as the mid-day sun on Camps Bay Beach (in February).
In the words of Ram Dass,
“The shadow is the greatest teacher for how to come to the light.”
Spend some time with this teacher. Observe them, learn from them, and take the lessons as a starting point on the way to your own personal and professional success.
If you’re pretty sure about the career path you want to take, try to job shadow at least 2 or 3 professionals within that industry. There are thousands of different job descriptions in any given industry, so job shadowing only professionals is a bit limiting. For example in the hospitality industry, try to shadow a restaurant manager, a hotel manager, and a chef. You never know which area might spark your interest most.