Job Shadowing Saves Time, Money, and Regret

Young man in a job setting wearing a hard hat and safety vest.Again this year I had the privilege of serving on a panel to judge presentations given by high school seniors.  As a condition of graduation in my state, seniors are required to formally think through and develop career and education plans.  Over several days, I listened as students detailed their goals and their plans to achieve them. As you might expect, the goals were as varied as the students who envisioned them. One thing that stood out in my mind was how some students had already gone so far as to do “job shadowing” of  individuals in their chosen career fields.  Others, unfortunately, had not.

Job Shadowing

The term “job shadowing” or “work shadowing” can mean different things to different people.  As used here, the term refers to the practice of literally following around someone in a particular line of work to learn what the job is really like.  Well, as best as one can while observing for just a few hours or days.  Sometimes, terms such as “day on the job” or similar names are used to describe the same concept with the same end goal.

For those students who did not job shadow, the scary truth is they likely know very little about the reality of the career field they have chosen.  Sure, you can read about it online, but nothing beats first-hand experience and talking to people who really do the job day in and day out.

Think about this. How many times has something “looked good on paper” but ended up not being what you had hoped for?  Did you ever read about a product in an advertisement and then were less than impressed when you saw it in person?  The same thing can happen to the pursuit of a career, a task which requires a lot of time, money, and effort.

An Example Which Could Have Ended Badly

I know an individual who was a gifted artist in high school.  Architecture seemed like a natural way to blend his artistic talent and interest into a career.  He explored how to pursue the career and went for a “day on the job” with an architectural firm.  Architecture is a fine profession, but after that visit, he concluded it was not at all what he thought it would be.  In fact, he decided on a completely different career path altogether, one in which he later became very successful.   What if he had never had that day on the job?  Without that reality check early on, he may very well may have invested several years in college, spending time and money taking courses aimed toward a degree and career which was just not for him.

An Example Really Close to Home

For another example I need not look too far.  When I started college, I had a career in mind and began a curriculum in a medically related field.  The program called for three years of college courses followed by a one-year, for-credit clinical internship in a hospital program. After completing that program, I would receive a bachelor’s degree and be eligible to sit for the required license examination.  Yup, I had it all figured out. Or, so I thought.

After my first year of college, I landed a full-time summer job as a student assistant working in my area of interest in a hospital. This was great! I could both earn some money and actually perform the work which awaited me in my future career.

I continued working there through my second year of college.  However, along the way, I was shocked to find this field just did not have the appeal I thought it would.   Given that, it was obvious that most of my college work thus far was headed in the wrong direction.  Now what?  Well, at a minimum, I avoided a serious career mistake.  On the bright side, it turned out that the experience introduced me to an entirely new and emerging medical field altogether!  This new field was very technology-oriented and really did excite me.  Realizing this, I was able to successfully redirect my college and energy in that direction.

In retrospect, without that on-the-job experience, I am sure I would have simply plugged along as originally planned.  In doing so, I would have wasted both time and money on the wrong degree and career.  It makes me sad to think about how many individuals have probably made that exact, same mistake. Don’t be one of those people!

Take a Close Look

Whether you are a high school student, college student, or working individual looking to change jobs or fields, take the time to examine your desired career field up close and personal.  Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are a high school student, when looking at your career options, make sure you include job shadowing. It is important to do this with several different companies or individuals.  Things can differ greatly from place to place and person to person.  You would not want your perception of a career tainted by one sour individual or one bad company.
  • While in college, if at all possible, get a summer or part-time job in your area of interest. Not only will you see the job up close, you will develop a network of people who may serve as references or who may even end up hiring you later on.  Explore student helper or internship opportunities. See if the job continues to fuel your passion for the field. If so, it will also give you the motivation to keep plugging away at your college courses.
  • If you are already working but know you want to change jobs or even careers altogether, make sure you really know how green that grass is before taking the leap. Use a vacation day and create do your own day on the job with someone you know in the field.  At a minimum, talk to several others in the field of interest.  Some companies even have internal job shadowing programs designed to help their employees advance into new areas. If your company has such a program, check it out.

The Best Information Available

Job shadowing cannot guarantee you will end up loving the career you are about to pursue.  No, nobody gets any guarantees in life.  Therefore, it is critical to base your career decisions on the best information available.  Job shadowing is a great way to get that information.


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Featured image courtesy of Anamul Rezwan –

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