Nursing instructor shows a student how to set up an IV

Career Development

Job Shadow

Job Shadowing is a great way for students to learn more about a particular field of work by seeing it “up close and personal.” Most Shadows involve spending a full day or part of a day with an alum at his or her place of work observing what a typical day is like. Shadows also give students an opportunity to ask specific questions they may have about a particular field of work, and may help them expand their professional network of contacts. Shadows are particularly useful for first-year and sophomore students who are undecided about their major or potential career options.

If you are interested in conducting a Job Shadow, meet with a career counselor in the Career Development Office to discuss options and get guidance in how to arrange a Shadow.

Remember that even though your initial contact with an alum will probably be through email, it’s appropriate and professional to arrange a time to follow up with a phone call to discuss details for your Shadow visit.

Making the phone call

Before you call

  • Review your own schedule.
  • Know which days and times are good for you.
  • Rehearse what you will say.

During The Call
  • Introduce yourself and remind the alum of your previous email exchange.
  • Arrange a date and time to Shadow. Ask if she has a specific day in mind and try to accommodate her schedule.

Other topics to discuss during the call:
  • Directions to the site.
  • Recommendations for parking.
  • Any special dress requirements. Appropriate dress in most cases will be a skirt or dress pants with a blouse/sweater or a suit.
  • Particular interests you have in regard to your Shadow experience. Let the alumna know if there are specific aspects of her work that you are most interested in, and if there are other areas of the organization which you are hoping to be exposed to.
  • Suggestions for pre-visit reading.
  • Before ending the conversation, confirm the day and time of your Shadow visit.
  • End the conversation with, “thank you very much for your time. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

NOTE: Leave a message for the individual to call you back if she is not available when you call. Follow up within a couple of days. This would also be a good time to consider what kind of greeting you have on your voice mail. Use a business-like greeting if you are anticipating calls from professional contacts.

After the call
If there is more than a two week span between your call and your Shadow date, you should make a confirmation call a week prior to your appointment. Leave a current phone number for her to contact you should a last minute change be necessary.

The day of your Shadow visit
  • Give yourself plenty of time so that you are not late.
  • Be prepared to share about yourself: work values, interests, skills, work style and why the alumna’s career choice is of interest to you.
  • Make sure you are dressed appropriately.
  • Ask lots of questions.

If you need to cancel due to an unexpected emergency
When you have finalized plans with your alum to make a Shadow visit, make this visit your top priority. This means you must plan ahead. Lack of transportation, having too much homework, being scheduled for a work shift, etc., are not valid reasons to cancel a Shadow appointment. Remember that alums frequently go to a lot of effort to schedule a Shadow visit for a student, and you need to show professional courtesy and honor your commitment. The only good reasons to reschedule are for unforeseen emergencies, such as illness or a death in the family.

If an emergency comes up:
  • Call your Shadow host immediately. Apologize for any inconvenience your cancellation may cause, and ask if it is possible to reschedule.
  • Follow up with a note to the alumna regarding your cancellation/reschedule, thanking her again for her willingness to be flexible and allowing you to Shadow her.

Preparing for your Shadow visit

Preparation is essential for a successful Shadow experience. Be prepared to share a little about yourself. Consider ahead of time what you might say, including information about why the alumna’s career choice is of interest to you, what your interests are, what kind of classes you are taking, any related experiences you may have had, and information about your work values, skills/abilities, work environment preferences, and/or work style. If you would like assistance in articulating your interests, skills, and career values, meet with a career counselor before your Shadow visit. Being self-aware will enable you to compare and contrast what you learned and how you might “fit” into an organization or position.

Research the organization
In order to ensure a quality experience, you should research basic facts and information about the alumna’s place of employment. The value in doing this research is that it will boost your confidence, aid you in asking intelligent questions, and help you begin to integrate career knowledge into your decision-making. Gather general information regarding the organization’s products and/or services they provide, its location and history, and organizational goals. There are several possible sources for such information. The most direct is to acquire company literature such as newsletters and annual reports. Check out the organization’s homepage, as well as other sites with related information.

Sample agenda for a Shadow visit
The following outline of events gives you an idea of what your Shadow experience may consist of. Keep in mind that everyone’s experience will vary.

1. Introductions
2. Orientation to organization, tour of site
3. Information about specific job/career field
4. Student’s questions
5. Shadow time (observe work, attend meetings, and meet other colleagues)
6. Lunch together
7. More Shadow time
8. Questions
9. Thank-you and good-byes

After your visit you must send a thank-you note!
It is common courtesy to send a thank-you note indicating your appreciation for the visit and the time/effort invested by your alum. By completing this simple act, you will leave a great impression which can only help you in the future. The alumna will also feel appreciated for her time, expertise and participation.

Suggested questions to ask when completing a Shadow

Your Shadow experience is an opportunity to inquire about factual data (like hours and salary range), skill and educational requirements, related occupations, typical career paths, and what is most and least satisfying about the work. In addition, you’ll likely have the opportunity to observe the work environment and obtain information about pace and general working conditions. Use your Shadow visit wisely to get all of your questions answered. It’s important that you prepare in advance a list of questions to ask during your visit. Some commonly asked questions are listed here.
  • What are your job responsibilities? Describe a typical day.
  • When and in what position did you start?
  • What do you like about your job? What are the pressures, problems and frustrations of your work? Is this typical of the field/organization?
  • What recommendations do you have for someone who would like to enter this field?
  • Is there specific training required for this field?
  • What other types of organizations hire people in this field/profession?
  • Tell me about your work schedule. How many hours do you routinely work? Are you on a set schedule? Does this position require irregular hours, weekends, evenings, and holidays? How much control do you have over your schedule?
  • What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  • How competitive is entry into this field? What is the outlook for future openings?
  • What salary range can one expect at entry-level?
  • Are there special considerations for women/minorities starting in this field?
  • What characteristics, skills and education does a person need to effectively do the job? What qualities make a person successful here?
  • Describe some of your work values. How are those realized in your work?
  • What are the advancement possibilities? Is additional education necessary?
  • What are the personal rewards of the job?
  • What types of career development opportunities does your organization/department offer?
  • What challenges might a new employee encounter in adjusting to this job/organization?
  • What professional publications are read by people in this field?
  • What professional organizations do people in this field belong to?
  • Are there any internship opportunities offered through your organization?
  • Who else might you suggest I talk to for additional information? May I use your name to introduce myself?