The College Student’s Guide to Job Shadowing

Classrooms Team

Oct 31, 2022

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Not having clear career goals as you work through college is stressful. Questioning your degree program can be just as daunting.

One of the most exciting aspects of growing up is knowing you can pursue anything you set your sights on. Did you always want to be a firefighter when you were younger? Maybe you saw yourself working with animals as a vet or zookeeper. 

Of course, having so many possibilities might feel overwhelming for those who were never quite sure. How will they know if they’re a good fit for a particular career? Will they even enjoy that line of work?

Job shadowing could be a potential solution for those questioning their future — but what is job shadowing, and how do you do it?

Defining Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is as straightforward as it sounds — individuals go to work for one day or more, following someone in a role that interests them. In essence, students receive a behind-the-scenes, real-life look at a particular career environment.

Students participating in job shadowing programs examine the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, try several tasks, and meet people in corresponding positions.  

Job shadowing usually occurs before someone begins working — for students, it’s a valuable training tool to determine if it’s a role they’ll like. 

By the end of a job shadowing program, you should be to answer questions such as:

  • Is this a career I can see myself in the long term?
  • Would it be a fulfilling or rewarding career?
  • Would I feel uncomfortable or stressed at the end of each day?
  • Do I have the right skills, expertise and personality for this role?
  • Would I like to work with these types of people?

Remember that even job shadowing might not leave you feeling sure about a lifelong career or industry. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 60% of American workers switched careers from April 2021 to March 2022. 

Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that workers between 18 and 54 usually hold an average of 12.4 jobs throughout their lifetime. 

The Benefits of Job Shadowing

College students and recent graduates who job shadow reap several benefits, including:

  • A deeper understanding of what the real-life role entails
  • Discovery of the nuances of the job you might not have considered before
  • New skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed in that career
  • Professional development 
  • Networking opportunities
  • Ability to ask questions about the job and get real answers
  • Workplace mentorship
  • Problem-solving and solutions-oriented techniques

The overall experience could be a determining factor in whether or not you continue your degree path. Otherwise, you might learn that the field isn’t for you or gain awareness of other opportunities you hadn’t considered before.

Regardless of the outcome, job shadowing is an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself, your interests, and your abilities. Studies also show that students who engage in hands-on learning experiences usually retain more information than strictly textbook learners.

Should You Job Shadow?

Any form of communication and association with a professional is helpful for graduates to demonstrate their academic prowess and career-oriented achievements, giving them a leg up in obtaining work with a prospective employer. That’s why many opt to partake in work-study or internship programs throughout their college years.

However, job shadowing also delivers networking opportunities. Since human resources professionals and have dubbed it a “gold standard solution” to hiring and retaining top talent, students would be remiss to forgo participating.

Future graduates can expect a tumultuous job market if trends continue as they currently are. Job openings in the United States fell by 10% in August 2022 as the nation grapples with inflation and the pandemic recovery — the hiring freeze most prevalent in the tech industry.

While job shadowing is far from a guarantee that students will find work in their prospective careers, it’s another option for gaining adequate skills and understanding of a job and meeting professionals who can provide mentorship, guidance, and a possible reference. Depending on the field you’re interested in, job shadowing could be well worth your time.

How Do You Find Job Shadowing Opportunities?

College students interested in job shadowing should reach out to their school’s career center and people they know. Family, friends, professors or other community members may have contacts in your prospective field or career they can connect you with. 

Most college career centers have a job shadowing program with a list of employers who regularly allow students to shadow. 

You might also decide to research different companies and find a contact in an employee directory yourself. Larger corporations, like government agencies or hospitals, could also have their own job shadowing programs.

Calling or constructing a thoughtful, well-written and professional email expressing your interest could result in a positive response. However, always be respectful of people’s time. Some prospects might be too busy to reply to your email or could be unavailable to invite you to shadow them.  

These professional communications will require you to get outside of your comfort zone. However, it’s an essential part of transitioning from college to the workforce.

After making contact, schedule a workplace visit and prepare a list of questions you might want to ask about the position and the field.

A Day Spent Job Shadowing Is Worth Your Time

Even if you realize a career isn’t what you thought it would be, job shadowing is worthwhile — especially if it saves you time, money, and effort in pursuing the wrong college degree. 

While you shouldn’t expect to walk away as a field expert from the experience, you should at least have more insight and desire to pursue your future career.

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