How to Be an Amazing Job-Shadow Host

June 22, 2015

It’s 10:15 AM, and the professional who’s graciously agreed to let me shadow her for the day has just finished answering my questions about her career path, what she likes and dislikes about the job, and how to break into her industry. Now she is staring at me. I smile back. The panic that plays across her face as she realizes she has no idea what to do with me for the next six hours and 45 minutes is painfully obvious.

“Um, so, I’m just going to do some stuff on my computer now.” She says awkwardly. “Do you want to just hang out in my office?”

I’m a current college student and enthusiastic job-shadower, and I’d say that this sort of thing happens with three out of every five people I follow around. It’s not that I don’t appreciate these people giving up their valuable time to help me, but those days are not the educational experiences I’m shooting for. In fact, they’re not really productive (or fun) for either party.

If you’re generous enough to let someone shadow you, here’s how to make it worth both you and your shadow’s time. Who knows—you may just find your company’s next recruit.

What to Do Beforehand

  • Pick the Appointment Strategically
    Choose a day when you have some interesting things going on, but not one that’s back-to-back meetings.
  • Involve Your Colleagues—or at Least Warn Them
    At every place I visit, there are usually four or five employees besides the one I’m trailing who I would also love to sit down and talk to. When I toured The Boston Globe, the writer who was hosting me actually asked six editors in advance if they each had 15 minutes for me. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my shadowing career.
  • Do Some Final Prep
    Consider sending the agenda’s highlights to your shadow so he or she knows what to expect—it’s a touch I’ve always really appreciated.

The Day Of

  • First Thing
    When I’m shadowing someone I don’t know well (or at all), there’s an easy way to make the day much less awkward: Right after I arrive, the professional starts by telling me her professional background, where she went to college, why she chose the field, and other basics. I’m normally pretty nervous in the beginning, so this gives me a chance to relax and nod my head a lot. After this, we’re both “warmed up,” and I’m ready to start asking questions.
  • Lunch Time
    One of my favorite parts about job-shadowing someone is eating lunch—not because food is the best, but because it gives us a chance to more fully discuss everything I’m getting introduced to. At this point in the day, both of us feel pretty comfortable and can get beyond “What’s your major?” into “Why are you interested in this job?” Usually I can get the best feel of whether a career or company will be right for me during the lunch.
  • In the Afternoon
    It’s always valuable when the professional I’m with gives me a couple of his or her assignments to help with. For example, knowing that I love to write, the director of a charity foundation asked me to compose a thank-you letter to last year’s sponsors. A local politician gave me a bundle of documents related to a proposed solar project and asked me if I thought his boss should advocate or oppose it.
  • At the End of the Day
    Now is your time to play Yoda: Ask your shadow what she learned from the experience, what misconceptions she had, what she liked and what she wasn’t so enthusiastic about, and if she has any questions.

View this article by Newsweek for more information on how to be an amazing job-shadow host.

Northwood University Partnership:
The Michigan Chamber has partnered with Northwood University to help educate future business leaders on Michigan’s business climate. This two-fold partnership offers a $1,000 scholarship for eligible Northwood University students and a free student membership to all enrolled Northwood students. View the Northwood University Partnership webpage for more information.