Are you thinking about future careers and wondering what different jobs are like? There are many job shadowing opportunities for high school students, and they're a great way to observe different jobs and help you decide which careers would be best for you.
Read this guide to learn about job shadowing for high school students, how you can find great job shadowing opportunities, and tips for making the most of your job shadow experience.
What Is Job Shadowing?
Job shadowing is an experience where you spend a day or a few days observing a professional on the job. While job shadowing, you can easily learn about different jobs and help decide which careers you would enjoy the most. You can follow a doctor making her rounds in the hospital, observe a teacher conducting class, look over building plans with an architect, or something completely different, depending on who you shadow.
Job shadowing is popular with students because it introduces them to different careers and helps them decide which jobs would be the best fit for them. Job shadowing for high school students is especially helpful because knowing which jobs you enjoy can help you decide on a major when you begin applying to colleges.
What Will You Do While Job Shadowing?
What you do while job shadowing depends heavily on where your shadow takes place.
In general, job shadowing involves following one worker, often called a mentor, as they go about their work day. A job shadow mostly involves listening and observing, but they often give you the chance to perform some simple job duties. For example, if you shadow a doctor at a hospital, you may be able to discuss different diseases and methods of treatment, be sent to pick up x-rays, and watch doctors interact with patients, but you won't be able to do things that require special training, such as draw blood or examine a patient yourself. You will get to see what your mentor's schedule is like, how much of their time they spend on different duties, who they talk to during the day, and what knowledge and skills they use.
You may focus specifically on one job or observe multiple jobs within a company. You will also usually have the chance to speak to other workers and ask them questions about their jobs and career paths.
A job shadow usually lasts one day, but there are cases when they can last several days to give you a more in-depth look at a certain career or company. To set up a job shadow, you just need to find a company who is willing to host you and available when you are. This means that they can take place at any time of the year. However, because most people work Monday to Friday, it is often easier to schedule a job shadow during the summer when you are not in school during those days. You may also be able to find an opportunity over a weekend or on a school holiday, or you may get permission to miss a day of school to attend a job shadow.
What Are the Benefits of Job Shadowing?
Job shadowing has many benefits for high school students, and three of the most important are discussed below.
Learn About Different Jobs
Usually, the biggest benefit of job shadowing is that it lets you directly observe different jobs so you can better understand what different careers entail. Shadowing a job can help you learn if it’s really something you would enjoy. For example, you may have always dreamed of being a journalist, but shadowing one may cause you to realize that you don’t enjoy all the research and editing they have to do. On the other hand, you may find a different job much more interesting than you originally thought it would be.
Job shadowing is a great opportunity for high school students because it lets them learn about different jobs in a risk-free way before they choose a major and begin to take college classes. It’s much better to learn which jobs you like and dislike now, rather than wait until after you’ve graduated college to learn that you don’t like any of the careers your major prepared you for.
Network With Professionals
When you job shadow, you will get the opportunity to speak with professionals in that field. Job shadowing typically involves spending the majority of your time with one person, your mentor, but almost all job shadow experiences also include interacting and speaking with other workers at the company.
You can use this opportunity to ask them about their job, what they like about it, what they dislike about it, and what advice they have for a student who wants to go into that career field. Making connections with professionals can also make it easier for you to find a job or an internship in that field down the road because you have already established a relationship with people working there.
If you had a great job shadow experience at a place where you'd like to work, try to nurture the relationships you created and keep in touch with the people you met. This can include sending them an e-mail every few months mentioning something you read or learned about that's relevant to their job, meeting them for coffee about once a year to discuss the career field and your goals, or applying for an internship there. There's a long period of time between high school and when you'll begin your job search in college, and keeping up with your relationships will help keep you fresh in their memory, so they are more likely to help you when you're looking for a job.
Be Introduced to the Workforce
Another benefit of job shadowing is that it lets you experience what having a job and being in the workforce is like. During your job shadow, you can get a better idea of what it’s like to go to work every day, interact with coworkers, and have a boss. This can be useful for students thinking about applying to their first job or internship because it will give them a better idea of what to expect when they begin working.
Are There Downsides to Job Shadowing?
Job shadowing can provide great experiences and teach you a lot, but if you have a negative experience or a mentor, it can turn you away from a job you had previously been really interested in. If you have a bad job shadow experience, the important thing is to remember that you only spent one day at one place, and that does not represent the entire career by any means. People can have bad days, and people with the same job title can, and often do, have completely different work experiences.
If this happens to you, you should try to set up another job shadow, either at a different location but for a similar job, or at the same place but with another mentor. Having a second job shadow can help you determine if it's really the career you dislike, or if it was the specific company or person you shadowed.
How Can You Find Job Shadowing Opportunities?
So now that you know how beneficial job shadowing for high school students can be, read on to learn how to set up your own.
Check With Your School
High schools often have connections with various companies who offer job shadowing. Ask your academic adviser or someone at your school’s career office for a list of organizations you can contact. If you aren’t sure where you’d like to do your job shadow, they can talk to you about your career goals and help you choose a place that will fit your interests.
Contact Places Where You'd Like to Work
If you have a specific place where you may like to work in the future or want to learn more about, you can also contact them directly. Call or e-mail someone from the company’s human resources department (or if they don’t have an HR department, call or e-mail the main contact line). Say that you’re a student interested in learning more about certain careers, and you’d like an opportunity to do a job shadow with someone from the company. List some reasons as to why you chose that particular company.
Try Community Boards
Your community center or town hall may also offer opportunities for job shadowing. Check community boards or websites for possibilities. If you see interesting companies hiring for workers or interns, you can also contact them to see if they’d be willing to let you job shadow there.
Tips for Job Shadowing
The more effort and preparation you put into your job shadow, the more you will get out of it. Follow these tips to have an informative and useful job shadowing experience.
Before Your Job Shadow:
Do some research on the company so that you’re prepared for when you arrive. Check the company’s website to get this information. Learn basic facts such as what work they do, how many people they employ, and when they were founded. Also, read over the company’s goals and mission statement if they have them to get a better sense of where you’ll be working.
If you know who you’ll be shadowing, research their position as well so you have a better idea of what to expect when you shadow.
Be prepared to discuss yourself and your career goals. If you’re not sure about your career goals, that’s fine too, just mention you’re still gathering information if you’re asked.
Prepare some questions you’d like to ask while shadowing. These questions can be about the job itself, the career field, or advice you’re interested in getting. Sample questions include:
- What caused you to choose this job?
- What do you like about this job? What do you dislike about it?
- What makes a person successful at this job?
- What classes can I take to help prepare me for a job in this field?
What skills are useful for this job?
- Make sure you know where and when your job shadow will be taking place, and confirm with someone from the company a few days beforehand.
During Your Job Shadow:
Know how to get to the location and allow extra time to ensure you are not late.
Dress appropriately. Unless you will be getting dirty, dress similar to how you would for a job interview. Don’t wear t-shirts, shorts, or flip-flops.
Bring a notepad so you can take down notes and things you learn.
Keep your phone off during the job shadow and resist the urge to text or check your Facebook messages until you’re back home.
Be enthusiastic and participate in each activity suggested. You want to learn as much as possible from this experience.
Speak to as many people as you can and ask for their business cards if you're interested in talking with them more.
Shake hands and introduce yourself to every person you meet.
Remember to be respectful of people's time. While most people you meet will be happy to talk with you, remember that you are at someone's workplace and they need to work as well, so try not to take up too much of any one person's time.
After Your Job Shadow:
Send thank-you notes to the person or people you shadowed, and mention a few things you learned.
Write up a few sentences on your job shadow experience for your own personal use. Describe what you did, what you enjoyed, what you didn’t enjoy, and what you learned. This will be useful information to have in the future when you don’t remember the details of your job shadow as clearly.
Store contact information and business cards in a safe place so you can reference them if you need to contact the company again for more information, ask follow-up questions, or if you end up applying for a job there.
Key Facts About Job Shadowing
Job shadowing is a great way to observe specific jobs and help decide which careers you are most interested in.
Job shadows are a great opportunity for high school students because they can help you plan your future and decide what to major in at college.
During a job shadow, you will observe a typical workday at the company.
Your school can help you set up a job shadow, or you can contact companies you’re interested in directly.
Beforehand, research the company and career field you’ll be observing so you can ask relevant questions.
- During your job shadow, make the most of the experience by speaking to as many people and participating in as many activities as you can.
Thinking about getting a job in high school? Check out our guide to the 8 best jobs for teens and learn how to find yours!
Considering doing an internship? Learn how to get an internship as a high schooler, the benefits and drawbacks, and how to choose the best internship for you.
Community service is also a great way to get experience and learn about different jobs. Read our guide to learn what community service is and how it can benefit you.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.