What is Job Shadowing? Save Time, Money, and Avoid Regret!

Man and Woman in OfficeA few years ago, I had the privilege of serving on a panel to judge presentations given by high school seniors. As a condition for graduation in my state, seniors are required to think through and develop formal career plans. Over several days, I listened as students detailed their goals and the steps needed to achieve them. As you might expect, the goals were as varied as the students who envisioned them. One thing that stood out to me was how some students had already gone so far as to do “job shadowing” with individuals in their chosen careers. Others, unfortunately, had not.

Job Shadowing

Names such as “job shadowing,” “work shadowing,” “day on the job,” and so forth 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, or at least as best as one can while observing for just a few hours or days. The names may differ, but the end goal is the same.

For those students who did not job shadow, the scary truth is that they likely know very little about the realities of the career fields they have chosen. Sure, you can read about a career field online, but nothing beats first-hand experience and talking to people who 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 that sounded pretty good in an advertisement, but later, you were less than impressed when you had it in your hand? The same can happen with a career.

An Example Which Could Have Ended Badly

I know an individual who is a gifted artist. Architecture seemed like a natural way to blend his artistic talent and interest into a career. While still a student, he researched the field and went for a “day on the job” at an architectural firm. Architecture is a fine and respected profession, but after that visit, he concluded it was not at all what he thought it would be. Subsequently, he decided on a completely different career path, 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 have invested several years in college, spending time and considerable money taking courses aimed toward a degree and career which was just not for him.

An Example Close to Home

Here’s another example, one for which 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. That was great! I could earn some money plus get hands-on experience performing the type of work awaiting me in my future career.

I continued working that job through my second year of college. Much to my shock and disappointment, I came to the realization that this field just did not have the appeal I initially thought it would. Unfortunately, this conclusion also meant that most of my college work thus far was obviously headed in the wrong direction and even possibly wasted. Now what? Well, at least I avoided a serious career mistake. On the bright side, it turned out that the experience introduced me to an entirely new and emerging field! Not only was this new field still medically related, but it was also very electronics and technology-oriented, one I found considerably more interesting. Recognizing this, I was able to successfully redirect my career path in that direction.

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

Anyone Can Job Shadow

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 considering your career options, be sure to include a job shadowing experience. 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 do not want your perception of a career influenced—either for the good or bad—by one individual or 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, but you will also 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 motivate you 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 have a realistic idea of how green that grass is before taking the leap. Use a vacation day or two and create your own day on the job with someone you know in the field. At a minimum, talk to several others already working in the area of interest. Some companies even have internal job shadowing programs designed to help their employees advance into new areas. Rather than lose an existing and good employee to another firm, the company is willing to assist the individual in transitioning to another position where they may find more satisfaction. If your company has such a program, check it out.

Use the Best Information Available

Job shadowing cannot guarantee you will end up loving the career you are about to pursue. Sorry, 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. 

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.

Featured image courtesy of August de Richelieu – pexels.com

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