How to use Job Shadowing for Career Advancement

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In these struggling times, with the economy sluggishly getting back on track, it is very hard to land a job in any field or climb the corporate ladder in companies still trying to get their grip on the whole situation. Gone are the simple days of just applying for a job and hoping to be accepted or just doing your job and expecting a promotion for your years of service.

You have to go one step further now if you stand a chance at making your mark in any organization. Fortunately, that is where the technique of job shadowing comes in handy. Many companies nowadays have been using this tactic to hire the right people for the job and promote the right personnel.

Job shadowing involves following, or shadowing, a professional at an organization throughout the workday or workweek to get a better idea of what that particular role entails. This is a very good way for companies and workers to determine if they can handle that particular position, if they are indeed cut out for the job. Job shadowing helps people assess if that job is in fact what they want or what they thought it would be.

Job shadowing has been proven to be an effective method of advancing your career and we want to show you how you can take advantage of it to advance your own career. If you follow this guideline on shadowing a professional, you will be able to successfully start your career or propel it to new heights.

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER JOB SHADOWING

Job shadowing is an on-the-job training method in which a brand new employee or an existing employee wanting to try a different role observes trained and experienced professionals. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do a job is to see somebody else do it right in front of you. Seeing an experienced person performing on the job educates you on how you should approach similar tasks.

Whether you are a fresh graduate looking to get your foot in the door or an experienced professional wanting to try something new, shadowing somebody else really works wonders for your confidence. Many are unsure if they are able to function in their newly designated role but when they see it happening right in front of them, they learn how to perform and gain self-confidence.

For organizations, this technique is very beneficial, as they do not need to invest much money in training employees. Job shadowing is not a separate trainee program that is very comprehensive and complex; it is rather quite simple and straightforward. All employees need to do is simply follow an existing experienced employee and learn on the job. Job shadowing is on-the-job training that does not really require any handholding.

The incumbent employee who will be shadowed does not necessarily serve as a supervisor who has to monitor and oversee an employee working under them. The person who is shadowing usually does not work under the person who they are shadowing; they are simply observing or providing input from time to time. It is very easy to develop expertise and boost knowledge without the bureaucracy of a structured layout for training.

Besides the career development aspect, job shadowing also promotes leadership development. Employees aspiring to be in a leadership role in the near future shadow leaders in their organization to learn a thing or two from them. Aspiring leaders experience firsthand what it takes to be a great leader at an organization. Learning about it in classes or online is good but it only goes so far. You need to see it happen right in front of you, and job shadowing permits that.

HOW YOU CAN START JOB SHADOWING

Not many are familiar with the concept of job shadowing and do not know how to approach this tactic. While it may be uncommon, there are plenty of people doing it nowadays. We have a guideline made just for you to get started on shadowing somebody at a company.

Contacting People through Alumni Associations

One of the easiest ways for fresh graduates to shadow somebody at company is to get in touch with their university alumni association and propose shadowing one of the alumni members at their company. Since your seniors at your university know what you are capable because they once walked in your same shoes, they are open to having somebody follow them and learn about the job.

In addition, there is an added bonus for them – they can hire a new employee internally. This will help in their career, besides helping you out by vouching for you. It is a win-win situation for everybody involved.

Applying for an Official Job Shadowing Position

Some companies have even started to post job shadowing positions on their job career portals to increase the number of applicants. Some applicants may feel reluctant to apply for a fixed position if they feel like they do not satisfy all of the requirements but if it is for shadowing somebody, then it makes it much easier.

Almost anybody who is a good listener and willing to learn on the job can fill a job shadowing position. You do not need to be highly qualified to shadow a position.

However, you must be highly proactive. Make this evident in your application and in your interview. Being proactive is one of the best qualities to possess to be a job shadower.

Convince Your Superiors to Permit Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is not only for fresh graduates trying to launch their careers in a dream job at a company. Experienced professionals looking to also shift their careers or move up the hierarchy in a company commonly perform job shadowing to give them an edge. If you are looking to try a more advanced role in your firm, talk to your superiors and pitch them the idea of shadowing somebody you know in your company who has a job you also want to do.

Demonstrate your intense desire and interest in that particular position. Approach your top management team along with the person whom you want shadow to indicate that both of you have thought this through and will comply with company regulations. When the person shadowing and the person being shadowed are on the same page, then it makes it easier to get the green light from your superiors to pursue job shadowing.

 

Reach out to Hiring Managers and Propose Job Shadowing

If you are thinking of shifting industries and careers entirely, then applying for a normal job is very difficult. Truth be told, it is almost impossible if your professional experience is not relevant to the position you are considering. Sure, you can transfer some skills, but many companies would rather hire somebody who knows the industry very well.

In this case, job shadowing is your go-to ticket to getting your foot in the door. Talk to hiring managers of a company involved in an industry you are not very familiar with but are very keen to be a part of. Express your enthusiasm and present the skills you think they can benefit from if they take you in the role of a job shadower.

As a result, you do not make it difficult for them since you will be doing all of the hard work to learn on the job.

PREPARE VERY WELL BEFOREHAND

Before you even begin to get in touch with your alumni or apply for a job shadowing position, you need to do plenty of research on the company and the position. Do not simply apply or ask to shadow somebody at a company. Know as much as you can about the ins and outs of an organization and the role to get a head start and make it easier for the employee holding the position.

The internet is your friend when you are researching for job shadowing, so thoroughly read the company’s website to get as much juicy information as you can on specific departments and projects. Get to know about the position by searching for the job title on Google and reading what the job entails in general. In order to get specific information about the position at that particular company, then get in touch with somebody working there.

This is where LinkedIn can really save your life. Find people who hold that particular position and tell them that you want to shadow them professionally. Inquire about their job duties to clearly understand and properly gauge what they are doing. In addition, talk to people you know in your professional network about any given position or industry to learn more about it. If you know somebody who works in a company and has a job that you also seek, ask them some questions about their role.

If you are looking to branch out into a different industry, then attend social events of those industries and connect with people. You can then propose to shadow them if you think you have built enough rapport with them. If they like your enthusiasm and you are able to translate some of your skills in their organization, you have a good chance of shadowing somebody.

Do not forget to ask correct and pertinent questions to extract as much information as you can to determine if you really want to shadow a job. In order to make your job shadowing endeavor successful and fruitful, you need to be able to acquire as much information as you can. Here are some questions you can ask to help you.

  1. What aspects of your education and training has prepared you for this role?
  2. What type of skills are necessary for succeeding in this particular job?
  3. How has this career evolved during your time doing it?
  4. What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue this career?
  5. What are you most passionate about?
  6. What do you like the most about your job?
  7. What were the biggest obstacles you faced when starting out?
  8. What are the career prospects for this role?

These questions, along with many others, are the ones you should ask people before you begin job shadowing to evaluate if you are ready for the new job. Many forget that researching is about not only the job and the company you are applying to; it is also about knowing yourself to determine if you are ready for the new challenge.

If you feel like you have enough positive responses and you actually see yourself doing that particular job, then go ahead and start shadowing somebody at a company.

TYPES OF JOB SHADOWING

Job shadowing to hire new employees is used by various industries, such as financial corporations, technology and manufacturing firms, legal firms, and the medical institutions. To get a new employee accustomed to the banking world, new employees are regularly told to follow the experienced financial analysts and observe how they deal with large amounts of data.

When a paralegal starts a career at a law firm, they generally shadow what an attorney does during a case to grasp the entire concept of being a successful lawyer. In many hospitals, recently hired aspired surgeons cannot operate on a patient early in their career so they follow the lead of experts who have plenty of experience in the emergency room. For technology and manufacturing corporations, aspiring production managers will often be instructed to observe how skilled, trained professionals operate machines and coordinate the entire production line.

These are just a few instances where job shadowing is very important to get new employees up to speed on how things work at an organization. It also demonstrates the job duties of a particular role, so that new employees will know exactly what to do when it is their turn to execute and make decisions.

What is very important is to realize that there are different types of job shadowing, essentially two main types – observation and hands-on. The type of job shadowing that you will partake in depends on what your superior allows or what the person you are shadowing agrees to. Here is the breakdown of the two.

Observation

In this type of job shadowing, you will be observing an incumbent employee, taking notes on how they conduct their business and understanding their activities. You are nothing more than a fly on a wall, listening and seeing everything an employee says and does, respectively. You do not generally interact with the employee because you may get in the way. It is a more passive method of job shadowing and honestly, it is true to the original intentions of job shadowing – to simply shadow or follow someone.

This is a good type of shadowing when you want to know what the role of the job entails. At the end of a workday, the employee may ask you if you have any questions to ask. This is your chance to get some things clarified to actually learn something. Then you can debrief the incumbent employee of all the things you learnt to get some feedback.

Hands-On

Another form of job shadowing is much more active and engaging. The hands-on approach to job shadowing, as its name suggests, is more practical and gets your feet wet by thrusting you into the action. After observing for a short time and understanding the things an employee in that position needs to do, you will take on those same responsibilities and undertake some of those tasks.

This means that you are actually working on a task while shadowing and you will receive feedback on your job performance. Although this is not the traditional format of job shadowing, more and more companies are starting to adapt this style because it actually gets the job shadowers engaged.

By working while learning, they are actually training for the role and are assessed by an employee when receiving feedback. If you want to participate in this hands-on job shadowing, you may need to convince top management and an employee at the company for permission. They may be reluctant, but if you present the facts of its benefits over observation, they will allow you to do it.

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF JOB SHADOWING

When you are job shadowing, you are essentially working. Maybe it is not a typical job position where workers perform an activity that leads to an economic benefit, but you are dedicating your time and effort to the goals of the company.

Do not undermine the importance of job shadowing and think to yourself “I am not actually working, I am just learning from somebody else.” Even full-time employees at an organization are learning something new almost every single day. In your case, learning just happens to be the goal of the endeavor. Make sure you learn very well.

Now that we have established that job shadowing is an actual job, then you need to take it seriously. If you are successfully able to learn something, then you will be granted that position you observed for so long.

Things to do While Shadowing

Many of these points are applicable to any full-time and part-time position in any role, but these are especially important for job shadowing. You need be on your best behavior and get along with everyone in a positive manner.

Make Sure you Dress for Success

You are an official member of an organization as you shadow an employee, so you need to reflect that in your attire. Learn the culture of the organization and dress accordingly. It might be awkward to overdress by wearing a black-tie suit in a company where everything is wearing casually.

Likewise, it is very inappropriate to wear casual clothes in a company where everybody wears formal business attire. The safest bet is to emulate the clothes of the employee you are shadowing. Consequently, you will never feel out of place and the employee you are shadowing will appreciate the sentiment.

Be Punctual and Show Eagerness

The worst thing you can do when working is to be habitually late coming into the office, especially when you are shadowing somebody. The incumbent employee is waiting for you to arrive so that you are able to observe everything from the beginning of the workday to the very end. Do not keep them waiting.

Being tardy leaves a bad impression on the employee and the company because they may get the impression that you are not serious about learning on the job. You want to make it very clear that you mean business about learning many new and fascinating things. One of the best ways to indicate this is to arrive on time, all the time.

In addition to being punctual, you should also be very inquisitive and ask important questions to show your enthusiasm to learn and to take the mantle of the position in the near future. Whether you are a fresh graduate or an experienced professional, do not shy away from asking questions.

The employee you are shadowing is there to answer your queries to make it easier for you adjust to the position and get your bearings straight. Take advantage of this opportunity and find out more about the specifics of the activities you need to perform in this role. This is the perfect chance to get a head start on the job before you are handed tasks to complete on your own. By asking relevant job shadowing questions, you are setting yourself up for success with your eagerness and intense desire to learn.

Be Open-minded

While shadowing at a company, be open to socializing with your colleagues. There may be times when the employee you are following is dealing with specific things that you cannot directly observe or actually engage yourself in. In those times, socialize and network with others in the office and get to know what they do and how everybody collaborates in the workplace.

If you are able to determine how synergy is established in the office, then you can implement certain techniques to reach that end. Shadowing does not only involve going to work to learn from a single employee. It also entails getting to know other people so that when you are handed your own projects, you will be welcomed with open arms.

Be open to attending meetings. Even though you have no input to give at these meetings, you can sit in and listen to everything being said by the employee you are following and everybody else in the boardroom. This helps you get an idea of how people communicate their ideas at a company and how they deal with disputes should they arise. Do not say anything in these meetings since you do not have any useful input to give. You are learning at this point, so simply listen and learn. Your time will surely come when you will have much to say at these meetings.

Learn How to Communicate

Different companies employ different methods of communication amongst its staff. In some companies, staff members communicate with each other via email. In others, the workers simply drop by your workspace and simply strike a conversation. Different industries tend to follow different guidelines of communication. If you are working at a tech startup, odds are that you will have coworkers just drop by your table whereas if you are working at a legal firm, then you may be on the phone more often when talking to a colleague in the same building.

Get to know which one is the most typical channel of communication at the company you are shadowing. If you see your colleagues chatting it up or using social media on the job, then feel free to do so. This helps you integrate very quickly in the team and it will make your professional life much easier.

If you happen to be in a traditional company where most people use emails to communicate, then improve your email writing skills to be very professional. If you are at an organization, where colleagues generally do not communicate freely, do not come across as somebody who is too open and sociable. Respect the organization’s culture and adapt to it. This shows your flexibility and gets you accepted into the community at the workplace.

Read all Formal Documents

If you want to get your hands dirty with all of the most vital information of a company, then we recommend reading an organization’s official documents. Reading the company’s organizational chart helps you get an idea of how the various departments are segmented and interconnect with one another.

Try getting your hands on the employees’ job performance reviews. They will certainly help you get an idea of the qualities that make a good employee and the qualities that make a great employee. Your aim should be to excel and be great in the company, so try to find out the things that made employees stand out and perform very well. Pick up those skills and incorporate them into your work.

If you are at a company that manufactures tangible products, try to get your hands on some designs or products that the employee you are shadowing has personally made. Analyze it and ask the employee some questions about it to help you better understand it. In doing so, you will be able to design something similar yourself when you have to produce results on your own.

As the old saying goes, “the more you read, the more you learn.” That could not be truer in this scenario. Read as much as you can when in the office and ask if you can take some of those documents home with you. Continuously study them and you will soon be well integrated into the organization.

Ask for Feedback

Learning on your own will only take you so far. After taking plenty of notes and working on some tasks set out for you by the employee, you should ask for some honest feedback from your superior. You should look forward to constructive criticism because a company never wants to dishearten you with brutal honesty. They want to provide tips on how you can improve some of your weaker areas and emphasize the things you have done very well. Feedback works wonders for your morale and confidence, so ask the employee you are shadowing for some feedback on a regular basis.

This also helps to build rapport and leaves a very good impression on them. They will be looking forward to work with you if you take the feedback to heart and learn from it. Do not squander this opportunity to improve yourself. Work on your weaknesses and continue to improve your strengths.

Report Everything You Learned

Just like with an internship, where you would write a report upon completion, you should do the same thing for a job shadowing position. You should discuss with the employee you shadowed regarding the contents and length of the report. They can help clarify a few things and provide insight on things that would add real value to the job shadow report. By composing a detailed report that analyzes the entire experience, you are reflecting upon the experience and assessing how it added some value to your career.

By reflecting, you are able to highlight the things you learned the most and you can even identify some further development opportunities about yourself or about the position itself. If you worked on a task and realized there was a lingering problem that you solved with your ingenuity, mention this in the report. Be proud of everything you have accomplished. If your job shadowing was very passive, then there is not much to achieve on your own but if you had a more hands-on experience, be specific and shed light on the activities.

Try to answer some of these questions in your report:

  1. Was the role was you expected it to be?
  2. What have you learnt from this experience?
  3. What do you think you can improve while working in this position?
  4. What do you think of the employee you were shadowing?

Be very specific in your report. Instead of saying something vague like “I developed new designing skills”, say something like “I learned more about Photoshop and Corel Draw.” Make sure to give some numbers in their as managers love quantitative data and prefer it to qualitative information.

Do not forget to thank your employer for the opportunity and express that you are open and ready to take on the position you shadowed. A simple, well-written thank you letter should suffice. Be ready for an interview should that happen and revise everything you learnt. Fortunately, you have written a detailed report about it so it should not be so difficult.

EXAMPLES OF JOB SHADOWING

You have all the information on the importance of job shadowing concerning the benefits it presents you, how to go about beginning job shadowing, and the thing you should do as you are shadowing an employee. However, we would like to present to you some brief examples of new employees shadowing an incumbent, experienced member of an organization to get their feet wet before tackling the actually job.

Example 1 – Aspiring Chefs

If you are aware of TV show like Hell’s Kitchen or Masterchef, you may be familiar with how tough and competitive the cooking profession can be. It is not simply going to the kitchen and cooking. You have to work with other chefs, plan the menu, set the decoration of the restaurant to match your cooking style, and various other things that can be quite daunting to many aspiring chefs. Something that many people do is shadow a head chef they admire and want to work under.

In doing so, they work as sous chefs, chefs who serve as assistants to the main chef, and learn how things work in the kitchen and improve their own cooking technique. Rather than taking the observation route of shadowing, sous chefs must take the hands-on approach to job shadowing, witnessing how their senior, experienced chefs in the kitchen do things. Afterwards, they implement their own skills and incorporate the things they have learnt from others. They receive feedback from their head chef consistently so that they can improve in the future.

Example 2 – Hopeful Bankers

A sector that has come under scrutiny in recent years is the financial sector, namely banks and other financial institutions. Many banks now have job shadowing opportunities where prospective bankers work under the wing of an experienced banker, teller, or financial consultant and see how they get their work done.

Many young, aspiring bankers here observe how the experienced bankers deal with financial statements and make complex calculations. They also take notice of the manner in which they communicate with clients, big and small. Bankers need to be able to communicate very effectively so seeing how they talk on the phone or how to talk to someone in-person teaches them what it takes to be a successful banker and bring in more clients.

Example 3 – Transitioning from Marketing to Sales

In the world of business, the marketing department and the sales department of many corporations are in many aspects quite intertwined. Many marketers have to interact with salespeople, and vice versa. Many marketers decide to transition to sales because it opens up many more doors in their career down the road.

In these situations, marketers, who normally conduct research and design ads, see salespeople in action in the field. They observe how salespeople talk to potential customers and present their products and convince them that they need this particular product. Persuasion is an art form and it requires hours and hours of observation to understand the intricacies of convincing somebody.

Moreover, it takes many more hours of practice to sell your product successfully to a prospective customer. Many marketers implement their skills on dummy clients and receive feedback from them as well as the salespeople. This helps marketers improve their people skills to become effective salespeople.

Example 4 – Would-be Nurses

The healthcare industry is an extremely difficult workforce to enter, because it involves people’s lives and risks cannot be taken when lives are on the line. Even with years of formal education, you can never simply join a hospital or clinic and start taking care of patients. You have to start by shadowing other nurses who know their way around the facility and know how to talk to patients.

As you are observing other nurses, you will see how they ask patients questions to determine the symptoms and the possible underlying disease. Once you have accustomed yourself with the entire procedure, you can then start to talk to patients and administer medication to patients. Of course, under the supervision of your peers.

However, this is only during the job shadowing phase. Once you have learnt from others and can handle things on your own, then you can begin being a full-fledged nurse.

Example 5 – Research Assistant

Imagine being a grad student and you have been asked by one of your professors to be a research assistant at their institute to conduct research and work on an interesting project. While the offer is too good to pass up, you are unsure of your ability to conduct scientific research because you have never worked in the lab in such a capacity before.

Well, there is no need to fear; you can shadow a fellow researcher who is working at the same institute to see how they work. As you begin to observe how this person works in the lab and operates the heavy machinery, you can ask specific questions to understand the entire project more clearly.

Once you have acquired enough knowledge on the project and of the machinery and tools, you can begin working on the project. By shadowing, you boosted your confidence to perform in the lab and you cleared all doubts you had.

CONCLUSION

As you have read, job shadowing presents many advantages for you when you are trying to get your first job or when you are trying to start a new role in your firm after working in another position for years. Shadowing is not only beneficial to you as a job applicant but it also bring many advantages to the companies. Leverage your contacts to find someone willing to let you shadow them and always prepare plenty of questions to get the most out of the experience.

Remember that when you are shadowing, you are also answering the questions “Is this something I want to do as a career? Can I really do it? Is this company right for me?” If the answer is yes on all counts, then you can go ahead and start the job to advance your career.

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