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A Building Block to Success: Job Shadowing

By Macy Schneider, Iowa State University, Agricultural Communications Student

How do you know if your dream career is the right fit for you? There are hundreds of tests and quizzes online to assure you. You can spend hours and hours in the classroom and in college lecture halls filling your toolbox with information you hope to be able to put to use one day. There are even job descriptions available for job seekers which give a broad overview of the exact position you may wish to fulfill in the job market. However, none of the tests or quizzes, endless lectures, or job descriptions will give you as much reassurance as job shadowing a professional in your future career field.

The first step to any successful job shadowing experience is to determine what you wish to gain and what you want to learn more about. Once you have your overall objectives in mind, you can then look online or through your current networking contacts to determine who will help you meet those goals. It is always best to contact the person in the position you wish to job shadow first by email or phone. Always remember to be polite and professional, identify who you are, what you are wishing to achieve, and ask if such opportunities are available.

On the day of your job shadow allow yourself enough time to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Be sure to dress accordingly. Ask about proper dress code when you are working out the details of the job shadowing experience. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Go over the objectives that you wish to gain from the experience again with the individual you are shadowing to ensure that you make the most of your time together. Be attentive and notice the job environment you are in, the equipment used, tasks being completed, communication methods, workplace morale, et cetera. Can you imagine yourself doing the same things long term?

Ask questions about anything and everything. Is something confusing to you or are you curious to know more, feel free to ask. Some examples of key questions to ask are:

  • What path did you take to work in this position?
  • What is one thing that surprised you about your career/current position?
  • What is the most rewarding/most stressful part about your position?
  • What advice do you have for anyone aspiring to enter this career?

Your level of interest will show the employer how serious you are about the job shadowing opportunity and the added conversation will allow for a more relaxed and friendly environment.

After you have completed your shadowing experience be sure to at least send a thank you note. It is best if the note is sent within one to two days after the experience is completed. To add an extra touch of appreciation you can personalize it with your own penmanship and comment on what you gained from the opportunity. Take time to reflect on the experience and how it will benefit you in your future endeavors. Remember to use your job shadowing experience to your advantage on your resume and during an interview process. Job shadowing can be listed as industry-relevant experience and during the interview you can refer to the company and the goals and observations you achieved from the opportunity. Don’t forget to add the professional you shadowed to your career network and stay in touch with them. One day they could be an asset to helping you achieve your career goals!

Job shadowing has the ability to lead to an interview with the company. It also shows your interest in the business career field, and can increase your chances of being hired by them one day. The opportunity allows you to gain experience and insight on how the industry operates on a daily basis while also providing lifelong networking connections. There are many positive benefits of job shadowing that you simply cannot get by doing online career placement quizzes, attending class, or by browsing the job market for position descriptions. Job shadowing is an underutilized, hands-on experience that delivers one of the most realistic insights into what a certain career field holds for your future!