Flickr user Paul Kelly

If you’re not quite certain about a professional field, job shadowing is a great option to consider. It’s also a good way for employers to train new employees so that they aren’t being thrown into the deep end, as it were. This is generally a useful time to ask questions about the field and get advice if you’re still going through school. Here’s a short list of pros and cons about job shadowing.

Pro: The People You Shadow Can Write Letters of Recommendation

It says a lot if a professional in your field believes you have what it takes to do well. That’s why it’s always important to take notes, ask questions, and facilitate a discussion with whomever you shadowed. This will reflect well with the person you’re shadowing, especially if you’ve asked them to write a recommendation letter. It might be best to make this request early on so that way your person can think about what they might write.

Con: It’s Not Job Experience

For some employers (or graduate programs if that’s the reason you’re job shadowing), the effort you go through to obtain a job shadow might be enough. However, since it seems like just about every “entry-level” position requires 5+ years of work experience, don’t be surprised if a job shadow on your resume doesn’t cut it.

Pro: It’s Less Time-Intensive Than an Internship

Say your family is one that plans crazy adventures every summer, or you can’t afford to take an unpaid internship, or some other life occurrence interferes with getting work/internship experience: Look into a job shadow. It’ll at least get your foot in the door. It will also show your dedication that you managed to work time into your schedule so you could follow someone as they perform their job.

Con: You Never Know What Kind of Day It Will Be

In every field, there are days when things move so slowly that the workday feels dull. On the other hand, there are days when even experienced professionals might feel overwhelmed. There are also those days in the middle, where there’s just enough activity to keep someone occupied. The point is, you never quite know what type of day you’ll get when you shadow someone at their job, and you might not have enough time to get the full range of those different kinds of workdays.

Pro: You’ll Get a Feel for the Environment

Are the employees respectful to one another? Does it seem like everyone is relaxed and happy, or do they appear harried and overworked? Watch for clues like these when you shadow someone. It’s important to gauge multiple employee’s feelings, since the person you are shadowing might be having a bad day (or a really great day, who knows?). Pay attention to how the atmosphere between employees, employers, and consumers makes you feel.

Con: There Might Not Be Enough Time for Immediate Q&As

This is where writing notes will come in handy, but even that can only take you so far. Sometimes there can be a flurry of activity that a veteran of the field handles with ease while the uninitiated might feel as though they’re floundering. In these situations, ask questions when you can, but realize that you might not be able to keep up with the rapid-fire responses someone used to the position gives.

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