Job Shadow to Explore Careers

One way to investigate a potential career while you're still in college is to job shadow. Your school may have some organized job shadowing opportunities that can enable you to see if you'd like to work within a particular field. For example, job shadowing is common among medical and dental programs.

Check with your university career center to see if it has a list of practicing professionals who are available for shadowing. If your career center doesn't have a job shadowing program or list, you may need to make the connections yourself. In this case, if you meet someone who has a career you think you might like to pursue, ask whether you can shadow him or her for a day (or a morning or afternoon). Most people are honored to help, and if they say no, you can try other people.

When shadowing, don't interfere with the person's workday and schedule. Remain in the background, as an observer. You should, though, at some time get a chance to talk to that person about the job.

When you make a connection with someone who has a job of interest or who has put his or her degree to good use, be prepared to ask that person questions, through an informational interview, to help you on your career path. You can also set up these informational interviews as a way to gather information (and make contacts) with those in the field.

Make sure, when you're talking about careers, that you're not asking the person for a job. Instead, focus on asking questions about the job. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • What are the promotions or paths from that field? How did you get your start? What did you do next? What went well in your career so far? What would you do differently if you could do it over?

  • What do you like best about your job? What do you dislike?

  • What are your daily duties? Work hours? What is a typical day like?

  • What are people in this field like?

  • What skills do you need to succeed in this career?

  • What were the most positive career decisions you made?

  • What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

  • What books, journals, and Web sites are useful to prepare myself for a career in this field? What Web sites do you go to a lot for information about your field?

  • What other advice do you have for me to get started? What haven't I asked that I should have? Can you tell me someone else I might talk to?

After the interview, be sure to send a thank-you note, handwritten or typed (but not via e-mail, because this is too informal). Little courtesies like this go a long way in establishing a relationship with the people that you meet in your career exploration.