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Shadowing: Everything You Need to Know

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 12th, 2024
Shadowing: Everything You Need to Know

Being confident about what career you want can be a complicated and challenging decision. How do you know what you really want to do unless you’ve gotten to do it before? “Shadowing” offers students the opportunity to observe certain careers. So, let’s take a closer look at what shadowing is and how you can do it!  

What is shadowing? 

“Shadowing” is a term that you may have heard before, or even had recommended to you. But what exactly is shadowing? Shadowing is a common way to gain insight into various jobs and careers. While mostly students shadow professionals in prospective careers, anyone can shadow!  Students interested in the medical field commonly shadow doctors during high school and college. However, the medical field is only one of many areas that you can gain experience with before fully diving in.  

How do you find someone to shadow? 

The first place to start with shadowing is knowing who you are going to shadow. As a high school student, you probably don’t have a whole lot of connections with professionals in prospective careers. However, your parents, teachers, or guidance counselors are all places to start. If you have a job, your current employer might be able to help as well.  If you are in college, there may be a greater chance that you already have some names of people that you can shadow. If not, then again, the same list of people may be able to help you.  

Also see: 10 tips for finding your ideal job

How do you shadow someone?  

The idea of shadowing might sound great, but how do you actually shadow someone? You can ask to shadow people in a variety of ways. With technology, it is probably easiest to ask about shadowing via email, however, sometimes a phone call works as well. Below are a few things that you can include in an email or letter. Before reaching out, you may find it helpful to write the answers to the questions and points below.  

Why do you want to shadow? 

It’s important to share why you want to shadow. You can include a bit of information here about why you’re interested in this field and why you would like to shadow this person specifically. 

Who you are and what your credentials are 

Credentials may sound like an intimidating term, but credentials can be as simple as the classes you are currently taking or the interest you have in a career field. If this isn’t your first time shadowing, then including that you have previously shadowed may also be relevant to mention here. And of course, always make sure to clearly say who you are, your age, if you’re a student and where, and other pertinent information like that.   

Your availability  

Because you are asking someone to invite you into their office or place of work, you will probably have to be very flexible with your schedule. However, including some availability from the start is a good way to show the thought and planning you are putting into this opportunity.  

Unfortunately, just because you ask to shadow someone, doesn’t mean that they will say yes. If that happens, that’s okay. There are plenty of other professionals to reach out to. When you close your email, phone call, or however you choose to contact them, thank them for their time and if you feel comfortable, ask if they might know anyone else who you could contact.  

What kinds of places can you shadow at?  

If you can think of a job, there’s a good chance you can shadow there! The great thing about shadowing is that there are no specific rules regulating where and who you can shadow.  

Hospitals and clinics are common places where students shadow doctors, nurses, and other staff. Law offices, schools, engineering firms, and vet clinics are just a few other examples of jobs that typically allow students to come and shadow.  

Also see: All about apprenticeships

What do you do when you shadow someone? 

When you shadow someone, you will spend your day following them around and observing how they spend their time. Shadowing a doctor is usually a fairly easy thing to do since students can’t be very involved in any type of care, however, other shadowing experiences may offer you more hands-on experience. Shadowing at a radio station, law office, or school might let you take part and interact with individuals.  

Also see: How to land an internship guide

Additional thoughts 

You don’t have to be locked in on a career in order to shadow someone. If you are even mildly interested in a career, it may be worth looking into more. Observing what a career looks like may be the push you need to become more interested in it. Alternatively, it may be just what makes you look for another career option. 

Another note on shadowing is how often you shadow and for how long. As a student, there’s no limit on how many places you can try to shadow. Really, it all depends on how motivated you are and how many people you reach out to. There is no rule that says you can only shadow someone for a day. In order to really understand certain jobs, it may require a longer period of shadowing.  

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Students typically will seek out and find shadowing opportunities on their own
  • Shadowing is a great way to network and build relationships with professionals that may be helpful as you progress in your intended field 
  • Not all people that you ask to shadow will say yes, but that shouldn’t discourage you from thanking them for their time and moving on to the next person to ask 
  • You don’t have to be set on a career in order to shadow jobs in that field; even if you are only semi-interested in a job, shadowing can’t hurt 
Key Takeaways

Related: How to find a job after college

Frequently asked questions about shadowing

Do you get paid to shadow a job?

Unfortunately, you do not get paid to shadow at various jobs since the places you are shadowing won’t require you to do any actual work.

Can you include shadowing on your resume?

Yes, job shadowing is a great thing to put on a resume if it is related to the job you are applying to! There may not be room on your resume to go into detail about your shadowing experience, but including where and who you shadowed may intrigue employers. During an interview, you may be able to go into more detail about the experience and how it is relevant to a potential job.

How do you prepare for job shadowing?

How you prepare to shadow a job will depend on the job you are going to shadow. When making plans to shadow someone, ask them for a brief overview of what to expect. They may not provide you many details, but it’s worth asking. Taking something with you to take notes with is always a good idea!

What should you wear to shadow someone?

The answer to this will vary based on who you are shadowing. This is another question that you can ask ahead of time as well. The best thing you can do if you really don’t know is to err on the side of dressing professionally. Showing up looking nice will go a long way to show that you have put time and effort into this opportunity and do not take it for granted.

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