Ready to give Job Shadowing a Try?

What’s it take to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker? What are the real, day-to-day physical and mental demands? What are the emotional pitfalls and rewards you couldn’t anticipate without actually doing the job? How do you find out?

Dr. Kathryn Broyles, Ph.D., Program Director of General Studies at American Public University/American Military University, details an effective technique to “find out:”

A great strategy for answering all of these questions and more, and putting some “real” experience on your resume to boot, is to shadow a professional. Not as involved as an internship, but a chance to make professional connections and really get a glimpse of a job from the inside, job shadowing puts you in a better position when interviewing with potential employers. You’ll be able to point to your willingness to tackle new experiences, your willingness to network and learn, and you’ll also likely be able to ask a few savvy questions in the interview that you might not have had the insight to ask otherwise, if you had not shadowed a real professional.

Job shadowing is also a great way to explore a career you think you might be interested in before committing any substantial time or money into preparing for such a career. It’s a great way to get your questions answered about what it takes to be successful in that position or that field. It’s also an excellent way to gain first-hand knowledge of the culture of a company or field you might be interested in being associated with in the future.

Finding Job Shadowing Opportunities:

Locating opportunities to shadow professionals active in a field you’re contemplating entering may be easier than you think. The first place to look for opportunities is to visit your college’s Alumni Association or Career Services Office. In addition to frequently providing formal shadowing opportunities, they might also be able to put you in touch with fellow alumni who could provide you relevant connections. Does the field your interested in require some sort of professional membership, accreditation or certification? If so, the accrediting or certifying body or other related professional organizations could be a resource for you. Through such organizations you might connect with professionals who have already indicated they are interested in mentoring or hosting a particular period of job-shadowing.

If you’re not sure yet what sort of career you want, virtual shadowing can help you decide where to focus your “real time” shadowing. One website dedicated to virtual shadowing [] provides a long list of interview with professionals in the field and can help you decide if a career interests you. The University of Chicago is another resource providing virtual glimpses into various career fields with their web page, Snapshots: Interviews with Professionals, providing multiple, downloadable pdf transcripts of interviews in more than 18 different job categories. []

Making the most of Job Shadowing Opportunities:

Once you’ve arranged a shadowing opportunity, approach it like you would an important interview and your first day at a new job. Do your homework. Understand the basics about the job and the professional you’ll be shadowing as well as the company, school, or agency he or she works for. Do the research you would to be prepared for a real job interview for a similar position, and dress the part. Remember that not only are you the guest of a professional during your “shadow time” but you’re also making an impression on everyone you encounter and you want that impression to be a good one. You never know what opportunities could turn into job opportunities.

To help you get more out of the experience and to establish the best possible relationship with your host, Texas State University’s Career Services office has developed the following set of questions:

20 Questions To Ask To Better Know Your Host:

  1. What is your job title?
  2. What level of education is needed for this job? Is an advanced degree necessary?
  3. What were your interests in school? How did that lead to your career choice?
  4. What has your career path been?
  5. Why did you select this type of work?
  6. How long have you been in this position?
  7. What are your responsibilities?
  8. How would you categorize your work environment? Is it fast-paced? Do you have daily routine tasks?
  9. What is a typical day like for you?
  10. What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
  11. How have you seen your career interest change?
  12. What skills do you think are required for this career that you think I should know? Are there any specific classes you would recommend that would prepare me for this type of job?
  13. How did your previous work experience or schooling relate to your career?
  14.  What is the path for advancement in your field?
  15.  What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job?
  16.  What have you learned from some of the jobs you have had?
  17.  What kind of career advice would you give to a student who is interested in a similar career?
  18.  How has your job and your career field changed over the years?
  19.  Is there anything that you would do differently, if given the chance?
  20.  If you had only one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

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Now that you know what Job Shadowing is, how it can benefit you, how to arrange it, and how to prepare to make the most of it, go for it!  The experience may prove pivotal to your future.

Thanks Kathryn, your advice is greatly appreciated. For those interested in learning more about American Public University/American Military University, where they are expanding access to higher education with more than 100 affordable degrees and certificates to prepare students for service and leadership in a diverse and global society, visit their website at

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
Got Twitter? Shadow me @DannyatECS

3 thoughts on “Ready to give Job Shadowing a Try?”

  1. This is a great article and very informative. What would you say to someone who has been in their career of choice for a while, but is ready for a change? Do you think this is more beneficial to them to job shadow or would such drastic change make them run the other way? If they choose to run, what would you advise them to do? After all, being “out of the market” (sorta speak) can be a very scary thing….

    1. No doubt much can be learnt from Dr. Broyles. She is a gift for so many. Glad her words found benefit with you. I will ask Dr. Broyles to respond to your comment directly.

    2. Thanks Racquel, the following response from Kathryn should clarify your questions:

      Hello! Thank you for reading and responding to my article. I’m delighted you found it informative. You’ve asked several great questions here, so let me see if I can touch on them all in some way. First, being in a career long-term and trying to make a change is not easy. In fact, it may feel even more anxiety-laden than simply not having a job. I think this comes from having to give up a few assumptions you may have held about what the future would look like– and what you would look like in it– when you think of changing course, and that coupled with the real risk of not knowing if you’ll make it in a new situation and a new career is tough. However, not taking the risk and settling for less than your best (whether that involves financial gain or personal, emotional reward) can be even more damaging in the long run. My advice would be don’t run the other way! DO give strategies like ‘job shadowing’ a try as you investigate what you might like to do next. You might even consider doing some personal evaluation of your skills and interests in a formal way using a tool known as an “interest inventory.”

      Your second question, though, leads me to think you may also mean what about someone who’s been in a career long-term, but now, with the economic downturn of the last few years finds him or herself out of a job and not sure how to get back in the game and whether such strategies as job shadowing are worth a try in that case? My answer is “yes.” It’s still valuable in all the ways I listed in my article. It certainly feels a bit different to be a professional with experience exploring a turn in career than a college student investigating career direction, but being an interesting and interested job shadower, making a good impression, getting the inside scoop on a skill set, and hopefully a more savvy approach to job preparation (maybe even retraining) and interviewing, not to mention solidifying or growing your network of professional contacts, is definitely worth taking the time to set up an opportunity to shadow someone you respect in a career you think you’d like to explore.

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