Job shadowing

Picking a career can be pretty stressful. How are you supposed to know what you want to do 5 or 10 years from now? And how can you find out what the day-to-day of your dream job is really like? Viola Davis makes the law profession look awesome in How to Get Away With Murder, but is it?

There’s one easy way to find out: job shadow.

+ How to shadow doctors.

“During a shadowing experience, you might meet with the professional for a brief meeting then follow [them] during their work day for an agreed-upon time,” says Sue H. Strup, nurse career consultant at the University of Kentucky Healthcare and College of Nursing. Shadowing is a great way to figure out what you like and don’t like about different careers, and it’ll help you narrow down your choices for what you want to study.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Think about the careers and skills you’re interested in and try to narrow it down to a few key professions—it’s more feasible to shadow three people than it is to shadow 10.
  • Make a list of places where people with your dream job might work. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, make a list of all the hospitals or clinics close by. If you want to be a news anchor, write down the news stations in your town.
  • Find contact information for employees at those locations. Some might have job shadowing opportunities listed on their website.
  • Tap into your personal connections—this is often the easiest way to get your foot in the door. Ask your friends and family if they can connect you with anyone who works in the field you’re interested in.
  • Reach out. Call or email the people on your list to ask if they’d be willing to let you shadow or interview them. Explain who you are and why you’re interested in their career.

Once you’ve secured your job shadowing appointment, here are a few things to remember:

  • Do your research first. Come in knowing a bit about the profession and the company. Bring a list of questions you have about the job, along with a notepad and pen to take notes.
  • Dress appropriately. It might help to ask your contact what you should wear. If all else fails, dress like you’re going to a job interview.
  • Call or email to confirm the visit a few days ahead of time and be prepared for any last-minute changes. Professionals can be very busy, so there’s a chance that your appointment could get moved or cut short. Be flexible.
  • Take your résumé with you. You never know what other opportunities might be available, either now or in the future.
  • Turn your phone on silent and resist the temptation to take it out, even if you’re bored. It’s hard to absorb and learn anything if you’re focused on your phone, so pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Keep in touch. After the job shadow, send a thank-you note or email and include any follow-up questions you have. The person you shadow could be a great resource for your future, so try to maintain the relationship.

+ What questions should you ask when job shadowing?

Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.