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The Gap Year Blog

How you can maximize your work shadow experience

5 Jun 2019 11:25 AM
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Photo Credit: Pixabay | kaboompics 

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Work shadowing is a great opportunity to gain insights into a company or a career field of interest and to observe professionals at work. It surely helps you to get a better understanding of the role. To maximise your work shadow experience, you should actively take part in it. It could also give you chances for a good reference or even lead to an internship. But no one remembers a mere shadow. 

When you choose your place to work shadow, you should have a genuine interest in that field of work or into the company. During our two work shadowing days last week, Frontier has had a few very motivated and clever students. Their interest in volunteering or conservation lead their way to us. And we also selected them because they showed the right motivation and reasonably explained their interest in their application. That is not only how it usually works at Frontier but in any other company or organisation as well.

It is important to only apply for roles that are of interest to you as work shadowing is short – a day only. Also be aware of how time consuming the process actually can be for the person being shadowed. So, a genuine interest and a bit of preparation is vital.

Remember: Not every place offers work shadowing because the nature of the work does not allow it out of health, safety or confidentiality reasons. Find out which roles are suitable and then ask for work shadow opportunities. Work shadow opportunities are very rarely advertised.

Prepare questions

There is nothing better than to look smart and prepared by bringing along some questions you would like to have answered. The person that you will work shadow, takes the time to explain you his or her work and is prepared and will most likely also look forward to satisfy your curious mind.

Check the company’s website and don’t ask obvious questions that obviously answered on there. Go for more personal questions like how and why the work shadowed works there, what their motivation is and what the challenges of the work and the sector are. The preparation will also pay off for you. After all you have already put a lot of work into applying for the work shadowing place by writing job a specific cover letter and updating you CV.


What you can expect

A day is only a very limited amount of time, eight working hours minus lunch break and introduction. Therefor, it is often unlikely that you will carry out very important tasks or get any hands-on experience at all. Instead you can expect the person you are work shadowing to explain how and what and they do and why they do it in a certain way – another reason to prepare some good questions and fire away.

You might be able to attend and follow meeting or to peek in the other apartments to ask some questions (there they are again, the questions). Just make sure if there is a certain time that you assemble, maybe with other work shadowers, and collectively ask your questions or if you can do it throughout the day.

Watch things that go wrong (or right)

One of the best and most insightful work shadowing days might actually be one that goes completely wrong. These are the moments when you get to see how crisis management works and how people perform under stress to solve a problem as well as which types of leadership structures and communication models do or don’t work effectively.

See how the chain of commands works and how the hierarchy in the company or organisation is. The best teams will function and somehow work it out. But also, if nothing goes wrong and you cannot witness and major troubles, pay attention to practices in place that keep things running smoothly. Does the team communicate? How is the overall working atmosphere? What is the organisation doing well and where is room for improvement? In case you cannot answer one of those question yourself by the end of the day, ask the person you are shadowing. Understand how things work.

Learn the business specific jargon

If you have time, ask the person that you are work shadowing to write a short description or summary of their job. That way you learn the correct technical terms and industry jargon – plus, you have a nice intro you can use and rewrite for your own CV. Just make sure that you ask and know what the specific terms mean before you try using them yourself. It is a good practise to improve your ability to communicate within the industry which you might be working in the future.

Note: Not all industries have a specific or extensive own lingo, but many do.

Make yourself memorable

If you leave your work shadowing day with a pat on the shoulder, a firm handshake or even a word of praise from the person you work shadowed or one the colleagues, you have done great (maybe you have just asked the right questions). However, now the company or organisation may be more inclined to take you for an internship in the future.

Maybe someone from the company might also be willing to give you a good reference for other internship or job applications. It makes a big difference if someone know you – even just briefly – and would vouch or leave one or two nice words for you. If you liked the work shadowing day, make sure you follow it up with a short and sweet thank you e-mail. That is what a few of our work shadowers did and it left a very positive impression.

By Desiree Schneider - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!