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Work shadowing: Why you should be doing it now

Work shadowing is your chance to spend a few days with a pro, giving you a glimpse into their job role without the commitment of a full-on work experience placement.

It’s a quick way to narrow down your interests so you can start getting relevant experience and skills of the career path you really want to pursue. That makes it a great option for school or college students.

'Spending a few days with a pro is a great way to see if a career path is right for you'

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What is work shadowing?

Work shadowing, also known as job shadowing, is an opportunity to watch a pro do what they do best. Unlike a work experience placement, you won’t usually do the job. Instead, you’ll observe your “buddy” as they carry out their day-to-day activities. Usually, work shadowing placements only last a few days, shorter than traditional work experience.

What are the benefits?

CV on desk

Work shadowing is a great way to show employers you're

keen and have knowledge of their area of work

Work shadowing will enhance your CV. It’s also a relatively low-key way to get a feel for the role, without having to commit to a full work experience placement. You could go on to gain hands-on experience later on if you feel the job could be a good fit.

Work shadowing:

What does it involve?

On a work shadowing placement, you’ll be buddied up with a staff member, who you’ll stick with as they carry out their daily tasks. It’s likely that they’ll explain their work to you as you go along, and you’ll be able to ask them questions as you go along.

You may even get to sit in on meetings with colleagues, customers and clients, or patients.

You may shadow different members of the team to get experience of different tasks.

Can I do a placement while I’m still at school?


Work shadowing is more popular with university students, but there is no better time to take on a placement than when you’re still at school. Given the brief nature of placements, work shadowing is a great way to get an insight into different career paths before you start committing to longer work experience placements.

School leaver Michael Warshafsky challenged himself to shadow 60 people in 60 days before going off to uni! Now we’re not suggesting you go to that extreme. But the more work shadowing you do early on, the easier it’ll be to narrow down your career and start to get the specific skills, experience and qualifications you need to pursue your chosen career.

How to apply

Work shadowing is rarely advertised. Some organisations don’t run formal schemes, but will set up a placement for you when you apply. This means you’ll need to submit some speculative applications to organisations nearby, including your CV along with a cover letter outlining why you are applying, and showing them that you’re serious about the opportunity.

Try to find out who runs the team you want to apply to – ring up if necessary and ask for their email address. Address your application to them, and also CC in the HR contact.

  • Submit your application plenty of time before your preferred date. The more time you give the employer to prepare, the more likely they will be to offer you a placement.
  • Find out if your family and friends have connections with industries you’d like to gain experience of, and if so, ask them to connect you to the right person.
  • Find out from your careers advisor, head of sixth form or teacher whether your school has connections with employers, and if your school will introduce you to a suitable contact or support your application in another way.
  • Universities often run work shadowing schemes, often for first-year students. If you’re going off to uni, check out these details on their website or ask the careers advice service.

Tips for your placement

Work shadowing helps build your network - making

a good impression could really pay off in the future

Make the most of your placement once you’ve organised it:

  • Know where you’re supposed to be and when, and turn up smartly dressed in a way that’s appropriate for the workplace.
  • Be considerate: The person you’re shadowing will be trying to do their job, so don’t ask unnecessary questions, distract them, or generally get in the way(!)
  • Keep your questions to things you can only find out from your buddy. For example, you can find out what qualifications you need online, but your buddy would be a good person to ask about the joys and sorrows of the job.
  • Pay attention and be interested. Your buddy is giving up their time to help you!
  • Take notes to help you remember your experiences later on; for example, when you’re comparing different placements.
  • Remember, the people you come into contact with will form part of your new professional network. To that end, make a good impression by being smart, professional and courteous so that you’re remembered in a good light.

Since most employers don’t run formal work shadowing schemes, a strong speculative cover letter is often vital to a successful application. Find out how to write an awesome speculative cover letter.

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Image credits

Lead image via Pexels

CV by makyzz via Freepik

Professional network via Freepik