Four Types of Job Shadowing...
and How to Choose Which is Right for You
Job Shadowing is often associated with people who are new to the world of work and not sure where to begin their career path. In this situation, job shadowing can provide some very helpful insights, both into the role itself as well as the potential work environment. Because of this perceived link to those just starting out in their working lives, it can be easily overlooked as a valuable tool for professional development at other stages of our working lives.
Regardless of your level of experience, job shadowing can be beneficial, as long as you know what you are looking to get from it. Typically, there are four different objectives you may wish to achieve through shadowing someone else. These are:
1. Raising Your Profile
At some time in our careers, most of us will be encouraged to “be more visible” or “have more impact” in one way or another. Often this suggestion is offered without much explanation of how to do it. Of course, there are many ways to raise your profile, some more effective and more positive than others. A specifically targeted job shadowing experience can provide just such an opportunity, as you are able to seek out the individual(s) you wish to be noticed by or the type of work you would like others to know you are particularly passionate about.
Profile-raising opportunities can include asking to shadow someone for a meeting or a day in which they will be involved in specific activities. It could also be about asking to spend time with your shadowing host just to get some insight into how they work.
Keep in mind, if you’re looking to get noticed, make sure you have something worthwhile to say. For example, if you attend a meeting on a subject you’re passionate about and your shadowing host knows this, you may well be asked to share your thoughts or insights. Be prepared and think carefully about the impact you wish to make, or it could be a lost opportunity.
2. Gaining Experience
Perhaps you’re intrigued by a field of work, but don’t really know much about it. Job shadowing could be a relatively risk-free way to learn more about that kind of work, who does it and what it involves. Make sure to be clear where your interest comes from, i.e. are you simply curious to understand about it so you see how it fits in with the work you do, or are you thinking about this as a possible new career step?
To get the most out of this type of shadowing, it is essential to ensure that your host is clear about what you’re hoping to get from the experience. It’s possible that your host may offer to set up meetings with other colleagues, so that you can get a better idea of what happens in different areas of that function. Alternatively, you may prefer to focus specifically on what that individual does and not have a great interest in the other facets of this kind of work. The clearer you are on what you’re looking for, the better position you will be in to communicate that to your shadowing host.
3. Tactical Manoeuvering
Is there someone you particularly want to notice you? Maybe you’d like to be included in a project they are working on or perhaps you are thinking about applying for a job in their department. There are many reasons you might want to get on someone’s radar and the tactical shadow can serve this aim well. Like the profile-raiser, it is helpful to know who you are targeting and why. Simply saying to a potential shadowing host, “I’d just like to spend some time shadowing you,” may not have the desired effect.
Think carefully about what you would like that person to know about you and how you can find an appropriate opportunity to let them see what you have to offer. For example, if they are working on a specific subject, when you ask to shadow them, explain your interest in the subject and ask if you might be able to see them in a meeting or doing some work that relates to it.
4. Establishing Cultural Fit
You may be considering a move into another organisation or department, but not sure if the ‘fit’ is right for you. It’s equally important for you and the team you may be considering joining, to make sure that it’s an environment in which you feel you can thrive. Shadowing is one way you can help to build a picture of what it might be like to work there.
When you are seeking a shadowing opportunity to establish cultural fit, it may be helpful to identify more than one host, over several occasions. For example, you might ask to attend a team meeting with one host, and to experience a typical morning/afternoon with another. If you are in a position to ask your host to arrange meetings with other team-members, that could also be helpful.
Come prepared with a number of questions to ask the host and others you may meet, without overstepping the mark. It may also be helpful to let your host know the purpose of your shadowing.
Whatever your reason for shadowing, it is crucial make the right first impression. Before contacting a potential host, have it clear in your own mind what you are hoping to get from the experience.
When you send a request for shadowing, be sure to explain a bit about who you are and why you’re asking them. People are generally flattered to be asked, and many have time in their diaries specifically earmarked for shadowing. Equally, be prepared for some to say no and others not to get back to you at all. If they say no, find someone else to ask. If they don’t reply, give it a little time and ask again, acknowledging that they may be very busy and this won’t necessarily be top of their list.
Think carefully about time-frames. If you’re suggesting to your host that you could spare a week or two shadowing, what might that say about your own work? Also, it could be rather daunting to the host to have to devise enough activity to keep you interested. Target a chunk of time that works for you and is considerate of the host’s work demands.
Be prepared for it to be a two-way process. People often go into a shadowing situation expecting it to be a fairly passive experience. It’s very likely that your host may turn to you after a meeting or a discussion with someone else and ask for your feedback or your thoughts. This is your time to shine! It is also a chance to give something back to your host, as many job shadow hosts find that they also benefit from the experience.
For tips on how to be a good job shadow host, should you be wishing to consider the process from a different angle, check back here for a future blog post on that subject.
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