Raise your hand if you’ve ever completed a job shadowing experience…
While the concept of job shadowing has been around for a considerable amount of time, it’s become more common in recent years. A Google search provides more than 1,300,000 results. A quick search of our library’s catalog shows more than 150,000 books, magazines, and research articles that include job shadowing. We could probably argue that the philosophical roots of job shadowing go back to apprentice programs, dating back thousands of years!
But, we’re not here to talk about history. We’re here to talk about how job shadowing is useful for college students, and even future higher education professionals. Anecdotally, we’ve found it’s difficult for most college students to know how many potential career options exist for them. We sometimes play a game which challenges students to name as many professions as they can in a two-minute window. Many lists sound like this: doctor, lawyer, teacher… um… firefighter…. The lists typically include parents’ professions and a few related to whatever personal interest area the student has developed up to that point.
The same is true for those considering a career in higher education. Most higher ed students know some aspects of the organization based on their experiences as students. However, universities are complex places. It’s difficult for any one student to have deep knowledge of everything from leadership and engagement to career services and advising to commuting student services and residence life, and so forth.
So, how do we increase students’ knowledge of professional options?
How can we move them from the abstract world of written descriptions into the lived experiences of professionals in the fields they’re considering? There are many ways, but job shadowing can be one effective intervention. A well-designed job shadowing experience
– builds exposure
– gives insight into both positional priorities and office dynamics
– expands students’ networks,
– gives students practical, first-hand information on which they can base their decisions
Shadowing experiences can involve many different forms and levels of interactions – short-term to rotational to long-term, formal and informal. We’d like to talk about a few of those structures and the positives associated with each.
Although not always considered in the realm of job shadowing, one structure is informational interviewing. It is a practice well-known by career services professionals, and perhaps less so by students and employers. In informational interviewing, the roles are flipped so that the student is gaining knowledge from the professional on their qualifications, field, and advice. When the interview morphs from a conversation into an experience, and the professional in this scenario is showing the student, in real-time, how their knowledge and skills are applied in the field. Thus, the shadowing experience begins. For future higher education professionals, informational interviews can both provide excellent insight into various functions in the field, as well as building a professional network
Shadowing can take place pretty much anywhere, at any time, in many different ways. Informal shadowing experiences often are one-off in nature. The student connects with a professional host and experience a “day-in-the-life” of the workplace. Then they leave (and hopefully follow up!). This by no means suggests that these experiences are not robust in their content. To the contrary, that one experience can create a spark that puts the student on an entirely new trajectory. While initially a one-time connection, informal experiences are more likely to become multiple experiences; a Hofstra student turned his one-day shadowing experience into a summer-long volunteer opportunity!
Where there is high interest on the employer side, it may make sense to approach the offering of these experiences as a formal program. Many companies offer shadowing programs as part of a day of experiential learning. In this case, students spend one day visiting different departments. While a short-term experience, the students are Hofstra partners with our local chapter of the Risk Management Association to offer a rotational shadowing program. On Friday afternoons during the semester, students observe how different banks operate in various divisions of the commercial banking industry. This programmatic, long-term approach to shadowing brings even more exposure for the student than a one-day experience and a more stable routine for the employers. But, it does require considerably more effort in planning and coordination than informal offerings.
Emerging higher education professionals often have insight into particular aspects of the field. (For example, Residence Life if one served as a resident assistant or orientation as an orientation leader). So, shadowing programs, whether formal or informal, can extend knowledge of a given area and bust myths about what it is like to work in areas in which knowledge gaps exist.
So, which shadowing approach is best?
We could write five blog posts and still likely not arrive at the answer! You may find that one approach works for a while—and then needs a change. We just experienced that here at Hofstra. Our previous shadowing program model (taking place one day during Spring Break) was not feasible for all students. So we this year launched a new model where we offer shadowing as a service. The students are empowered to coordinate their own experiences—with our support, of course! It is absolutely a process to pinpoint which strategy is best for your students. But it cannot be denied how imperative it is for us to provide more quality, immersive experiences for our students to grow professionally.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at email@example.com.
This post was written by Amy Smith (see bio section) and Gary Alan Miller.
Gary Alan Miller will begin as Director of University Career Services at UNC-Chapel Hill onMarch 27, 2017. Gary has provided keynote, preconference, plenary and breakout sessions at NACE, SoACE, EACE, NCACE, SCACE, GACE, NASPA, MNYCCPOA, and MCEEA. In October 2009 he gave one of the earliest career services association keynotes on the use of social media incareer development for NCCDA. Gary was a finalist for the 2013 NACE Innovation Excellence Award in Research for a study completed with his former-UNC colleague Katherine Nobles oncareer center innovation. In 2015, he and Katherine published an eBook titled Collaboration inCareer Services. Connect with him on Twitter @garyalanmiller
> BONUS <
Podcast with Mandi Stewart & Kevin O’Connell on Strengths in the Job Search