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Job Shadowing: Cast Light on a New Career

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Don't think it's "shifty": Job shadowing is a simple and perfectly legitimate way to learn more about a career.

Ideal for students, recent graduates, new job seekers and career-changers, job shadowing is a career discovery process. As a "shadow," you spend time on the job with someone in a career that interests you. You can ask questions of your "subject," or host, participate in workplace tasks and tour the company.

Because of its brief commitment, job shadowing is an easy, low-risk way to get an insider's look into a new career. It's also a chance to make valuable contacts. And it may just lead to a job offer.

Shadows Wanted

If you're a student or recent graduate, you're in luck.

Many colleges and universities offer formal job shadowing programs. They may designate a specific day or week for the program or set up shadowing opportunities on request throughout the year.

Alumni associations, professional groups and even industry organizations sometimes have formal job shadowing programs too. And networking groups, employment centers and unions often help job seekers find a host to shadow as well.

If you can't find a formal job shadowing program, contact one of the above groups and see if they can help you arrange an opportunity. Based on how much time your potential host has available -- and how willing she is to participate -- you can ask to shadow her for a few hours, a day or even a week.

Oh, Behave!

As a shadow, you aren't technically an interviewee -- but you should act like one.

Use these tips to make a strong first, and lasting, impression:

* Wear professional attire. Dress as though you are on a job interview.

* Follow proper business etiquette. Behave professionally, be polite, shake hands when meeting new people and be punctual.

* Be enthusiastic and helpful. Offer your assistance and take initiative when appropriate.

* Be respectful of your host's time. Don't distract or interrupt her or her coworkers. Instead, ask her to set aside time to answer your questions when it's convenient.

The Shadow Knows

To make the most of a job shadowing opportunity, you need to be informed.

Do your due diligence on the company, industry and position before you visit. Review the company Web site and learn about their products and services. Research the industry and position too.

Based on your research, prepare a list of questions to ask your host. You may even be able to arrange meetings with others in the organization. (Be sure to ask your host if she's comfortable with you approaching her colleagues first.)

Last, bring multiple copies of your resume as well as business cards if you have them. Hand out resumes on request and leave a copy with your host when you leave.

Reconnect With Your Subject

Your relationship with your host doesn't have to end just because your job shadowing opportunity does.

Before you leave, ask your host if you can contact her in the future. If she's been willing to host you, chances are she may also be willing to mentor you. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also ask her to review your resume and share feedback and suggestions for improvement.

If you connected with others during your experience, also ask them if you can phone or email them in the future.

Within a few days, send your host (and anyone else who was generous with their time) a professional, hand-written, thank-you note.
As a shadow, you were in the background. But well-planned follow-up can help bring you to the foreground -- as a new employee.
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