What Is Job Shadowing?

Use this time-honored device at any point in your career to learn, grow and explore.

Written by Lisa Bertagnoli
What Is Job Shadowing?
Image: Shutterstock
UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Feb 12, 2024

Job shadowing is when you closely watch a person do their work, typically to learn about a company, job, process or procedure. It can be part of an internship, on-the-job training, new-employee onboarding or even something you do on your own to explore new ideas and career paths.

What Is Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing is the process of following around a professional in their workplace to gain firsthand insights into a career or position. This opportunity is usually offered to interns, students and new employees and enables them to ask questions and help with tasks to see if a role is right for them.

 

What Is Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing is the practice of observing a professional in their workplace to learn more about a job or career path. During this period, a job shadower can ask questions, see what the day-to-day responsibilities of a role are and determine whether they want to pursue the position or career path they’re considering.

While interns and students often shadow professionals to gain firsthand experience in a field or industry of interest, new employees can also shadow more experienced employees to learn more about their role and the skills needed to excel in it. Job shadowing may last anywhere from a few days to six months, depending on the nature of the job shadowing experience.       

Here’s one example: After graduating from college, Casey Welch, now the CEO of Tallo, worked at a financial services company that had a job rotation program. The program allowed new hires to spend six months in different divisions of the company, during which Welch followed a manager around and asked questions. 

“I got the opportunity to explore the company… to ask people how they got there, how they think and how they prepare,” Welch said. “They were invaluable experiences.”

 

Industries That Use Job Shadowing 

Job shadowing is a great way for organizations to ensure that a role aligns with a prospective or current employee’s interests and skill sets. Below are a few industries in which job shadowing is a common practice:

  • Engineering: Prospective engineers can shadow engineers at laboratories, factories, construction sites and other worksites to learn about their projects and daily tasks. 
     
  • Law: Interns and students may join a law firm to observe legal professionals, attend court and even perform basic duties like organizing case files.   
     
  • Healthcare: Students and interns may shadow nurses, doctors and other medical personnel to see what their day-to-day work is like at clinics and hospitals.
     
  • Education: Prospective teachers may shadow current teachers and help with tasks like grading quizzes and offering one-on-one attention to students.
     
  • Finance: Those interested in finance may choose to shadow an accountant or consultant at a firm to understand the demands of finance positions.
     
  • Marketing: Interns and students can shadow marketing professionals at ad agencies to learn more about the details of a marketing career path. 

 

Benefits of Job Shadowing 

Job shadowing can be an opportunity for professional growth for many different reasons.
 

Evaluate a Role or Career Path 

Job shadowing gives students, interns and new employees a better understanding of a role and its responsibilities. They can then make a more informed decision about whether to pursue this position or consider other roles that are a more ideal fit.

 

Learn About an Organization 

Job shadowers can observe daily interactions between employees to get a sense of how people treat each other and get insight into the overall company culture. They can also ask employees questions to learn how an organization operates and how people like working there, helping them decide if they can see themselves at the company long-term.    

 

Expand Your Professional Network

Following an established professional around for an extended period allows a job shadower to build a stronger relationship with them. If this employee works in a field of interest, the job shadower may be able to rely on them for mentorship, industry tips, letters of recommendation and networking opportunities

 

Address Skills Gaps   

Students and interns who shadow professionals in their fields of interest can determine the skills needed to reach a position and develop an action plan for learning those skills. Companies with job rotation programs can also help current employees diversify their skill sets by giving them experience with various roles and tasks.

 

Identify New Approaches to Solving Problems 

Employees who rotate between different positions may be better equipped to consider problems from new perspectives and come up with innovative solutions.

 

Examples of Job Shadowing 

Internships

As a WEX Inc. intern, software developer Brendan McSweeney followed his teammates around to get to know the building and get familiar with the company’s processes. He absorbed a lot about the company’s culture during standup meetings for the software development team. Each teammate spent two to five minutes discussing their projects and what they would need help with. 

“In a career path where much of your time is spent alone at your desk, staring into a screen and typing, this is an opportunity to put in issues or ideas in front of the group and get some input,” McSweeney said. 

When McSweeney was interning, WEX was in the process of shifting its architecture to the cloud from on-premises infrastructure. As an intern, he attended meetings with Amazon Web Services representatives training the team on the cloud. Now, he works daily with AWS.

 

Employee Professional Development Opportunities

WEX extends job shadowing to full-time employees for career and professional development. When a couple of its IT service desk employees were interested in cloud development and information security, their managers set up shadow “dates” for them with engineers and developers. 

Kazim Rzayev, an employee who shadowed WEX’s security apps team, got a mentor and ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in information security. Yana Matkovskaia, another employee, went on to work in technical documentation to learn how operation and development teams work together, and now works in cloud operations as a co-op intern.

 

Apprenticeship Programs

Software engineer Luis Matos graduated from JPMorgan Chase’s apprenticeship program in 2020 and went on to pursue a degree in cybersecurity from the Illinois Institute of Technology. 

During his paid apprenticeship in the company’s Chicago office, Matos virtually job-shadowed three colleagues, all of whom worked in different parts of the world. During some shadowing sessions, Matos watched and took notes. Others were more interactive, with him asking questions. 

 

Student Learning Events

Job shadowing in high school helped Audrey Chen figure out her path after graduation. Chen participated in a Job Shadow Week presented by edtech companies Stride Learning, K12 and Tallo. Speakers shared personal struggles, their journeys to success and advice for those interested in succeeding in the tech industry, including the importance of networking and mentoring, as well as how to find a mentor.

“I learned so much about many different careers, ranging from coding to marketing to hotel management,” Chen said.

Chen’s experiences that week confirmed her interest in a STEM career and encouraged her to pursue a double major in mechanical and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. 

 

Best Practices and Tips for Job Shadowing

1. Do Your Research

Take some time to consider your skills, interests and passions and what fields align with them. Then, research job titles and companies within those fields.

 

2. Contact a Company or Professional of Interest 

Once you’ve decided what companies or professionals you’re interested in, send them a formal request via email. Explain you’re eager to learn more about their field and would like to shadow them or someone at their company. Be sure to mention specific job titles you’d like to explore.     

 

3. Clarify the Terms of Job Shadowing 

If you’re in contact with a professional, determine details like the days and times you’ll be shadowing them, what events or meetings you can attend and what’s expected of you as a job shadower.

 

4. Prepare and Ask Questions

Job shadowing provides a golden opportunity to ask an experienced professional questions about their role. Before your first day, prepare a set of questions to ask the professional you’re shadowing. Here are a few sample questions:

  • What do you enjoy most about your job? 
  • Do you have a typical workday? If so, what does that look like? 
  • What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field? 
  • What skills or qualifications does someone need for your role? 
  • What challenges have you experienced in your career? 
  • What options do you have for career advancement in your field? 

 

5. Respect Workplace Etiquette 

Act like a professional throughout the process. Respect an employee’s space and remain polite during meetings. Don’t be afraid to greet and get to know other employees as well. 

 

6. Offer to Help With Tasks

Offer to help the person you’re shadowing. Depending on their daily duties, they may have some basic tasks they can pass along to you or put you in touch with another employee who could use a hand.

 

7. Record and Review Notes

Jot down memorable tips and advice professionals give you and follow-up questions that come to mind. This can help you determine key takeaways and reflect on next steps after your job shadowing is complete.   

 

8. Send a Thank-You Email

On the last day of job shadowing, be sure to thank the person you shadowed and the company (if relevant). Professionals are being generous with their time and energy, so express gratitude for their willingness to help you.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Job shadowing opportunities are typically unpaid, unless the scenario involves employees partaking in a formal job shadowing or rotation program.

Job shadowing gives participants the chance to master new skills, evaluate a role or career path, learn more about a company, expand their professional networks and identify different approaches to solving problems.

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