Four Ways to Make Job Shadow Day Work

Four Ways to Make Job Shadow Day Work

With National Job Shadow Day coming up, you may have been asked to have a student shadow you so he can learn more about your career, company and industry. If you're wondering how to be a proper host, check out these four tactics that will help you turn those few hours into a rewarding work experience for both of you.

Be Prepared

"Have a plan -- hour by hour," advises Jon Tirpak, engineering director for nonprofit consulting organization ATI and a frequent job shadow host.

A solid plan will save not only your sanity but also that of the student you're hosting. "The most widely expressed complaint we have heard from students in our externship program is that the host was not prepared for their arrival, and the students spent the day sitting in the host's office watching them work but not getting involved," says Julie Richardson, externship program coordinator for the Office of Career Services at Virginia Tech. "This can be avoided with a little preparation before the big day."

If possible, you might even want to ask the student to email you questions he'd like answered ahead of time. That way, you'll be prepared for what the student wants you to cover, says Richardson.

Think Conversation, Not Presentation

You'll have a much more satisfying experience, as will your student, if you can have a conversation instead of just giving a presentation. You'll get the chance to teach the student about careers -- and learn something yourself about a different generation.

"Students may become introverted in a new and different environment," says Ed Grocholski, a spokesman for the Job Shadow Coalition, the group behind National Job Shadow Day. "So as a [host], it's good if you can engage the student early by asking a lot of questions of them. Discussing their interests in depth, their plans for education and what careers they may be interested in can help open them up. Once a dialogue is going, then you can begin discussing your career and why you chose the line of work you're in."

Share Your Shadow with Colleagues

From a practical standpoint, sharing your student shadow with your coworkers lets you also share the responsibility for hosting him. But more importantly, the student will get a broader look at the organization, as well as its people and job functions.

If applicable, you can even arrange for the student to meet briefly with your company's college interns to gain a fellow student's perspective, says Richardson.

Give the Student Information to Take Home

Prepare an information packet for your student, including:

  • Data about your company, job and the broader field.

  • Literature on professional organizations associated with your industry.

  • A list of relevant books or Web sites.

As you compile this information, don't be surprised if you find information useful to your own career. Perhaps you'll discover an industry Web site that will help you with a key project. Or maybe the trade association you finally joined last year has a local chapter.

Your business card is another helpful addition to this information packet, says Richardson. The student may want to contact you again, even just to thank you for hosting him.

"Not everyone is willing to take time out of their hectic work schedule to help a student pursue his career aspirations," Richardson says. "You're helping someone determine which route his future will take. Even if he decides not to follow this current career course, you will have still helped him in making an important life decision."