Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Capitalizing on Your Job Shadowing Experience

The previous post on job shadowing presented tips for setting up a job shadowing experience. Now you need to consider what it takes to make the experience a successful one.

Don’t Be a Shadow Puppet: The economic environment today has translated into more people looking for shadowing opportunities. The more knowledgeable you are about the field, the organization, and the industry, the better your chances of landing an opportunity and turning it into a robust learning experience. In addition, this background knowledge prepares you for asking good, thoughtful questions during the course of the day. And who knows, you may also end up with the chance to share some industry knowledge that your mentor was not aware of. After all, the more you can actively participate, without overstepping your bounds, the more valuable the day is to both you and the person you are shadowing.

Be Professional: Be prompt and dress appropriately for your day. At the start of the day, explain to the person you’re shadowing that you’re hoping to experience a typical day and that his/her job is not to show you only the positive side of the job. At the same time, make it clear that you’re interested in all aspects of the job—the expected and the unexpected. It also helps to remind him/her that you’re hoping to see the company from an employee perspective. Remember, if your reason for job shadowing is to learn about a particular field or career, you need to do more listening than talking, but at the same time, you want to use this opportunity to ask questions. Be mindful that during the course of a shadowing day, you may become privy to confidential information about patients, products, profits, and more. Even if you aren’t required to sign a confidentiality agreement, basic professionalism suggests that you need to keep this information to yourself, during and after the experience.

What Not to Expect: Job shadowing is a fantastic way to get a feel for what it takes to do a particular kind of work. However, every organization doesn’t operate the same way. Company cultures can be vastly different from one to the next, so continue to keep your eyes and ears open as you research businesses in a particular industry. Don’t assume that one organization’s hiring standards or practices are representative of every other in a field. If you’ve shadowed someone who has been in the field a long time, don’t expect him/her to necessarily be up-to-date on current education requirements for breaking into the field. Expect to have to complement job shadowing with continued research on different organizations, the industry, and the education requirements for succeeding in a particular field.

And, by all means, when your job shadowing experience is over, follow up by thanking the person you worked with—even if it is a friend or relative—and his/her organization for providing you with a job shadowing opportunity. A verbal thank you to wrap up the day is appropriate, but you should also follow up with written thank-you notes.

Remember, every effort you make to turn a job shadowing opportunity into a useful experience should result in positive dividends once you’ve launched your new career.

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