As a future member of the workforce, you have heard a lot about the importance of networking. There are numerous career and job fairs, classes on speaking and networking skills, resume reviews, and articles on how to uphold a professional look and attitude. As if that wasn’t enough, we are also always hearing about the importance of attending conferences and participating in internships to get your foot in the door and advance your future career. While all of this is admirable, it can be extremely confusing and overwhelming if you don’t even know what field or major you want to go into; even if you do, figuring out the exact job in your field can be nerve-wracking, especially since many majors can lead to a wide variety of jobs.
So what do you do if your going into college and don’t even know what field you want to go into? Or perhaps you do know what your preferred field is, but it can lead to so many diverse careers that you feel completely overwhelmed with trying to choose? What do you do then?
The answer is simple, but some students have never even heard of it before: job shadowing.
What is a Job Shadow?
Job shadowing is an opportunity that is available to both high school and college students, which allows you to follow (i.e. “shadow”) a professional in the field and/or career that you are potentially interested in. Job shadowing gives you insight into what a professional in this field does and how an actual “day in the life” might look like. Job shadowing can be extremely beneficial to your educational, personal, and professional goals, and possibly also saving you from a lot of future stress if you had not job shadowed and found yourself not enjoying your major/career later on.
In addition, while doing a job shadow, you have the opportunity to ask questions, see what the work environment is like, and receive feedback on what you are currently doing to reach your career goals.
If You Job Shadow as a High Schooler…
Personally, I job shadowed as a high school senior, and I wish I had done it earlier because of how beneficial it was to me and my classmates.
Job shadowing as a high schooler, in general, will allow you to have more certainty when picking you major and college. Many students go into college with no idea what they want to do and (as a result) change their major multiple times. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, switching it often or even transferring colleges can cause students to graduate late, have to take more classes then necessary, and put them in a lot more debt. By job shadowing earlier on, you can begin college with a clearer goal in mind, which can save you a lot of stress in the long run.
Additionally, job shadowing as a high schooler (especially before senior year) provides experiences to discuss in college applications and scholarship essays, as well as providing some unique networking (and perhaps even job) opportunities. The way I see it, the company or person that you are job shadowing with is going to be very impressed to see someone who is not even in college yet getting a head start on his/her career; if you apply for an internship or job with that same company down the road, they are going to remember you and the initiative that you displayed when you job shadowed with them, which may give you a leg up in the hiring process.
On the flip side, job shadowing as a high schooler can also reveal that what you thought you wanted to do for your future career was actually not it. A lot of my classmates experienced this when they did their job shadows in their senior year, but by that time it was almost the end of the year and college was right around the corner. What if they had picked their college based on that specific major, which they now didn’t want to do anymore? There was then little time to explore other majors, careers, and even colleges, putting a lot of stress on those students; if they had job shadowed earlier, then they would have had more time to figure it out. While job shadowing at any time during high school is great, it is more beneficial to do so earlier in your high school career.
If You Job Shadow as a College Student…
Job shadowing as a college student can be just as beneficial as job shadowing in high school, and perhaps even more so.
To begin, if you don’t already have a major picked out (or are unsure whether it’s something that you want to stick with), then job shadowing can help you discover which majors you are interested in. This is especially beneficial in your freshman and sophomore year of college, when you are more likely to have the time to choose/switch your major without falling behind.
Even if you do have your major picked out and are certain that it is what you want to do in life, it can still be very beneficial to job shadow before your senior year.
First off, it gives you a field experience to discuss during a future job interview, even if you were only there for a few hours. Even though you were only job shadowing and weren’t working the job, you can discuss with your interviewer(s) how you observed a professional in your field, as well as the working process and responsibilities associated with the job that you noticed and how you applied that to your own life and academic studies. You can then use that as credibility as to how you know what the career is and is like, that you are interested in it, and that you want to pursue it as a career.
Additionally, job shadowing can be used to figure out which career(s) you are interested in within your field, as a single major can often lead to many diverse careers. Instead of stressing about which career you want to pursue with your degree, you can explore different ones through job shadowing. Once again, job shadowing before your senior year is the most beneficial because you can then spend your senior year applying to jobs that you know you will like, rather than trying to figure that out in the process.
Another reason is the networking and future internship/job opportunities that it can bring you. When job shadowing with a company, you may find out that they have an internship program that you are eligible for, or that they will have a job opening soon. Since you have job shadowed there, which displayed your interest in the career and the company, your application may receive more attention than others, possibly landing you with the job.
No matter whether you are a high schooler or a current college student, job shadowing can be a very exciting and eye-opening experience. It is a shame that not many people hear of it or know that it is a possibility, but now that you know about it, you can utilize it to your advantage. It can open up so many doors and possibilities and help you achieve your goals.
Once you decide that you would like to job shadow, check out my article on How to Set up a Job Shadow.
P.S. Do you have any questions or comments? Please write me back in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!