Career Advice

How to Best Prepare for Your Job Shadowing Experience

John Smith

Work shadowing is a type of work experience that has long been a popular choice for students, as well as those looking to change career paths or return to the workplace after a career break. Shadowing at work offers you the chance to learn from industry professionals and explore a specific career before taking the plunge for yourself.

FDM Group offers a number of job shadowing opportunities and on-campus workshops designed to prepare you for a future career in technology and business. In order to maximise the unique learning experience that job shadowing can offer, be sure to check out these tips to help you prepare. We will cover the following topics:

  • What is job shadowing?
  • Why is job shadowing important?
  • Types of work shadowing
  • Job shadowing benefits
  • How to prepare for a work shadowing experience
  • How to get the most out of your work shadowing experience
  • What can you expect from a job shadowing placement?

What is a job shadowing experience?

Job shadowing is a popular type of work experience that involves closely observing the day-to-day duties of an industry professional. It enables you to learn on-the-job, gain first-hand insight into your chosen career and absorb as much knowledge as possible.

During a work shadowing placement, you will benefit from the undivided time and attention from the person you are shadowing, which you would not typically get with other kinds of work experience placements. Job shadowing also provides you with invaluable real-world experience that would not be gained in a classroom setting.

Some of the activities you may do during your placement include:

  • Touring the office, building or facilities
  • Meeting key team members
  • Sitting in on staff meetings
  • Shadowing internal and external interactions
  • Assisting with daily tasks
  • Reading company policies, employee handbooks and other important documentation

Why is job shadowing important?

Job shadowing programmes put you in the unique position of being part of an industry for a short period of time and observing business operations. Since work shadowing experiences can last for as little as a day, this gives you the opportunity to explore multiple career paths and find what you like best. As a student, it is normal not to know which career you want to pursue and this programme can help bridge the gap, allowing you to ‘try before you buy’.

Additionally, with the evolution of the workforce and technology pushing the boundaries of technical, business, and social sectors, many jobs today did not exist a decade ago allowing for more opportunities to explore than ever before.

Types of work shadowing

The type of work shadowing placement you experience will depend on the industry you choose and the resources of your host company. There are three main types of work shadowing. These include:

  • Observation: this type of shadowing involves you observing professionals throughout the day while they work.
  • Hands-on: this type of placement will see you carrying out some of the tasks that you have observed. This will always be supervised by your hosts.
  • Regular briefings: this is where the host will carry out specific activities for you to observe, providing short, focused learning sessions. This takes lots of planning and time management, but means you can pick and choose the most valuable areas to learn about.

Job shadowing benefits

Job shadowing is primarily a tool for learning and you should try to absorb and retain as much as possible. The experience will vary from learning competency skills like communication and leadership to hard skills like programming and technical skills, all of which will be important in future career advancement.

In addition to learning skills, you will also get to know more about the industry in which your host company operates. Employees at the company may also be able to provide you with information and advice that will assist you in your career development. Some more benefits of job shadowing include:

  • Helping you learn about the roles and responsibilities of various professions
  • Giving you an unfiltered view of your chosen career
  • Gaining a better understanding of how each business functions
  • Expanding your professional network
  • Providing you with an opportunity for self-reflection and development
  • Giving you the chance to engage with prospective employers
  • Assessing whether you’re the ‘right fit’ for your chosen career

How to prepare for a work shadowing experience

It may seem like common knowledge, but coming prepared is critical to gaining the most out of a job shadowing experience. Your host company is allocating their time and resources to help you navigate your career opportunities and it is important to recognise that and show your dedication.

Firstly, we recommend asking your industry point of contact for a preliminary agenda and research the different departments you are going to shadow. This will help you prepare a list of questions in advance. These questions are fundamental for starting conversations and allow you to approach your career exploration from a different perspective. It is one thing to browse job boards searching for opportunities that sound like a good fit, but it is quite different to get a chance to speak to professionals working in those fields.

Here are some example questions to ask your hosts during your work shadowing placements:

  • What skills are most important for your role?
  • How did you enter this career path?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
  • What opportunities are there for progression in this field?
  • Does your role offer flexible working hours and arrangements?
  • Could you recommend any relevant magazines or websites for additional reading?

How to get the most out of your work shadowing experience

Here are some tips and advice to help your work shadowing go smoothly and help you get the most out of the experience:

  • Ask questions: take the opportunity to ask as many questions as possible and squeeze every bit of information from your hosts. That’s why we recommend writing down your questions prior to the day so you don’t forget anything.
  • Take notes: write down everything important so you retain as much information as possible and can reflect on what you’ve learnt afterwards.
  • Be proactive: taking a proactive approach is always best as you may even have the opportunity to get involved with daily tasks and gain hands-on experience.
  • Make a good impression: from the moment you begin to the end of your experience, you should carry yourself professionally and politely. Why not send a thank you note to make a lasting impression? You never know; they could be your future employers or recommend you to a contact!

What can you expect from a job shadowing placement?

After spending years in classrooms and workshops completing group projects and learning to conduct research, what can you expect to be different in the workplace? Many of the skills you have developed in school can be adapted to face different challenges in the workplace. You should keep in mind that there are no grades; you will not get an A+ for a job well done, but rather you will further your expertise in a given area and learn how to work in a team towards a common goal.

Be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone in order to thrive in this new environment. You will likely learn many new things about yourself and gain a better understanding of the career trajectory you want to pursue. Since you will spend a large proportion of your day working,  it is equally important to choose a work culture that best suits your work style and motivates you to come to work every day. Getting the chance to experience the company culture first-hand will allow you to decide if this is a company you want to work for in the future.

Are you interested in training for a career in IT or business intelligence? You can do so on our award-winning Graduate Careers Programme, Ex-Forces Careers Programme or Returners Careers Programme.

Updated 15 Dec 2021. First published 2018.