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 –

Questions to Ask and Not Ask on a Job Interview

Woman in an interview situation.This happens all the time during job interviews.  So far, the candidate has been doing quite well, given good answers, and seems bright.  Then, near the end of the interview, we reach the point where we ask, “Do you have any questions for us?”

Wait for it…

“No; no questions,” the candidate replies.

Really?  There is absolutely nothing the applicant wants to know?  This person is ready to quit his or her current job and come to work here, yet doesn’t have a single question about the job… or anything else?

The candidate may not be asking any questions because he or she:

  • Does not have a deep enough knowledge about of this line of work to even have any questions.
  • Has decided this job is no longer of interest and just wants to get the heck out of here.
  • Thinks they already know everything there is to know about this job and the organization.
  • Doesn’t really care about this specific job. Maybe the person just wants a job – any job – or is desperate to escape their current one.
  • Is overly timid or shy, and maybe lacks social skills.

Ouch!  Do you really want to leave the interviewers with any of those impressions?

I have seen this situation play out time and time again.  Still, each time it happens, I feel bad for the candidate.  Plus, there’s that usual look of disappointment on the faces of the other interviewers.  Asking no questions – or asking the wrong questions – is a bad way to wrap up an otherwise good interview.

What NOT to Ask

I recall interviewing a person who had only a single question.  He asked, “I really like my vacation time.  What is the absolute soonest I could take a two-week, paid vacation?”  No kidding. That was his only question.  I don’t know whether or not he ever got his vacation, but if he did, it was while working somewhere else.

Since you’re smart enough to be reading Career Lantern, I’ll assume you would never ask anything so ridiculous.  Yet, applicants do seem to ask some pretty goofy questions at times, maybe without even realizing it.  Think about the questions you plan to ask.  How do they sound to the person on the other side of the table?  What do they say about your knowledge and interest in the job?

Avoid questions which might imply your only real interest is the pay or some other perk of the job (travel, employee discount, etc.).  Be careful, too, to not ask a question which is too basic or for which they might feel you should already know the answer.  You sure don’t want them thinking, “Wow. This applicant doesn’t even know that?” Sure, you want to learn things about the job you need to know to see if it is right for you. However, avoid having all the questions one-sided and focused only on what you will get out of it.

Should I Talk Money and Benefits?

No, especially if this is the first interview.  Unless the interviewers start a conversation about pay and want to discuss it right then and there, don’t ask.  Typically, unless they are going to hire you on the spot, this is not the time to dicker about money.  If you are lucky enough to be offered a position, there will be time later to discuss dollars.  Besides, you will be in a much better position to bargain AFTER they have decided for sure they want you for the job.

What if the interviewer does start talking about pay and benefits?  Check out the Interview Coach by Carole Martin.  She has some helpful responses to pay-related questions in case the interviewer begins discussing the matter.  Even though the subject may never come up, you need to be prepared anyway.

Sometimes, the interviewer may advise you of the stated entry-level pay rate for the position.  Telling you this number might merely be a requirement they must follow.  It is not necessarily an invitation to start wage negotiations.  What if you are already making more money?  Do you have education, credentials, and experience beyond the bare minimum required? If so, the starting wage you were just quoted probably sounds low – maybe way too low!  Don’t worry about it at the moment.  In such cases, the interviewer knows full well you will likely expect – and deserve – more than the bare minimum entry-level wage package.  Again, telling you the “usual” starting rate of pay may simply be a formality.  In rare situations, it could also just be a negotiation tactic intended to give you a lower wage expectation.

Will They Steer You to HR?

Remember, too, not every interviewer may have the authority to negotiate or have the final say on the actual pay you will be offered.  The hiring manager may need to justify to Human Resources (HR) any proposed starting pay which is above the minimum level.  Often, the manager may even need to do this in writing and send it to HR and/or to those higher up in management.  HR will make the manager explain why you should be paid anything more than just the minimum base rate of pay for the position.  The goal of HR is to get the best people, but at the lowest possible yet reasonable rate.

Often, interviewers will defer questions about benefits to their HR staff as such matters may be very complex.  Benefit packages can and often do vary based on the position, level, union, or any number of other factors.  The interviewer may not even know all the details and certainly doesn’t want to make a mistake.

The company HR person will likely be happy to discuss the various benefits available, sometimes even before a position is offered.  They see this as a chance to sell you on the idea of how great it would be for you to come to work here!

What About Those Canned Questions?

Be careful about asking many of the “canned” questions found all over the internet. If you screen through a few dozen of these questions, there might be a few keepers, but use common sense.  Although others may disagree with me, I think you should avoid a question such as, “Could you describe the culture here?”  Get real.  The interviewer is not going to tell you, “It’s really bad here,” or, “You must backstab to get promoted at our company.”  Most likely, they’re just going to tell you it’s great.  Besides, how would you know if they are telling the truth?  The interviewers have probably heard the same old, tired, generic questions from the last three applicants. Don’t you ask them, too!

What Should I Ask?

Ask questions which show you have a deep interest and knowledge of the work, and that you are up-to-date in the field.  Show your passion for good customer service and a concern for meeting the needs of the organization.  This will do more for you than asking boring, generic questions.  In her article Best Questions to Ask in a Job Interview, Alison Doyle has a simple but excellent recommendation which will help ensure you do not forget to ask anything: make a list of questions to ask at the interview.

Also, limit the number of questions you ask to just a few, perhaps three or so.  These should be questions which the interviewer can easily answer with a brief response, but with more than just a yes/no. This is not the time to get into a long, in-depth discussion, unless the interviewer clearly wishes to do so.

A Few Examples

The questions you ask will, to some extent, depend on the career field, position, and level.  Here are a few examples which may help you to think of your own:

  • Process Related: “How are work requests handled? Do clients submit requests by telephone, email, or through an online system?”
  • Process Related: “Are the materials warehoused here or ordered from suppliers as needed?”
  • IT Systems Related: “What bedside clinical charting software do you use at this hospital to enter orders, track patient data, and obtain test results?”
  • Customer Service Related: “What turnaround time do you typically provide to customers?”
  • Equipment/Tools/Machinery Related: “Regarding the equipment used here, do you use an ACME 2000, GX-4000, or another device?” (Naming specific brands or models helps reinforce that you have knowledge of the field.  Make sure you actually know the equipment, as they may then ask you about your experience with it!)
  • Training Related: “Could you describe the training process here for new representatives?”
  • For a Management Position: “If I am hired as the manager, what do you see as the top three priorities you would like addressed first?”
  • “Is this a new position?  May I ask how this vacancy came about?”
  • “Does this position require travel? If so, how much?”
  • “To whom will I be reporting?”
  • “How many other people in my position work in this area?”
  • “How soon do you expect to make a hiring decision for this position?”

The Interview Goes Both Ways

There is another benefit to asking solid, position-related questions.  The answers you hear will help you decide whether or not this organization is a good fit for you.  Based on what you hear, you may even decide you do not want the job or to work for this firm.  Interviewing is, after all, a two-way street!

Ok.  Let’s try it again… “Do you have any questions for us?

What will you say?



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Featured image courtesy of Tim Gouw – PEXELS.COM