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Job Shadow for Your Career

By Peter Vogt | Monster Career Coach

There’s plenty of information out there about potential careers. But impersonal descriptions can’t match the realism of actually watching someone do a job for a few hours or days.

That’s what job shadowing is about — and why National Job Shadow Day is such a unique opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse of a career that may be in your future.

“Job shadowing helps you find out what you do and don’t like about certain jobs,” says 16-year-old Sondra Clark in a post on her Job Shadow Blog 2006, which is full of tips for student shadowers. Clark has participated in more than 50 job shadowing experiences.

Best of all, says Clark, finding an opportunity can be as simple as contacting the florist your mother knows or seeing if Uncle Jim would mind if you tagged along for a half day at his publishing company.

But not all job shadowing activities are created equal. Check out these four ways to make your experience positive for both you and your host.

Research the Person and the Company

To maximize your shadowing experience as well as show respect for the person whose time you’re taking, prepare by researching the job of the person you’re shadowing and the company or organization you’ll visit, says Ed Grocholski, a spokesman for the Job Shadow Coalition, the group behind National Job Shadow Day. “This research will help you put your visit into context and allow you to ask informed questions.”

Visit your host’s company Web site. What products and services does the organization offer? If it’s a nonprofit, what cause does it represent? And where does your host’s job fit into the bigger picture of what the organization does and why?

Email Intelligent Questions Beforehand

Before you arrive, send your host eight to 10 questions you want answered during your job shadowing experience about the career, the company, the education you need and the like, says Julie Richardson, externship program coordinator for the Office of Career Services at Virginia Tech. “Doing so will give your host the opportunity to see what areas you’re interested in and provide you with more in-depth answers,” such as by arranging brief meetings with colleagues who might be better able to respond to some of your key questions.

Brush Up on Professional Etiquette

Want to frustrate and perhaps even embarrass the person you’re shadowing? Then show up a half-hour late, wear ratty clothes and a baseball cap turned backwards, and answer your cell phone every time it rings.

“Do your homework on professional courtesies,” stresses Jon Tirpak, engineering director for nonprofit consulting organization ATI and a frequent job shadow host. Specifically, be sure you:

Arrive on time, dressed and groomed nicely. “You don’t need to wear a tuxedo or business suit, but you do need to look professional,” Clark says.

Shake hands with the person you’re shadowing while introducing yourself.

Be attentive throughout your entire time together. “Even if you realize the job would never interest you, remain positive,” Clark says. “Don’t say, ‘This job seems boring. How do you do it every day?’”

Address your host formally unless told otherwise.

Turn off your cell phone.

Send a Thank-You Note

A thank-you note is common courtesy. But writing one will also make a positive impression on the person you’ve shadowed — and maintain a connection that could eventually lead to future shadowing experiences, internship or co-op possibilities, or even a full-time job in a field you’ve now seen from the inside.

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