Career Transition? Job Shadow


Successful career transitions – Job Shadowing


Would you marry someone without dating them?  Would you buy a house without viewing it?  I’m guessing most of the time, you wouldn’t! There reason being you want the certainty of experience to make you feel more confident in your decision. This is a good analogy for the world of work.  How can you be expected to interview or do well in a job when you don’t really know what the job involves?  


Mini internships


The key to making the right decision is to test it first – think a ‘mini internship’.  The word often used to describe this is job shadowing.  Most employers don’t offer a job shadowing service, but I have found with the right approach, you can find your own.  When I started, I didn’t get many employers to agree, but as I learned and got more feedback, I’ve developed a number of tips which work and will dramatically increase the chances of you getting an employer to welcome you into their business. I’ve even managed to do this when the person shadowing is thinking of setting up exactly the same business (e.g shadowing a B&B owner, florist, photographer, coffee shop etc… ).  Most people don’t welcome competition so read on….


9 top tips:

  1. Approach people who are successfully doing the job you want to learn more about.  If you’re going to the trouble of learning, learn from the best.  Success is subjective, so take a holistic view: what reviews have they had? What awards they’ve won?  Have they been featured in the press? Have they been operating for at least three years?  Have they expanded?


  1. Don’t judge a business by their website alone.  Some of the most successful people have incredible reputations and can rely on word of mouth.  A flashy website is an indication of how much they care about their public image, and potentially how much time they have on their hands!


  1. Be prepared to travel. If the best person to shadow lives in Newcastle and you're based in London, make a short break out of the opportunity. Where and who you shadow should be based on their expertise and ability to help - not how convenient it is for you.  Let’s use the example of a major career change and you want to be a landscape gardener.  If you ask to learn from someone in your own town, chances are, if you love the work, you’ll end up in the same area.  Being potential competition is a barrier so eliminating it through travel is a good idea. 


  1. Be prepared to get rejected. We find for approximately every 5 people we approach asking them to offer job shadowing opportunities, one person agrees. Most don’t want to share and perceive having someone hanging around asking lots of questions as a hassle.  Many feel uncomfortable sharing insights into things like income, costs of running a business and so on.  Successful business owners don’t want to give up time freely.  For all these completely understandable reasons, it’s important not to take rejection personally and to keep trying – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


  1. Tell them you will sign a non-disclosure agreement.   By showing people you understand and are willing to sign a legal document indicating you won’t publicly blog / write about or share any sensitive information you may happen to learn, you’ll get over 90% of the hurdle you’ll face. Here is a link to a free document from Rocket Lawyer – you simply insert the names in the right fields.  It doesn’t take long (you will need their company number, but for all registered UK businesses these are publicly available at companies house).


  1. The term work experience confuses and puts people off.  Work experience creates headaches for businesses because they have to put your name on their insurance and give basic health and safety training.  Your legal status as a shadower is the same as a customer/client.  We find experts are pleasantly surprised by this and makes them more likely to help. 


  1. Offer something in return.  How can you 'earn' your time?  You could offer to pay them for their time, or offer up something else instead like a recommendation or sharing their details with people you know might be potential customers. 


  1. It goes without saying that if you spend time with anyone, thank them. Tell them 6, 12 months down the line how you are getting on. If someone has invested time with you, they will love hearing how they've helped.


  1. Remember you have the power.  The approach by most employers is often that they are the ones in the driving seat making the decisions.  The reality is, they only make the decision about who to offer the job to – you make the decision about everything else: if you apply or set up on your own.  Whether you turn up to work and engage 100% or turn up and do the bare minimum.  You are actually the one who has the power, but to give yourself that best chance of nailing an interview, it really helps if you can say you don’t just think it’s right for you – you ‘know’ it’s right because you’ve taken the time, trouble and effort to be sure.  Now if I was an employer – I’d find that pretty convincing. 


You won't 'find' your passion by reading, dreaming or thinking. You will find it when you invest time and energy in doing. It is the collective data you get from experiencing that gives you the insights you need.






About the Author

Lucy is a chartered psychologist and is the current Vice Chair of the UK Association for Business Psychology.  She is the Founder of ViewVo which is a platform which gives career changers chances to shadow our expert mentors at work. 

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