The Internet has opened up whole new worlds of information and is a fantastic resource for researching companies and careers during a job search. But for all its wealth of information, even the Internet can't beat the experience of learning about a company or career by experiencing it in person in the shadow of a working professional.
If you know you want to change careers but are not sure what career is right for you, job-shadowing can give you a taste of what various careers are like. By experiencing a workplace first-hand, you can learn a great deal more about a career than you can through research in print publications and on the Internet.
You can also learn a lot more about companies by experiencing them in the actual trenches than you can in any other way. If, for example, you know what type of career you want to enter but are unsure of which companies in that field to target in your job-search, job-shadowing can reveal inside information about company culture that can guide you in determining which companies to apply to.
So, just like any kind of company/career research, job-shadowing can occur at various stages of one's career development:
- while still in school and trying to determine a career path.
- after your career is launched but you've decided to explore new career directions.
- when you know what career path to follow but want to learn more about specific companies by getting your foot inside. You can even narrow your search to the department level by shadowing people in different departments of the same company to see which team you'd rather work with.
What exactly is job-shadowing and what does it entail? Job-shadowing is a close cousin of informational interviewing, in which career-explorers or job-seekers conduct short interviews with people in their prospective professions to learn more about those fields. Job-shadowing can be thought of as an expanded informational interview. Where an informational interview typically lasts about a half hour, a job-shadowing experience can be anywhere from a few hours, to a day, to a week or more, depending on what you can mutually arrange with the person you've chosen to shadow. Many of the same rules apply to job-shadowing as apply to informational interviewing, from preparing for the experience, to scheduling it, getting the most out if it, and following up on it.
During your job-shadow experience, you follow the professional you're shadowing through his or her work day. You observe the rigors of the job, the company culture, and ask lots of questions.