Making the Most Out of Job Shadowing

Job shadowing can be stressful. Awkward introductions, unclear expectations, and ambiguous objectives can impede what should be a productive learning experience. Instead, learn from my mistakes. Avoid these common pitfalls, and make the most of your shadowing opportunity.

Mistake 1: Forgetting to Define the Experience

From conference room lectures to work demonstrations to meeting tag-alongs, I’ve experienced seemingly every interpretation of job shadowing. The problem is that the definition of job shadowing is not standardized.

When arranging a shadowing opportunity, combat this ambiguity by being upfront and clear in what you want. It’s not helpful to ask if you can job shadow unless you include what you would like to gain from the experience. It’s best to be specific. For example:

“I’m very curious about what it means to be a Senior Marshmallow Ninja. Do you have time to answer some of my questions, show me what you’re working on, and let me shadow you while you work on it?”

Mistake 2: Forgetting to Set a Time Constraint

Everyone gets frustrated by unexpectedly long meetings and good opportunities cut short. Scheduling may seem trivial, but it’s immensely important to set a time expectation for the shadowing experience. Doing so signals that you value and respect your mentor’s time.

Send a meeting invite at the outset of the arrangement so that the job shadowing time appears on the person’s calendar. Otherwise, you may show up expecting an all-day shadow and end up with an hour, or expect an hour and end up with a full day.

Mistake 3: Forgetting to Take Notes

After a job shadowing experience, it’s important to finalize all the hard work you have done. Following the experience, take notes about what you saw, heard, and learned. Most importantly, include your host’s contact information, since you’ll likely want it later.

My failure to keep contact information in a safe place for some of the people I shadowed early in my career has caused me a lot of difficulty. It’s easy to think, “I have their email address because they have emailed me,” but if you leave your job, internship, or school, you’ll lose access to that information store. Don’t be caught without the email—include it in your notes!

You never know when you may need to contact that person again to ask about employment opportunities, seek recommendations for other people to shadow, or connect them to other people looking for shadowing opportunities. Making a summary of your experience (complete with contact information) will probably prove to be valuable in some way.

Mistake 4: Forgetting to Follow Up

Finally, it’s important to send some form of a thank you after your job shadowing experience. By showing gratitude toward your host for taking the time to help you, you can leave a positive impression and open a channel for future contact.

Consider asking if you can add them to your LinkedIn network, or ask for a phone number or personal email address. Be sure to include your own contact information so the recipient can easily respond, especially if you write a physical thank you note instead of an email. This will leave a great impression and open the door for future contact.

In summary, when arranging a job shadowing experience, remember to be direct, have specific goals in mind, and set expectations early so both parties understand what will be happening. This will help reduce any awkwardness or uncertainty on both sides. It will also show that you’re taking the shadow seriously, increasing your credibility and setting you up for success.