Virtual Job Shadowing (Step-By-Guide)

By Mike Simpson

Virtual job shadowing is a fairly new creation, at least when it comes to the mainstream. Ultimately, the pandemic has changed a lot about how people work and live, including how we learn about career options and further ourselves professionally.

With virtual job shadow opportunities, you can experience a day in the life of another professional. Along with potentially acquiring new skills, it’s an excellent method for figuring out if a particular role or career might be right for you.

But what is job shadowing? How does a virtual job shadow work? Can it help further your career or boost your job search?

So, if you’re wondering about the virtual job shadow experience, including how it can benefit your job search and upcoming interviews, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Job Shadowing?

Before we dig into virtual job shadowing, let’s take a step back and answer an important question: what is job shadowing?

Well, as for the job shadowing definition, job shadowing is an organic, somewhat informal learning opportunity. One person gets to find out more about the nuances of a professional’s role by watching that professional perform in it. The shadower acts as an observer, following the professional as that person goes about their typical workday.

Technically, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is about having kids shadow an adult. After all, the children sit right along with their parent and learn about their job. If that’s not job shadowing, what is?

In many cases, during a job shadowing experience, the observer can ask questions to learn more about the position they are exploring. At times, they may even be able to participate a bit, either by tackling a task under the guidance of the professional or assisting with an activity.

The reason that job shadowing is somewhat informal involves the limited amount of structure. While you might actively plan to participate in a job shadowing program, what happens during the professional you’re observing’s day isn’t entirely predictable. Anything within their realm of responsibility is fair game, so there’s no telling what part of their position you’ll end up experiencing.

In some cases, the randomness is offset by arranging for a multi-day job shadowing experience. That way, if one day is a bit outside of the norm, the rest will balance things out a bit.

So, how is job shadowing relevant to a job search? Well, it depends on the purpose of the experience.

At times, job shadowing is a training tool. Companies use it to boost the capabilities of their workforce, allowing people to acquire skills by accompanying another employee who is in a slightly different niche during their day. It’s a common approach for creating coverage for critical tasks or letting a worker explore career options within the organization.

With that, your job shadow experience is actually a resume booster. You’ll add new skills to your list of capabilities, allowing you to provide more value to an employer. However, that’s not the only way job shadowing can be used.

In the immortal words of Henry James, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.” But what if you aren’t sure that the career you have in mind is actually what you want? What then?

If you have questions about your career direction and want to check out different paths before committing, job shadowing can let you do that. Then, you’ll know which opportunities are genuinely right for you.

But does job shadowing help with your interviews? Can it actually increase your odds of landing an exciting opportunity? Yes, it does, and yes, it can.

Not only will you be able to say with confidence that a role you’re pursuing is right for you, but you’ll also have a valuable story to tell about how you acquired that knowledge or skill. Since enthusiasm can be critical for standing out from other candidates and compelling stories makes you a more engaging interviewee, that works in your favor.

Are there any drawbacks to participating in job shadowing? Yes, a few.

One, job shadowing isn’t the same as actual job experience. While it can expose you to new skills, it doesn’t have the same clout as actually working in a role involving that skill.

Two, as mentioned above, you never know exactly what will occur while you’re shadowing someone. The day could be fast-paced or slow. It might involve typical tasks, or there might be an emergency. You just can’t know that something unexpected won’t derail your experience.

Finally, there might not be time to ask each and every question you may have along the way. After all, the person you’re shadowing has to do their job above all else, so they might not be able to pause every time you want to know a little more.

Does that mean you shouldn’t seize a job shadowing opportunity? Hardly. But it is important to keep your expectations in check and understand that not everything will likely go to plan.

What Is a Virtual Job Shadow?

Alright, now that you have a pretty solid answer to the “what is job shadowing” question, it’s time to take a look at virtual job shadowing specifically.

Now, virtual job shadowing can take more than one form. The first approach looks a lot like a traditional job shadow; it’s just managed online instead.

You might connect with another professional using video conferencing and screen-sharing technologies. That way, you can observe them throughout the day even though you aren’t in the same room.

In many cases, this type of virtual job shadow also comes with an opportunity for a little question and answer session, allowing you to dig into details you’re interested in learning.

With the second approach, it’s all about video. Instead of shadowing a professional live, you watch pre-recorded videos that showcase their duties, responsibilities, and typical day in the workplace.

Sure, the video option isn’t necessarily ideal, as you can’t engage with the person you’re observing at all. However, it can still provide you with value, particularly if your main goal is to learn about career opportunities so that you can figure out if they are right for you.

So, why do you need to worry about virtual job shadowing? Can’t you just go with a traditional job shadow, instead? Well, maybe, maybe not.

COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders made going digital a necessity for many companies. Nearly every process that could be done online shifted to digital platforms, mainly in the name of safety. As a result, the virtual job shadow experience became increasingly commonplace.

Some companies or professionals may not be comfortable with in-person visits, and that could be the case until the pandemic calms. When that will happen exactly is still up in the air.

Plus, many professionals are entirely remote. Chances are, they aren’t going to invite you into their homes to watch them at work. In that case, it’s virtual or bust.

So, virtual job shadowing is likely here to stay, and that’s actually a good thing. You may be able to learn about positions that aren’t present in your local area by going the online route. Plus, you can still acquire skills and broaden your network, both of which may help your future job searches.

Preparing for a virtual job shadow is also pretty simple. Like getting ready for a video interview, you’ll want to spend some time preparing your tech. After all, you don’t want poor video or audio to prevent you from making the most of the experience.

MIKE'S TIP: When it comes to prepping tech, find out what technologies the company you’re job shadowing with uses in advance. That way, you can handle downloads, create accounts, or handle other necessary steps before meeting day. Then, give every bit of it a test run. If you encounter any trouble, you’ll have time for troubleshooting, all without impacting your actual virtual job shadow experience.

Coordinating the job shadow schedule, familiarizing yourself a bit with the person and the role, and preparing a few questions in advance is also wise. And if you’re going to be seen on camera, pick an appropriate outfit. When in doubt, go with high-quality interview attire.

Also, make sure you have a way to take notes. That way, you can record details about your experience, jot down questions as they come to mind, and more.

Top Tips for Effective Job Shadowing

If you want to make sure your next virtual job shadow is a resounding success, here are some tips that can help you have an exceptional experience.

1. Research the Company, Industry, and Position in Advance

If you’re job shadowing with someone outside of your current employer, spend a little time learning as much as you can about the company, its industry, and the position. Familiarize yourself with key terminology in the industry, as well as the company’s products, services, mission, and goals.

Additionally, if you have a chance, learn more about the professional you’re shadowing. Review their LinkedIn profile, if it’s public, or conduct a brief informational interview via email to familiarize yourself with their career and accomplishments.

2. Prepare a Quick Introduction to Share with the Person You’re Shadowing

When you begin the job shadowing experience, it’s a good idea to have a quick introduction ready to share if you don’t know the person you’re shadowing well. Provide them with a quick overview of your experience, skills, and education.

After that, give them an idea of why you’re participating in the virtual job shadow, including what you hope to gain from the experience. That way, you can showcase your enthusiasm and also clue them in about your goals.

3. Prepare a List of Questions in Advance

While you can certainly ask any questions that come to mind during the virtual job shadow experience, it’s also smart to have a list of any questions that you think of in advance. Not only does this decrease the odds that you’ll forget to ask something important, but it also gives you a handy place to jot down the professional’s answers.

4. Be Ready Early

Whether you’re doing an in-person or virtual job shadow, be ready to go 10 to 15 minutes before the official start time. This includes not only being present but also have any technology or other tools you plan on using available and operational.

In the end, allowing you to job shadow is someone doing you a favor. If you’re late, you’re disrespectful of their time; it’s that simple.

So, either be at your desk at home with your computer running and the required software launched or at the workplace with your laptop, notepad, or tablet at the ready. That way, you’re ensuring you aren’t the cause of any delays.

5. Send Out a Thank You Email

While you likely know that sending out a thank you email after your interviews is a must, you might not realize that it’s also a smart move after you finish a job shadowing experience. Think about it this way; a professional is taking time out of their (likely busy) schedule to show you what they do. That’s a big deal, and it deserves your appreciation.

Usually, you can use a similar approach as you’d use post-interview. Express your gratitude, reference something specific you learned, request to stay in touch, and say thank you again. This allows you to end the experience on a positive note, increasing the odds that the person you were shadowing is left with good feelings about it, too.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, virtual job shadowing is a great option for acquiring new skills, learning about career options, and more. Make sure to use the information and tips above to your advantage.

After all, you may only get one chance to shadow a particular person, so make the most of that experience. Be prepared, be curious, and be attentive. That way, you can get as much value from the experience as possible.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.