Originally Posted: Jul 11, 2019
Last Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Summer is officially here, and proactive college and high school students are likely looking for ways to make their time off from school more productive. Maybe you want to find a way to make your college application stand out from a crowded field or gain real-world experience. For students who can spend a few weeks investing in unpaid job shadowing, it is an excellent way to elevate your college applications and learn what future career path might be best for you.
What is job shadowing?
Job shadowing is when you spend a week, even a few weeks, observing a professional working in their day-to-day position. Through job shadowing, you’ll gain hands-on knowledge that can help you narrow down what academic field or career path you want to pursue. As a high schooler, job shadowing can be particularly beneficial. It demonstrates to colleges that you not only want to become a doctor, engineer, or architect but that you took the initiative to explore the field further. Regardless of whether you’re in college or high school though, it shows your ambition and resourcefulness to colleges and future employers.
Use your network
You might think it’s hard or inconvenient to find a job shadowing experience, but that’s a misconception. Many of the best opportunities are not found on a job board but are right in front of you. For example, if you dream of becoming a physician, you could consider reaching out to your family doctor or pediatrician. You likely already have a relationship with them, and if you explain your aspirations and that you would like to learn from them, your doctor might be willing to take you under their wing.
Check with your school
Your school might have connections with different companies that encourage job shadowing. Ask your academic advisor, counselor, or someone in the career office for a list of willing organizations. Even if you aren’t sure where you would like to do your job shadowing, they can assist by pointing you in the right direction.
Reach out directly
If you have a dream job or organization that you know of and no connections to that community, try to reach out to the company directly. You can call or email someone in the human resources department. Mention that you’re an interested student who wants to learn more about the career and would like to job shadow. Be sure to give them specific reasons why you want to shadow at that particular company.
Give something in return
When reaching out to your network, emphasize the value you can help bring to the company. Perhaps you have strong skills in social media or graphic design. Let local organizations know that you can help with social media marketing or assist with new social media ideas. Try to make job shadowing mutually beneficial and form a deeper connection.
If you don’t like it…
Don’t be turned off by the career entirely if you have a poor job shadowing experience. Remember, you only spent a short time at the company, and it doesn’t represent the career as a whole. Even people with similar job titles can do completely different tasks. If this happens, try to set up another job shadowing experience to determine if the career path really isn’t right for you.
Job shadowing is an excellent way to see professionals in the workforce and decide what career could be right for you. While you’re job shadowing, you might also meet future mentors who can help guide you throughout your academic career. Make the most of this experience and help supercharge your college applications or job search.
For more information on job shadowing and internships, check out our Internships and Careers page.