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Job shadowing: how it can help you grow in your career

Job shadowing: how it can help you grow in your career

Artwork by: Katya Vakulenko

  • What is job shadowing?
  • 4 Key benefits of job shadowing
  • 9 Questions to ask during job shadowing 
  • Key takeaways

Career growth is all about taking the right steps to achieve your professional goals. Despite what stage of your career you're currently in, job shadowing is one way you can achieve these objectives. Here’s how to maximize job shadowing to your advantage so that you can get the benefits and grow in your career.

Job shadowing typically brings to mind high school or undergraduate students looking to try out different jobs before making definitive education or career choices. However, job shadowing can also greatly benefit individuals at different stages of their career by helping them make career decisions and facilitate professional growth

If you’re keen to transition smoothly into a new role, dig your way out of a career rut, or enhance your skill set, then job shadowing could be the answer. Shadowing another person allows you to learn the ropes quicker, gives you the chance to see if the grass is greener for a career change, and provides plenty of opportunities to upskill.

In this article, we explain how you can best use job shadowing to your advantage and grow in your career, including:

  • What is job shadowing?

  • 4 key benefits of job shadowing

  • 9 questions to ask during job shadowing 

Statistical Insight

Recent statistics show that mentoring relationships in the workplace are hugely beneficial, with 87 percent of mentors and mentees responding that these relationships made them feel empowered and developed greater confidence for both parties.

What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is a form of on-the-job training where one employee literally follows another, more experienced colleague around to observe how they perform their role. This offers the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade in real-time, ask questions about the role, and find out whether the job is an ideal fit for you.

There are several situations where job shadowing can occur in the workplace. During an induction period, job shadowing can help new hires smoothly transition into their role and the team. If you’ve been working at a company for some time, job shadowing may involve trying out different roles and departments as part of your professional development or you could cross-train to cover staff absences. This form of training can last several hours or extend up to a week or two.

Expert Tip

If your company doesn’t have a formal job shadowing process and there’s a role you want to shadow, then be proactive. Approach a colleague you have a positive working relationship with (or build these relationships up if you are new) and ask if they would host you as a shadow. You can then liaise with your line manager or HR to see how this can be achieved.

4 Key benefits of job shadowing

Pursuing job shadowing opportunities can provide huge benefits to your career growth. Here are some reasons why you should consider job shadowing:

  • Professional development. Job shadowing opens up opportunities to develop and refine your skills, facilitating professional development. Employers are always on the lookout for versatile employees with plenty of skills to bring to the table, so this will also be beneficial for any future job searches.

  • Impressing your employer. Showing your strong interest in job shadowing and improving your skills is likely to impress your employer and demonstrate your commitment to their organization. This might make your name spring to mind first for a future promotion.

  • Revitalize your passion for work. If you’re stuck in a rut in your current role, exposing yourself to another part of the business or a different role within the company could reignite your spark.

  • Networking. Working cross-functionally with different teams allows you to build your network. This also promotes a wider understanding of different functions within the organization, leading to a more cohesive and productive work environment.

  • Respect the person you are shadowing and only offer opinions if asked. In terms of unwanted opinions, think like a shadow and be seen not heard!
  • Conduct research on the role you are shadowing so you ask informed questions.
  • Take notes while you are job shadowing for future reference.
  • Be negative if you realize that the job isn’t really something you want to do. Stay positive, value the experience, and explore other options.
  • Forget to thank your shadow host for their time, whether that’s via a hand-written note, nice lunch, or a small token gift. Also thank your line manager or HR for the job shadowing opportunity.

9 Questions to ask during job shadowing 

Building rapport with the colleague you are shadowing will help you make the most out of your job shadowing experience. Here are some suggestions of questions to ask your shadow host:   

  1. Can you describe a typical day in this job?

  2. What are the most important tasks in your position?

  3. What are the most challenging parts of your job?

  4. Can you let me know of any tools you use or how you stay current in your career?

  5. What other departments or colleagues do you work with regularly?

  6. What do you like about your job?

  7. What education and training prepared you for this job?

  8. What advice would you give someone starting out in this job?

  9. How do you expect the job/industry to change in the next 5 to 10 years?

Timing is really important when asking any questions. If your shadow host is bombarded with questions or interrupted while trying to show you a task, they’re bound to feel a little frustrated. Unless it’s a direct question about a specific task you are being shown, try to ask any questions during a break time. You can also schedule a catch-up at the end of the working day or when the job shadowing period has finished.

If you’re looking to level up in your career, check out Career.io’s Pathway to Promotion to find expert insights, video introductions, and practical resources on all aspects of career growth.

Key takeaways

  1. Job shadowing offers the opportunity to learn new skills and gain varied experience in the workplace, which could lead to exciting new career opportunities.

  2. Make sure you make the most out of your job shadowing experience by building rapport with your shadow host, taking notes, and asking insightful questions at the right time.

  3. If you’re offered a job shadowing opportunity then grab it as it will contribute toward your professional growth. At worst, you may just realize that the grass isn’t greener and you actually love your current job.

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