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Setting up a Job-Shadowing Experience

By Katharine Hansen

Before you try setting up a job-shadowing experience on your own, look into resources in your area for this kind of activity. Investigate whether you school has a formal job-shadowing program, or check into whether local or state government agencies offer such programs.

A job-shadowing experience can also be the outgrowth of an informational interview. At your interview, you might be asked if you'd like to stick around a little longer than the planned time for the interview; thus your informational interview segues into a job-shadowing experience. Or let's say you really hit it off with the person you're informationally interviewing, or are extremely interested in his or her job function, or especially like the company atmosphere. You can ask if you can come back to spend some more time with your interviewee in a job-shadowing situation.

Whom should you shadow? Ideally, someone who is in the same type of job you think you would like to have or one you aspire to in the not-too-distant future. For college students, the ideal person to shadow is a recent graduate of your school, perhaps someone who had the same major as you. Connect with your school's alumni network to identify appropriate alumni.

Once you've located someone to shadow, write a letter or send an e-mail, allowing several weeks' lead time in advance of when you'd like to do the shadowing. (Here's a a sample letter requesting a job shadow). Follow up with a phone call about a week later to pin down a date. Be prepared to be very flexible. The person you're shadowing is probably a busy professional who is going out of his or her way to accommodate you for the period of time you're asking for. While the idea is for the professional to go about business as usual while you observe, it's obvious that he or she may feel a bit restricted by your watchful eyes, so he or she is doing you a big favor.

It's a nice touch to invite your professional out to lunch on the day you're shadowing. Even if he or she declines, extending the invitation is a good way to find out about the lunch scene, such as whether you might need to brown-bag it if that's what everyone else does.

Research companies where you plan to shadow. While your best research will come from the actual shadowing, find out enough about the company so that you won't seem ignorant to the person you're shadowing.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen, Credentialed Career Master (CCM), is a former speechwriter and college instructor who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and prepares job-search correspondence as chief writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters. She is author of Dynamic Cover Letter for New Graduates; A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market; and, with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters and Write Your Way to a Higher GPA, all published by Ten Speed Press. She can be reached by e-mail at

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