The Job Shadow Program is an opportunity for Amherst students to gain exposure to industries, career paths and organizations as part of their overall career exploration. Program hosts welcome a student on-site in their organization for one day (or more). Typically, this will take place during a school break. Those host will organize a schedule of representative activities and informational meetings to ensure broad exposure to the work of the organization. Students are responsible for their expenses and logistics traveling to the job shadow site. At this time Amherst does not fund student job shadow experiences and associate expense.

Often students don’t know if a particular job is a good fit without some direct exposure. Consider shadowing a professional in the field you are interested in. Shadowing is expected, for instance, in the field of healthcare. However, the experience can be valuable across many industries.

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The Purpose of Job Shadowing

  • The main objective is to provide realistic career information in your area of interest. During job shadowing, you have the opportunity to observe the workplace environment while witnessing a range of duties and responsibilities in that position. You should ask questions and enter into conversations in which you gain some knowledge and understanding from professionals about your field of interest.
  • Unlike interning or working, job shadowing entails mainly observation; however you may be offered some hands-on work experience, if your shadowing mentor deems it appropriate and safe.
  • Shadowing provides realistic insight. Experiencing day-to-day operations in a particular work environment can dispel false or idealistic notions you may have about the profession.

The Length of Your Shadowing Experience

Shadowing has the potential to be very flexible—you can do it for a day, a week, or up to several weeks. There can also be highly structured shadowing programs in healthcare or business that enable you to rotate through various departments. The length of your experience depends on how serious you are about exploring a particular profession, how long you would be willing to commit to shadowing, and most importantly, how long the professional has to accommodate your time with them.

Getting the Most out of Your Job Shadowing Experience:

Prior to Job Shadowing:

  • Be sure you have a reasonable expectation of what shadowing is and what it is not. It’s likely not as substantive as an internship, and it is not intended to be administrative support or back room stuff. The goal is to watch professionals in their work environment.
  • Make sure you have of all the information correct, i.e. your contact’s name, position, the shadowing site, contact information. Clarify all of this information and confirm with your contact the week before you shadow.
  • Check with your contact to verify proper dress code in the workplace.
  • Obtain a map of the area and specific directions to the site.
  • Get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast before you begin shadowing. *Arrive on time, if not 5-10 minutes early. You should be accommodating your contact’s time schedule, so arriving late can create potential setbacks in your contact’s day.

During Job Shadowing:

  • Just because you’ll be watching a professional in action doesn’t mean you should be passively sitting back. BE PREPARED TO BE AN ACTIVE SPECTATOR (if appropriate). Take a pen and a clipboard to jot down your impressions of the workplace and of what’s going on throughout the day. It will be valuable for you to look back on them after your experience.
  • Be prepared to jump in at any time to help out, if requested.
  • Be alert and enthusiastic at all times!
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself to your contact’s co-workers. Introduce yourself with your first and last name and a firm handshake. Remember to smile and to make good eye contact while shaking hands.
  • Be accommodating. If you do not get to see what you wanted to, understand that flexibility is part of any job. Your contact is going out of his or her way for you, not the other way around.
  • Try to end the day or overall shadowing experience with a conversation in which you can ask questions and de-brief.
  • Before leaving, thank your contact for giving you the opportunity to shadow. If you have a lot of questions saved up for your contact, ask permission to email or to contact him/her at another time to talk about your shadowing experience.

Sample questions to ask your host during a shadow day:

  • What do you do during a typical day or week?
  • What percentage of your time do you spend interacting with people vs. working independently?
  • What is the makeup of your team and how do you work together?
  • What skills or attributes are most important in your work?
  • How did you enter this field and why did you choose it?
  • What are the most significant challenges you face in your role and in your department?
  • What preparations (academic focus, training, internships, graduate school, etc.) would you recommend to someone who wants to pursue this type of work? *Are there relevant magazines, books or blog you recommend I read to get a better overview of this field?

Some questions to consider:

  • What did you enjoy most about what you observed while you were there?
  • What did you like least about what you observed?
  • Were you called on to perform in job-related tasks? What were they? How did you like them?
  • What did you think about the work environment? Could you see yourself fitting in?
  • Do you feel this job would satisfy you? Why or why not?

After Job Shadowing:

  • Promptly write a nice thank-you note to your contact for providing you the opportunity to shadow.
  • Reflect on your experience and consider: * What did the job entail on a day-to-day basis? * How was the day put together? * How did the professional deal with the unexpected or address uncertainty? * How does one stay current in the profession? * How did the professional integrate his or her personal and professional life?