Arrive on time and be polite, courteous, and enthusiastic. Show the person you’re shadowing how much you appreciate the time and opportunity to learn.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but don’t bombard the professional with so many questions that he or she can’t get any work done. Any question that can be asked in an informational interview can be asked while job-shadowing, and we offer a set of appropriate questions. Take a notepad or even a small tape-recorder to record observations and answers to your questions.
If your professional attends a meeting on your shadow day, by all means ask if you can sit in. You can learn a lot about a company’s culture by how it conducts its meetings.
While your aim is to observe a typical work day, be open to unexpected opportunities such as attending a trade show or meeting of a professional organization with your professional.
Be open to meeting as many people as possible during the experience. If you’d especially like to meet people in certain job functions, be sure to ask if your professional will introduce you.
Observe everything! Note what technology is used in the job. Identify the must-have tools without which your professional can’t function. Observe the surroundings in your professional’s cubicle or office and determine how much of the environment reflects the professional’s personality and how much is related to the job function or company. A stark workplace may indicate that the company frowns on personal touches. Notice how people dress and how casual or formal the atmosphere is. Determine whether workers seem bubbly and happy, stressed and harried, or sullen and morose. Note whether people stay late or rush out at quitting time. Learn more about determining company culture in our article, Uncovering a Company’s Corporate Culture is a Critical Task for Job-Seekers.
Notice the communication channels in the workplace. Is most communication done by email? Do co-workers frequently communicate with your professional by dropping by his or her workspace? Is communication primarily phone oriented? What’s the level of formality in your professional’s phone conversations? Is there a lot of gossip around the workplace?
For truly nitty-gritty research, consider asking to see such documents as the company’s organizational chart, a job description of your professional’s position, samples of your professional’s work products, and a sample performance review form to get an idea of how workers are evaluated.
Be aware of the professional’s and the organization’s needs as you’re shadowing, and do your best not to interfere with the normal workflow.
If you have good rapport with the person you’re shadowing, consider asking for a resume critique and advice on interviewing at the company, as well as thoughts on coursework, internships, and work experience that will enable you to break into a job at that company.
Remember that the professional you’re shadowing is now a valuable member of your network. Ask for a business card when you leave, and ask if the professional knows others in similar jobs that you might shadow. Also ask if you can stay in touch.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Credentialed Career Master (CCM), is a former speechwriter and college instructor who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and prepares job-search correspondence as chief writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters. She is author of Dynamic Cover Letter for New Graduates; A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market; and, with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters and Write Your Way to a Higher GPA, all published by Ten Speed Press. She can be reached by e-mail at