As a future member of the workforce, you’ve no doubt heard about the importance of networking. After all, you’re constantly bombarded by career fairs, classes on networking skills, resume reviews, and articles on how to uphold a professional look and attitude. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re always hearing about the importance of attending conferences and participating in internships, all so that you can get your foot in the door and work towards your future career. While all of this is admirable, it can be extremely confusing and overwhelming , especially if you don’t know what field or major you want to pursue. But even if you do know your field/major, figuring out the exact job you want can be nerve-wracking, especially since many majors can lead to a wide variety of jobs.
This leads us to some important questions: What do you do if you’re going to college and don’t know what field you want to go into? Or if you do know what your preferred field is, how do you choose from the many diverse careers it can bring you? After all, trying to figure this out would leave any student overwhelmed.
However, the answer is simple, but many students have never even heard of it before: job shadowing.
What is a Job Shadow?
Job shadowing is an opportunity available to high school and college students, in which you to follow (i.e. “shadow”) a professional in the field and/or career that you are potentially interested in. Job shadowing gives you insight on what a professional in this field does and how an actual “day in the life” might look like. Job shadowing can be extremely beneficial to your educational, personal, and professional goals. Job shadowing can also give you insight into which jobs you may or may not want, saving you a lot of money and future stress.
In addition, job shadowing also gives students the opportunity to ask questions, see what the work environment is like, and receive feedback on what you are currently doing to reach your career goals.
If You Job Shadow as a High Schooler…
Personally, I job shadowed as a high school senior, and I wish I had done it earlier because of how beneficial it was to me and my classmates.
Job shadowing as a high schooler, in general, will allow you to have more certainty when picking you major and college. Many students go into college with no idea what they want to do and (as a result) change their major multiple times. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, switching it often or even transferring colleges to pursue a certain major (because it wasn’t offered at their first college) can cause students to graduate late, take more classes then necessary, and put them in more debt. By job shadowing earlier on, you can begin college with a clearer goal in mind and save yourself a lot of stress in the long run.
Additionally, job shadowing as a high schooler (especially before senior year) provides experiences to discuss in college applications and scholarship essays, as well as providing some unique networking and job opportunities. The way I see it, the company or person that you are job shadowing with is going to be very impressed to see a student– who is not even in college yet–getting a head start on his/her career; if you apply for an internship or job with that same company down the road, they are going to remember the initiative that you displayed by job shadowing with them, which may give you a leg up in the hiring process.
On the flip side, job shadowing as a high schooler can also reveal that what you thought you wanted to do for your future career was actually not it. A lot of my classmates experienced this when they did their job shadow, but unfortunately it was almost the end of their senior year and college was right around the corner. What if they had picked their college based on that specific major, which they now didn’t want to do anymore? They had little time to explore other majors, careers, and even colleges, which put a lot of stress on those students; by job shadowing earlier, they would have had more time to figure it out. While job shadowing at any time during high school is great, it is more beneficial to do so earlier in your high school career.
If You Job Shadow as a College Student…
Job shadowing as a college student can be just as beneficial as job shadowing in high school, and perhaps even more so.
To begin, if you you’re an undeclared student, then job shadowing can help you discover some majors you might be interested in. This is especially beneficial in your freshman and sophomore year of college, when you are more able to switch majors without falling behind.
Even if you do have your major picked out and are certain that it is what you want to do in life, it can still be very beneficial to job shadow, as it provides you with field experience to discuss during future job interviews; even though you weren’t working during the job shadow, you can discuss your experience with with your interviewer(s), such as how you got to observe a professional in your field, the work process and responsibilities associated with the job that you noticed during your shadow, and how you applied what you learned into your own life and academic studies. You can then use that as credibility during your job search.
Additionally, job shadowing can be used to figure out which career(s) you are interested in within your field, as a single major can often lead to many diverse careers. Instead of job hopping the first few years after graduation, trying to figure out which career is best for you, you can attempt to find it through your job shadow. Once again, job shadowing before your senior year is more beneficial because you can then spend your senior year applying to jobs that you know you will love, rather than trying to figure that out in the process.
Another reason to job shadow in college is because of the networking and future internship/job opportunities that it can bring you. When job shadowing with a company, you may find out that they have an internship program that you are eligible for, or that they will have a job opening soon. Since you have job shadowed there, which displayed your interest in the career and the company, your application may receive more attention than others, potentially landing you the job.
No matter whether you are a high schooler or a current college student, job shadowing can be a very exciting and eye-opening experience, and now that you know about it, you can utilize it to your advantage. It can open up so many doors and possibilities and help you achieve your goals. Once you decide that you would like to job shadow, be sure to check out my article on How to Request a Job Shadow.