Job Shadowing

"I like the soccer ball better for Tuesday. The purple volleyball should go on Friday", Nancy said. She was discussing a new line of girl's underwear coming out in the next catalog. I never thought I'd be helping design underwear at the corporate headquarters of Lands' End. Yet there I was, alongside photographers, fashion designers and marketing experts, participating in a job shadow.

Your first question is probably, job shadow? What is a job shadow? Simple! A job shadow involves a person (like yourself) following someone at their job to see what the position is all about. (Get it? Following a if you are their shadow.) You get the chance to see what a veterinarian, computer programmer or rocket scientist does. (Don't laugh. I job shadowed a rocket scientist and still don't have any idea what she does because it was so complicated.)

Many teenagers are asked, "What do you want to be after you graduate?" That's a hard question because most of us don't know about too many careers. Often, teens pick a career because of the popularity of television shows. Colleges reported getting an increase in students wanting to be doctors when ER was popular. Right now colleges see teens wanting degrees in interior design because of shows like Trading Spaces.

So here's a chance to explore some careers that aren't based on TV shows. If you participate in job shadows, you'll get a first hand look at a number of different careers. Job shadows are especially important to young teens that can't get "regular" jobs or internships. Here's an interesting fact. So often, after I job shadowed a person, they'd say, "Sondra, you are so positive and energetic. If you were older I'd hire you on the spot!" Several people told me to contact them after I graduated from college. One director even said, "If you were older, I'd create a job for you because I want people like you working for us." You see, job shadowing can result in a job in the future.

Here are seven tips on job shadowing:

  1. Think about adults you know. Is your mom's best friend a florist? Maybe your uncle runs a sporting goods store. Contact them and simply ask if you can spend 2-3 hours watching them work. Most people are delighted to help teens get job experiences.

  2. After you've contacted people you know, make the leap and call some people you don't know. Is there a company in your town that manufactures skis? Call up and ask if you can job shadow one of their employees. We have a world famous chocolate company in our town. I called up and got to help a "Master Choclatier". (The samples were great!)

  3. Arrive at the job shadow on time. Remember, this experience could result in a future job. The person you are shadowing still has a job to do, so you don't want to delay their schedule.

  4. Dress up! No you don't need to wear a tuxedo or business suit, but you do need to look professional. Khakis and a clean shirt or blouse are safe to wear in almost all business settings. Leave the cut-offs and halter tops at home. There are exceptions of course. I job shadowed a woman who was in charge of the horse management program at the University of Michigan. Part of my job shadow experience was mucking out stalls and collecting manure samples, so grubby jeans and old boots were certainly appropriate.

  5. Take along a notebook and pencil to jot down notes. If you do several job shadows, you'll appreciate having the information to look back on.

  6. Be prepared to help and get involved. I found myself helping design shoes at NIKE, working out with a fitness instructor and feeding lettuce to an overweight sea turtle. Even if you realize the job would never interest you, remain positive. Don't say, "This job seems boring. How do you do it every day?"

  7. After the job shadow, listen to your mother and write a thank you note. It's good training for when you go on job interviews, plus it keeps an open communication with the person you shadowed.

Happy Job Shadowing!

Written by Sondra Clark
Visit her website @

Recent Articles