The Shadowing Technique

Even if you are not able to gain specific, referencable experience in your field, you can still access information to help you make decisions about post-graduation job planning and gain some valuable network contacts in the process. The most efficient way to do so is by the Shadowing Technique. Locate a person in your chosen field or occupation (friends, relatives, or friends of friends are best, or anyone within your personal network; or work with the Career Center or Alumni Office for additional connections) who can then connect you with someone at their company who works in your area of interest. This person will serve as your company sponsor. Please note that your sponsor does not have to be a Hiring Manager—in fact, it is usually better to work with someone at or just above the job level you are seeking. When you have found a sponsor, ask that person to designate a day or half day that would be a good example of work in that field. It's important to communicate that it will require no extra time from the sponsor—just the opportunity for you to "shadow" them while they are working. Then show up at the company dressed as you would if you were in the position. Bring a writing portfolio with you and take plenty of notes. If your sponsor is open to talking about the work they are doing, feel free to ask questions. If you are spending a full day, treat your sponsor to lunch—ideally in the company cafeteria, where you can get even more "touch and feel" information on the company and its people. Lunch is also an excellent time to ask the questions you have been noting throughout the morning. When the day is over, make sure you send a very personal "thank you" note to your sponsor.

By using the Shadowing Technique, you will be able to gain information firsthand from someone who is actively working in the field. By seeing the inside of the company you will get a true feel for what it is like to work there. You will learn more about the job, the company, the industry, and also will develop new network contacts.

The Shadowing Technique is greatly preferred over the acclaimed informational interviewing technique (which I usually do not recommend, unless early in your college career, for reasons that follow). Shadowing gives you a hands-on feel for the position and company, but it also requires little additional time on the part of the sponsor. The sponsor does not feel used because his or her business day is not interrupted artificially.

P.S. "Take Your Daughter/Son to Work Day" is based upon this same type of shadowing. You may have done some shadowing already in your earlier years. Unfortunately, most parents take their children to work for this day only through grade school and stop at the time when it would be the most meaningful. Now it is time to extend this technique to your chosen career. If there is a day with no scheduled classes, use it productively to shadow someone in your field.