Job shadowing is perhaps one of the most important opportunities a student can take part in when deciding on a career path, as well as when with others in his/her field. In fact, it’s best to do this before a student’s senior year, as job shadowing early in one’s education can help the student have access to many more opportunities. (If you’d like to read about why you should job shadow before senior year, click here.)
Whether you are a senior or a freshman, there is no doubt that job shadowing can be a very valuable experience. However, it can also be a little daunting, not only during the actual job shadow (who wouldn’t feel awkward following a stranger around at work?), but especially the process of finding and setting up a job shadow can seem to be very complicated.
Thankfully, it’s actually quite simple:
Decide Which Career to Explore
To begin setting up a job shadow, you first need to figure out what career and company you want to explore. You may have an initial idea that you can start from, but if not, begin thinking about some of your interests and hobbies. You may have also taken a career test at school that you can utilize for ideas.
However, when deciding what career to explore for your job shadow, it’s important to note that some careers may be harder to shadow than others (due to location/career interests). For example, it may be 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 employ people in that desired job field, it’s time to contact them and (hopefully) secure the job shadow.
I have found that there are 3 main ways to request a job shadow:
1. Look at the Company’s Website
Once you’ve found a company you’d like to job shadow at, it’s time to take a look at their website. Some companies 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.
2. Network 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. Not only does it mean that they are more likely to agree to the job shadow, but you may also get to be in a more relaxed, truthful atmosphere, as you most likely already know the person and can skip some of the formalities and introductions. Conversations and questions could also flow much easier than they would with a stranger.
3. Email the Company
Sometimes, 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 (such as a secretary). In the email, introduce yourself and explain why you are emailing them. Be sure to let them know what career you’re interested in shadowing someone in their company (be sure to specify the career(s), 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.
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.
Just in case you are still unsure about whether doing a job shadow is really worth it, check out this blog post on Why You Should Job Shadow Before Your Senior Year.