The Benefits of Job Shadowing

Owen Wilson talking

Are you looking for a job but have no work experience? Relax. Luckily for you, there are many ways you can equip yourself with the skills you need to become more employable. Apart from volunteering, moving from placement to placement or attending career events and seminars, you could become an intern and shadow your way to a more permanent full-time position.

Working alongside an experienced employee can help you learn a lot about a job. Job shadowing allows you gain insight into an industry as well as develop within your current or expected role. But there’s more to it than that. Despite the fact that the main purpose of job shadowing is professional development, there are many other reasons why a student, graduate, or a current employee should engage in the practice.

Why job shadow?

To begin with, here are some of the reasons you should consider job shadowing:

  • It allows you to get an insight into the working life of the profession.
  • It allows you to get an insight into the employer and organisational culture.
  • It gives you a different perspective on your work by learning from others’ experiences.
  • It expands your network and helps you make professional contacts.
  • It gives you the chance to reflect on your own professional practice.
  • It informs you about the daily joys/struggles of the profession and its limitations.

Job shadowing in training


Many organisations regard job shadowing as an effective tool for training purposes. By incorporating this technique as part of their training routines, HR managers have discovered it is an easy way to help their new employees become more familiar with the company and how it operates. Whether it lasts for a day or a week, job shadowing allows them to learn more about the different roles within each department and figure out how things work within the company. In fact, it even helps them get to know your colleagues better.

However, as a study from i4cp suggests, despite apparent evidence that job shadowing can help companies, many choose to overlook the advantages. As such, many organisations don’t offer work shadowing experience. For companies currently offering job shadowing, this adds to the skills development of staff, improves internal communication and establishes an effective operation.

But in case you are interested in getting some work experience through job shadowing, I suggest that you check with the employer first either by contacting them or asking for an informational interview.

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What does it involve?

Depending on the reasons you are interested in job shadowing in the first place, as well as the company you will be working for, your experience will be entirely different from others’ even though it may be in the same industry. This has much to do with the level of involvement the employer allows you to have as part of their training.

A guide to job shadowing from Manchester Metropolitan University, distinguishes three different types of job shadowing to help you understand what each one includes:

1. Observation – Fly on the wall

Just like its name suggests, this type of job shadowing experience involves observing someone else’s work. Essentially this explains the ‘in the shadow’ part of job shadowing as it works around a passive ongoing observation. This usually involves attending meetings, watching how employees work with their customers as well as co-workers. It can be useful when you want to learn what a typical day in the profession looks like.

2. Regular briefings – Burst interactions

Job shadowing through regular briefings means that you get to shadow an employee on specific activities that can help you better understand your role. This requires good timing and planning of your work though as the host will let you know the dates and times of when they will take place.

3. Hands on – Job sharing

This type of job shadowing involves a combination of observation and action that provides a hands-on experience in the role. This means that you will get to carry out tasks that you observe as you go. Not many employers can offer this – as the nature of the job doesn’t allow it, but you can discuss this with the host.


Exploring careers

Apart from learning, job shadowing can be used as a testing method to identify possible careers. This is crucial, especially at the very start of your professional life and even as early as being a university student.

Take Michael Warshafsky, for example; the student from Canada, who interned at 60 jobs. In the summer of 2011, prior to starting university he chose to spend his time wisely by job shadowing other professionals. Warshafsky’s ‘summer experiment’ – as he calls it, aimed to help him explore other careers apart from life sciences, a field he intended to study in the next academic year. In his interview with The Guardian, Warshafsky said that he ‘job-shadowed 60 people in 60 days’ and learned as much as he possibly could about each profession given the time he had available.

This experience gave Warshafsky an incredible advantage over his peers. Whereas other students felt the pressure of having to make a quick decision on a career, he took the time he needed to look into different jobs through this project. Not only did this give him a variety of career insights but it also made him more desirable and unique in the eyes of employers in the long run. Currently, he is an entrepreneur at Venture for Canada, and a designer working for eSight Corporation.

Likewise, I would personally encourage you to do it. No matter how old you are, or where you are in life, job shadowing may be your opportunity to try out a profession that you’ve always wanted to get into. Job shadowing isn’t just about learning but also equipping yourself with experiences that will stay with you forever. You also get to share your stories with your future undecided kids and better prepare them.

Every individual has many different skills, interests and talents and sometimes it can be difficult to decide which career might suit you the best. Have you ever job shadowed to help you with your career exploration?