What is Job Shadowing? Definition, Benefits, and How to Set It Up

What is Job Shadowing? Definition, Benefits, and How to Set It Up was originally published on Forage.

The job search is exciting because there are so many options for what you can do — but for the same reason, it can also be overwhelming. How can you figure out what you want to do if you don’t know what the job will be like? That’s where job shadowing comes in.

Job shadowing is when you follow someone at work to understand a typical day in their role. It’s a generally quick way to learn more about a career, build your network, and get something extra to add to your resume.

Yet you likely won’t be able to find a “job shadowing” jobs board — instead, you’ll have to be a bit more strategic to land these opportunities. Here’s your ultimate guide.

Job Shadowing Definition

What is job shadowing? Job shadowing is observing a day in the life of someone else’s role. You may watch them complete their day-to-day tasks, attend meetings with them, and follow other vital parts of their work routine.

During a typical day of job shadowing, you might:

  • Observe how the person uses particular software or technology
  • Sit in on client meetings
  • Attend team meetings
  • Assist with minor, sometimes administrative tasks
  • Tour an office
  • Review project or other work materials

Besides observing the tasks and routine of the person you’re shadowing, you may also:

  • Ask the person questions about their career
  • Network with other colleagues
  • Take notes about questions or ideas you have

Job Shadowing vs. Internships vs. Externships

Internships and externships are also valuable ways to get experiential learning experiences in a real work environment. However, there are some critical differences between these experiences and job shadowing in terms of responsibilities, length, benefits, and more.

Job Shadowing vs. Internships

Internships are work-based learning experiences where you perform entry-level tasks for a company. These programs typically last multiple months and give you some work experience in the field. Many companies hold internship programs as a way to recruit entry-level employees; for example, over 90% of PwC’s interns get full-time offers after they complete their internship, according to the company’s internship page.

Job Shadowing vs. Externships

Externships are experiential learning opportunities where you follow a professional to understand their daily work life. Similar to job shadowing, externships are more about observing a professional rather than performing entry-level tasks. However, depending on the externship, you may be expected to do some administrative work or help on some tasks or projects.

Let’s try an analogy:

  • Internships are like being a junior chef in a kitchen, helping out with the basics of the kitchen’s dishes.
  • Externships are like following a chef in a kitchen and helping them prep for dinner.
  • Job shadowing is like following a chef in a kitchen and watching what they do.

While each experience can help you understand the role better and learn about different work environments, each opportunity varies in the degree of involvement and role you play within the company.

Is Job Shadowing Worth It? Benefits

Job shadowing may not be as involved as other experiential learning opportunities, but there are still many benefits — including the fact that it’s not as involved as other opportunities!

Shadowing someone can be a quick, lower-effort way to understand a role. Other benefits include:

  • Learning the day-to-day responsibilities of a job
  • Understanding specific software or technical tools someone needs to do their role
  • Gaining insight into what meetings are like in the role
  • Discovering a company’s culture
  • Identifying skills you need to learn or training you need
  • Networking with a professional and other people in the company
  • Gaining experience to discuss in interviews or put on your resume

Jade Barricelli, senior vice president of community and partner programs at Rewriting the Code, shared how job shadowing benefitted her early on in her career:

“While working toward my graduate degree, I was convinced that I was on the right career path,” she says. “However, a mentor suggested that I do a job shadow to truly understand the realities of the profession I was eyeing. And what a revelation it was — the career was not at all what I had envisioned! This invaluable experience steered me away from a degree that would have been less than ideal for me and guided me toward a more suitable career path. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain from acquiring additional knowledge and experience when facing life’s significant choices.”

When Should You Job Shadow?

There’s no right or wrong time to job shadow! Some people use this experience much later in their career if they’re considering a career transition or are interested in changing roles within their current company.

However, one of the primary purposes (and benefits!) of job shadowing is getting a better understanding of a role — often in a quick, low-stress environment. So, the best time to job shadow is early in your career search before applying for entry-level roles. Partaking in this opportunity during in your freshman and sophomore years can give you insight into what types of internships you want to apply to and provide you with something to add to your application as you apply to those internships.

Where Should You Job Shadow?

Two main factors to consider when figuring out where to job shadow are the types of roles and types of companies you’re interested in.

For example, you might be interested in learning more about being a data analyst. That’s great! However, a data analyst at a small marketing firm will have a very different day-to-day role than a data analyst at a large tech company. Factoring in both the type of role and the type of company you’re interested in can help you find professionals to shadow who better fit what you’re looking to explore.

Not sure where to start? Here are some common interests, skills, fields, and a Forage job simulation if you want to try the role out first — before you do any job shadowing.

Can You Add Job Shadowing to Your Resume?

Yes, you can add job shadowing to your resume, and you should! Job shadowing signals to employers that you are interested in the field and willing to learn — which can make you stand out, especially as an entry-level candidate.

You can put your job shadowing experience in a specific “job shadowing” or “volunteer experience” on your resume. If you did administrative work during the experience or had any specific achievements, you can include it under “work experience.”

To list your job shadowing experience on your resume, you’ll want to include:

  • The company name
  • The dates (typically the month and year)
  • What you observed
  • Any administrative tasks you helped out with
  • Any achievements

Job Shadow on Resume Examples

There are two main sections you can include job shadowing on your resume: in a designated job shadowing section or a work experience section. If you did a shorter experience where you mostly observed people, a job shadowing section is better. If you did a longer experience where you completed some tasks, it can go under work experience.

Here’s an example of how to include job shadowing on a resume in a job shadowing section, for someone who observed a marketing manager:

ABC Marketing Agency
May 2024

  • Observed daily tasks of a marketing manager, including social media strategy development, content creation, and campaign analysis
  • Attended multiple client meetings and took notes for the marketing team
  • Learned the agency’s approach to customer communication

Here’s an example of how to include job shadowing in a work experience section, for someone who job-shadowed a registered nurse and helped complete some basic tasks:

Job shadowing, Registered Nurse
123 General Hospital
July 2024

  • Assisted with patient care tasks like taking vital signs and recording medical history
  • Observed nurses interacting with patients and families
  • Gained first-hand experience with hospital procedures in a fast-paced environment

Can You Get Hired From Job Shadowing?

Yes, you can get hired from job shadowing, but often not directly. Job shadowing differs from internships in that you’re not doing the entry-level work you would do in a role at the company. Instead, you’re mostly observing, so the company doesn’t know that you can do the work at the level they’re looking for. This means you’re much less likely to get an offer for a role just from a day or a couple weeks of job shadowing.

However, job shadowing can get you hired through networking and demonstrating your willingness to learn.

  • Networking: Job shadowing connects you with people at a specific company, which can make you stand out in the application process if you apply to that company.
  • Willingness to learn: If you don’t end up applying to the company you job shadow at, you’re still increasing your chances of getting hired by showing your dedication and curiosity! “By reaching out for informational interviews and job shadows, you are initiating contact with professionals in your field of interest,” Barricelli says. “These initial meetings can turn into lasting professional relationships and show that you are proactive about your career. People remember those who take charge of their learning and career path, which can ultimately lead to more opportunities!”

How to Get a Job Shadowing Opportunity

Convinced that job shadowing is right for you? Job shadowing opportunities typically aren’t offered online, so you have to be strategic about how you find and land them.

Tap Into Your Network

“See if anyone you know knows anyone,” Barricelli says. “Ask your friends and family or use LinkedIn as it’s a great tool to see who your connections are also connected to. If you find someone of interest who is a second or third connection to someone you know, you could either ask for an introduction or you could reach out to this person and let them know about your common connection. I recommend the former if you have the option!”

What kind of message or email should you send? You shouldn’t ask for a job shadowing opportunity upfront but rather express interest in learning more about their work first. For example:

Hello Charles, it’s so nice to meet you. I’m Eleanor, a student at X University studying anthropology. My aunt, Amy Williams, recommended I contact you to learn more about your role at Company X. I see you were an anthropology major, too, and I’d love to hear more about how you apply that major to your nonprofit work! Are you available to connect any weekday next week? I’ve attached my resume for reference. Thank you!

After you’ve connected, you can discuss job shadowing. Some people might not even be familiar with the term — that’s OK! Politely ask if you could observe a day in their work life.

Reach Out to Professionals You Admire

What if you don’t have any connections (not even your sister’s boyfriend’s hairdresser’s cousin)?

Barricelli says that not knowing a professional you want to shadow isn’t a setback — you should approach the situation with curiosity, not demands.

“I recommend you propose an informational interview first,” she says. “Requesting just 30 minutes to hear about their career journey is an easier ‘yes’ for a busy professional, and it’s a great way to engage new people and build your network. Plus, hearing more about what they do and how they got there can help you determine if you are interested in spending more time on a job shadow experience. This approach can lay the groundwork to foster a professional relationship, potentially leading to a positive response for a job shadowing opportunity.”

Barricelli emphasizes that you shouldn’t be overbearing but polite, patient, flexible, and clear. Be sure to thank the person — even if they say no.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

Speaking of “saying no,” not every professional will say yes to your request, but that’s not a sign that you should stop trying.

“Persevere instead!” Barricelli says. “Individuals often have hectic schedules, and their inability to respond isn’t a reflection of your worth. Many external factors come into play, none of which are about you!”

Job Shadowing: The Bottom Line

Job shadowing is an experiential learning experience in which you go to someone’s workplace and observe a day in the life of their role. This opportunity can be a quick way to learn more about a specific job, career path, and company while helping you build your network.

If you’re looking for a job shadowing opportunity, tap into your network or contact professionals you admire. It can’t hurt to ask — and the opportunity is worth it, not just for something to add to your resume, but to get firsthand insights into careers that you can’t get anywhere else.

Image credit: Canva

The post What is Job Shadowing? Definition, Benefits, and How to Set It Up appeared first on Forage.