Work Shadowing

Work shadowing is all about observing someone in their day-to-day role. By watching, instead of doing, you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of the workplace and a real sense of whether the job is right for you.

Usually lasting only a couple of days, the purpose of shadowing is to achieve an insight rather than hands-on experience.

Students and graduates often use work shadowing opportunities to get a taste of a job that they might be considering. It also allows you to experience how the same job can be different depending on its setting.

Who can I shadow?

When looking for opportunities, it’s important to choose roles that are of interest to you, as the time spent shadowing is short. You also need to be aware of how time-consuming the process can be for the person being shadowed, so preparation and a genuine interest in the area is vital.

Some jobs are not suitable for shadowing due to the nature of the work and issues around health, confidentiality and safety.  In these cases, it’s still worthwhile contacting the company involved to see if you can speak to someone in the job away from their workplace. 

How do I apply for work shadowing opportunities?

Securing a position requires hard work and effort. Opportunities are very rarely advertised publicly, so it’s up to you to formally approach the individuals or organisations that you’re interested in working for. Send them your CV along with a cover letter explaining why you would like to shadow them and how you feel this could benefit you.

Networking is extremely useful in these situations. Use any contacts made through internships, work placements or paid work to help secure your desired role.

Your university careers service or department may also be able to recommend individuals or organisations that are open to approaches for work shadowing.

Periods of work shadowing can be arranged at any time, but the more notice you give to an individual or company the more likely they are to agree to your request.

What to expect?

You can expect the person you’re shadowing to show you what they do and explain why things are done in a certain way. You may be able to sit in on some meetings and there may be time set aside for you to ask questions or speak to other departments.

Make sure you know where you need to be, who you’re reporting to and what you should wear. Making a good impression at this stage could lead to a more formal placement or at the very least a contact for you to call in the future.

How will it help my career?

The main outcome of work shadowing is an increased knowledge of an area of work or role that you might be considering in the future. It will help you gain an understanding of the workplace and build your network of contacts, which can be valuable when you come to apply for roles. Most of all, work shadowing brings a job to life and can help you decide whether it is really for you.

Josh’s Work Shadowing Experience

Josh from Careers UK has work shadowed, so here is his experience and advice he has offered to share:

How did you find your work shadowing opportunity?

“I was informed of the firm Careers UK via an associate of mine. I initially wanted to do a placement at Careers UK, but instead I work shadowed which turned out to be a great experience for me.”

What goals did you set for yourself during the shadowing?

“During work shadowing, I set myself goals because I wanted it to be a learning experience for me. The goals I set myself included:

  • Transferring all the skills I learnt at university into the workplace
  • Adapting employability skills
  • Collaborating effectively in a team
  • Learn further skills from the individual I was shadowing.”

What did you learn from the experience?

“I learnt what it is like in the workplace and the skills and qualities needed to thrive in each profession. I learnt how to put theory into practice and I developed employability skills.”

What advice would you have for other students who are considering work shadowing?

“My advice for students out there considering work shadowing is, firstly make sure you are willing to learn and motivated to do your best. Make sure the work shadowing is relevant to your course and choose the industry that is right for you. Stay in contact with the individual you work shadow as they could be useful for future job opportunities and references.”

Josh is now a Design Manager at Careers UK.