Job Shadowing: The Benefits of On-the-Job Learning
Testing the water in the real-world scenario and day-to-day realities of the job.
Imagine for a moment you’re about to buy a vintage car. The car you want to buy is very old and very expensive. In fact, it’s going to swallow most of your life savings. But you love cars and truly believe this will be worth it.
However, you’re not just going to buy the car on sight. Before you do, you’re going to check under the hood and take it for a test drive, surely?
Of course, you are. But every year, millions of people worldwide make life-shaping decisions about which career to go into without having first-hand practical experience of it.
For that reason, job shadowing is becoming increasingly popular. And it’s easy to see why. From seeing the nuts and bolts of cyber security careers to the buzzing creativity of digital advertising, first-hand experience is invaluable.
So, what does job shadowing entail?
What is job shadowing?
Job shadowing allows you to observe a professional as they perform his or her duties. It typically lasts for a day, but can sometimes go on for a week or longer, depending on the role.
This allows you to get a feel for a job that you will no doubt be considering as a career. You can see if the role is for you and make wiser career choices based on what you have learned.
You can see things you could never pick up from a textbook or lecture, witnessing the theory you learned being put into practice in a specific job environment.
Job shadowing is not to be confused with an internship. It does not require the same amount of commitment and lasts for only a brief period. This means you can potentially do multiple job shadowing experiences and gain insight into various roles.
The benefits of job shadowing
There are several benefits of job shadowing, some obvious, some not so. Let’s take a look at them.
Nothing beats practical experience in any role. You may have studied through countless late nights, learned all the theory to pour into your 10,000-word essay, and taken those nerve-racking exams.
However, when placed in a real-world scenario, you may soon discover how it bears little resemblance to the day-to-day realities of the job.
For example, you may be asked to complete tasks you’d never considered before, such as organizing how to get a toll free number in Canada.
Sometimes, it is more valuable to gain hands-on experience, because it involves other elements such as working with others or dealing with an unpredicted issue.
To revert to the earlier car analogy, how can you be sure of what you want if you’re not sure what it entails day-to-day?
Job shadowing allows you to ask lots (and do ask lots) of questions about the job. You’ll be interacting with people who have many years of experience in the role and will generally receive truthful replies, even if they may be negative.
Think of job shadowing as dipping your toe in the water. You can take a look around; see what the realities of any given role are.
For example, maybe you’re interested in educational technology for children, but it’s only by seeing the process of creating a Virtual Internship Program that you see the attractiveness of focusing on adult learning.
This will provide a fuller picture and help you to discount roles you realize you aren’t suited to.
Great networking opportunities
When you’re new to an industry, it’s one thing to add universally relevant work experience to your cover letter in the hopes it’ll land you a job in the future. But it’s another thing entirely to get your name out there by connecting with people face to face.
Job shadowing is a great opportunity to meet new people and establish professional connections that could be crucial to career development.
You’ll gain access to people that you wouldn’t usually meet, all in the industry you’re considering a career in. It’s an open goal, don’t miss it!
Make sure to stay in touch with the contacts you made, as you never know when they may be useful. You could be talking to your future mentor.
One study found that at the age of 24, those who had previously partaken in job shadowing initiatives were earning 9.7% more than the average earnings from their cohort.
This may seem surprising. However, when you consider the fact that those who partook in job shadowing may have discarded a few unsuitable roles along the way, it’s not really a shock.
In addition to selecting a suitable job, those who job shadowed would have seen professionals in action. The step from college to real-world scenarios is easier to bridge if you have knowledge of what is expected in the professional environment, helping you to be more successful in that environment.
Introduces you to new roles
You may have a specific role in mind when they embark on job shadowing. However, when you’re in a real-world scenario, you may be introduced to other roles that you had never imagined.
There may be other roles connected to your chosen shadowing role that a student may feel much more suited to.
This is great if you want to move into a specific field but are unsure of what exactly you want to do within it. Not only will it show you different roles but also help you consider what other or extra skills you might need for the position.
For example, you might know that you’re interested in tech sales and communications. Still, when you see a sales rep calling internationally from Canada, you realize you want to work with international clients and consider learning a second language.
The only way to discover those roles is to dive in and gain the hands-on experience that shadowing offers.
As previously discussed, it is difficult to learn about the realities of a role from inside a classroom. Therefore, experiencing real-world scenarios is invaluable for understanding the actualities of a job.
Job shadowing provides insight into the pressures and very real stresses that can come with a high-paying position.
For example, if you’re studying architecture, you may want to experience the day-to-day reality of adopting this role as a career before deciding if it’s for you.
While the pay may be good, the pressures are also significant. Job shadowing gives a real insight into what a job entails.
Offers insight into companies
On the subject of insight…
For any student considering a role with a given organization, it’s a good idea to learn about the company culture and the realities of working there before signing on the dotted line.
If you prefer a more casual working environment, then certain companies will simply be a bad fit for you. Job shadowing is a way to learn about an organization's day-to-day operations.
You can gain insight into what kind of workplace it is, and how they resolve conflicts or address mistakes.
Improves your skill set
Job shadowing will quickly show you what area you need to improve in. It can often be a chastening experience to learn you didn’t understand the role as well as you imagined.
However, addressing your shortfalls is essential to career development. And how can you find out what areas you need to improve in without discovering what they are?
Job shadowing will also introduce you to new tasks that will expand your repertoire. For example, you may learn how to use a rephrasing tool to improve your communications.
The broader your skillset, the more valuable you are in the job market.
Look before you leap
Look before you leap. Try before you buy. Think before you act.
Job shadowing provides the chance to do precisely that. It would be nice to balance the post with some downsides, but there simply aren’t any.
There’s nothing to lose in shadowing a professional in any career you consider.
So, if you’re considering your job opportunities after graduation and would like some real-life experience of what your career may entail, then think about job shadowing. It could prove invaluable to your future.
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated, cloud-hosted, unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives.
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