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 [jobshadow.com] 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. [https://caps.uchicago.edu/resourcecenter/snapshots.html]
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:
- What is your job title?
- What level of education is needed for this job? Is an advanced degree necessary?
- What were your interests in school? How did that lead to your career choice?
- What has your career path been?
- Why did you select this type of work?
- How long have you been in this position?
- What are your responsibilities?
- How would you categorize your work environment? Is it fast-paced? Do you have daily routine tasks?
- What is a typical day like for you?
- What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
- How have you seen your career interest change?
- 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?
- How did your previous work experience or schooling relate to your career?
- What is the path for advancement in your field?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job?
- What have you learned from some of the jobs you have had?
- What kind of career advice would you give to a student who is interested in a similar career?
- How has your job and your career field changed over the years?
- Is there anything that you would do differently, if given the chance?
- If you had only one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
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 www.apus.edu.
Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
Got Twitter? Shadow me @DannyatECS