Job Shadowing For Professionals: The 5 Steps You Need


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Making a move to a new job is a major decision. There’s new people, new terms to learn and the pressure of being “the new guy.” There’s also concern about knowing whether the move is right for you. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce uncertainty about these decisions: job shadowing.

Once reserved for students and recent graduates, job shadowing is a strategy that professionals are using to explore new careers today. Through observation, asking questions and getting work done, you gain additional perspective on a job’s requirements quickly. Using the process in this article, you will be equipped to set up a job shadowing arrangement at your current company.

What If I Want To Job Shadow At A Different Company?

The process in this article is based on the assumption that you are interested in exploring other roles at your current employer. If you work at a large firm, there are other many different functions and departments to explore. However you may be determined to explore something quite different: go from IT project management to publishing. In that case, use a vacation day to find the time. Expect that it will take longer to arrange job shadowing at a different company.

Steps To Propose A Job Shadowing Project

Based on my experience and research, it’s possible to obtain approval for an internal job shadowing arrangement in a few weeks or less. This process assumes you have already defined a short term career goal and that you are using job shadowing to advance toward that goal.

1. Research The Job: What Does The Job Look Like?

The first step is to carry out research about the job you are interested in exploring. You may be interested in a product manager role. In that case, start by reading 3-5 job descriptions for the role to gain a basic understanding of the job responsibilities. Next, read a few interviews with people online who are already doing the job (e.g. How to Break into Product Management). This reading will equip you to ask better questions and plan what you want to accomplish.

2. Research The Organization: Does Your Organization Have People Doing Your Dream Job?

Now that you have an understanding of the job, it is time to identify specific opportunities. There are a few ways to explore your organization:

  • Asking mentors and trusted friends who work at the same company is a great starting point (e.g. Send them a short email to ask ‘I’m interested in getting to know product managers at our firm. Can you introduce me to someone in that role?”).
  • Searching the company’s intranet. Look for listings of the departments, divisions and senior leaders. Departmental newsletters are particularly helpful.
  • Read the organization chart and executive biographies. Each organization has a different structure – project management often reports to a technology executive while product management may report to a sales or marketing executive.

What if your organization doesn’t have anyone doing your target job title? If that happens, go back to step one and see if there are other job options at your employer that you could explore instead.

3. Develop Learning Goals: What Do People In Your Dream Job Actually DO?

Some job shadowing experiences disappoint because they are passive experiences. The “shadow” simply walks around and sits quietly in meetings. You can do better. The key is to direct your observation and other activities toward learning goals. Here are a few prompts to help draft your learning goals:

  • Learning Technical Skills. Technical skills are the core of any job. Identify one or two of these skills to learn through observation, study and direct application. For project managers, technical skills might include using Microsoft Project or project reporting. Ideally you will seek to learn a small technical skill that you can continue to use elsewhere.
  • Learning Leadership Skills. The art and science of leadership skills is another great area to learn. I have benefited from observing how other people prepare, design and deliver presentations. Likewise, I have benefited from observing leaders raise difficult questions and solve problems.
  • Career Appeal. Finding out whether a given job fits your interests and abilities is the final point. There is a simple way to assess appeal – are your interest levels in the role increasing or decreasing as you learn more about the role.

4. Raise The Request: The Fine Art Of Asking Your Boss For Support

Armed with your goals and research, it is time to have a discussion with your manager about the job shadowing arrangement. For the best results, I recommend writing a short proposal outlining your plan, what you plan to learn and possible impacts on your regular responsibilities (hint: make it clear that you will not drop anything your boss cares about!). My research suggests that the majority of managers are open to job shadowing and career development if it is presented in a professional ways. To increase the odds of success, make a small request (e.g. 1-2 days at another department) rather than asking for weeks away.

  • Tip: Involve your manager in the process and ask for their guidance in designing the plan. For example, they may want to call a manager in another department to plan the project. Or they may ask you to do further research and present a proposal. In any case, it is vital to involve your manager in the process. Failing to do so will hurt your reputation.

5. Report On The Assignment’s Success: Share What You Learned

At the end of your assignment, it is time to close the loop with your manager. This is a step that many people forget to complete. Prepare a one page summary report on what you learned and review this document in a meeting with your manager. This step demonstrates that you reflected on the experience and that it added value to your career.

  • Tip: Using your learning goals as a framework for this summary report. Describe specific insights and skills you learned. Rather than “learned communication skills,” note something like, “learned how to present a business case to executives to secure project funding.” In your remarks, share what the experience meant to you and thank your boss for supporting your career growth.

Further Reading And Resources

There are a wealth of resources on the market to help you through this process. Here are a few resources I recommend:

Reinventing Your Personal Brand by Dorie Clark. This Harvard Business Review book looks at career management through a marketing lens. It is a powerful to think about the value you bring to the market.

Reinventing You By Dorie Clark. A book length exploration by Clark that takes you deeper into the process. My Kindle copy of the book is filled with highlights.

Work experience: ‘I job-shadowed 60 people in 60 days’. An article in the Guardian shows how repeated job shadowing aids career discovery.




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