Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Career May Be Lurking in the Shadows: Setting Up a Job Shadowing Experience

Many jobs can look and sound glamorous from a distance, but until you experience them firsthand you can’t know your potential for achieving job satisfaction. Job shadowing—the act of accompanying someone on a typical day or two on the job—can be a viable and valuable activity for anyone, at any age, who’s considering a new career. It’s a perfect way to get a small dose of what life on the job will be like before committing all your resources to a career that may or may not be right for you. In this first of a two-part series on job shadowing, find out what you need to do to set up a successful job shadowing experience.

When to Job Shadow: Before approaching someone you’d like to shadow, you’ve hopefully done your homework about what field (or fields) interests you. Unlike internships, pursuing a job shadowing situation isn’t suggesting you’ve made a total commitment to that field. However, you do want to go into the experience with a reasonable level of knowledge and interest so you’re not wasting the time of the person you will be shadowing. Remember, if you do end up pursuing that field later on, this person could turn into a great resource for landing an internship or a job; therefore, you do want to leave a good impression.

Setting Up the Experience: Assuming you have a limited amount of time you can devote to the valuable, yet unpaid, endeavor of job shadowing, you want to know you’ve identified someone who is truly representative of the field you’re interested in learning something about. For example, if you’re interested in physical therapy, shadowing a registered nurse will provide you with exposure to the health care field, but not to the job of a physical therapist. Use your network of family, friends, and associates to help you land the right shadowing opportunity. If they can’t help, expand your network by approaching school counselors, professional associations, and businesses and organizations that might employ people in the field. Be creative and diligent in your search. Don’t just phone a hospital’s human resources department; instead, call directly to the therapy department if that’s the type of job you want to shadow. Is it real estate that interests you? Pay attention to community awards to identify a local realtor who is outstanding in the field and would most likely be honored by your request to learn from an expert.

Be Patient: Nowadays, confidentiality issues and a tough competitive market make it harder to be approved for certain job shadowing experiences. Many businesses are trying to do more with fewer people, so they don’t have as much time to devote to activities that don’t directly impact their bottom lines. And in the health care arena, patient privacy regulations have lengthened the approval process for bringing non-employees in to observe. That’s not to say your shadowing request won’t get approved in business or health care environments, but rather that you need to build in time for those approvals to fall into place.

Up next: Capitalizing on Your Job Shadowing Experience.

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