Job shadowing is perhaps one of the most important things a student can do when deciding on a career path and/or networking with others in his or her field. In fact, it’s best to do this before a student’s senior year, as job shadowing early on can help the student have access to many more opportunities. (If you would like to read about why you should job shadow, click here to read my post!)
However, no matter whether you are a senior or a freshman, there is no doubt that a job shadow can be a very valuable experience for you. However, it can also be a little daunting. After all, who wouldn’t feel a bit awkward when following a stranger around their job for a day? I know I felt that way!
Additionally, the process of finding and setting up a job shadow can appear be very complicated. Luckily, it’s actually quite simple. You just set-up the job shadow, go to the location on a specified date and time, and follow an employee around for a few hours. If anything, setting up the job shadow might be the hardest part of the process, and that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss how to do.
To begin setting up a job shadow, you first need to figure out what career and company you want to explore. However, it’s important to note that it may be hard to job shadow some careers due to your location and career interests. For example, it’s going to be really hard to shadow a marine biologist if you’re living in the middle of Kansas.
The best way to determine whether a career is available in a certain area is to do a simple web search. For example, you might type “architecture firm in Dallas” to find some places that would offer a career within architecture.
Once you find some companies that employee people in that desired job field, it’s time to contact them and (hopefully) secure the job shadow. Luckily, there are several different ways to do that.
1. Look at the Company’s Website
Some locations may receive job shadow requests often, and will include a job shadow request form on their website. This is how I requested my first job shadow, which was with a set designer for a local theater company. With this form, I was able to select which career in theater I wanted to shadow, the preferred date of the job shadow, any additional notes, and so forth. Before contacting the company any other way, check to see if the company has any information or forms about job shadowing on their website.
2. Networking through a Family Friend
One of the easiest ways to set up a job shadow is to shadow with someone either you or your family knows. Job shadowing with someone you already know means that they are more likely to agree to the job shadow, and you get to avoid a majority of the formalities, since you are already familiar with each other. In my opinion, already knowing each other may also create a more relaxed atmosphere, meaning that conversation and questions will flow much easier than it would with a stranger.
3. Emailing the Company
Oftentimes, there may not be a form to fill out or a family friend to network with, which means that you will need to contact the company directly. The best way to do this is by writing a formal email to a representative of the company. In the email, introduce yourself, explain why you are emailing, and that you are interested in job shadowing an employee. Be sure to let them know what career you’re interested in observing, and then ask if there is an employee whom would be willing to let you shadow him/her for a few hours. At the end of the email, thank the representative for their time in considering this matter.
When requesting a job shadow, it’s important to ask several weeks in advance. There may be limited time spans for job shadow opportunities due to the employee’s vacation time, business trips, etc.
I also can’t stress this to you enough: a job shadow can be your first opportunity to network in the industry. Making a good first impression is key. Be inquisitive, take notes, and pay attention. At the end of the job shadow, thank the employee for his/her time and send an additional thank-you note a few days later. You may be applying to that same company several years down the road; by having that great first impression, you could get one step ahead of the competition, which could possibly land you the position.
P.S. Do you have any questions or comments? Please write me a letter back (in the comments) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!