Gain an in-depth understanding of the workplace, build up a network of contacts and discover if a job is right for you by observing someone in their day-to-day role

What is work shadowing?

Work shadowing involves observing a professional in their job to gain a better understanding of the role. 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 for a particular job that they might be considering. It also allows you to experience how the same job can be different depending on its setting. For example, a nurse who works in an accident and emergency department in a hospital will have a very different role from one who works in a small community practice.

These kinds of opportunities can be useful in preparing for future applications or interviews.

How long does work shadowing last?

Work shadowing normally takes place over a few days, but can sometimes extend into a couple of weeks and is almost always unpaid. It is not usually assessed or accredited as part of a course, but it can be used as part of a professional development portfolio (PDP) and to aid career development.

Who can I shadow?

When looking for work shadowing opportunities, it is important to only choose occupations that are of interest to you, as the time spent shadowing is so 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 are vital. Research job sectors and job roles.

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 is still worthwhile contacting the company involved to see if you can speak to someone in the job role away from their workplace.

How do I approach work shadowing opportunities?

Securing a position requires hard work and effort. Opportunities are very rarely advertised publicly, so it is up to you to formally approach the individuals or organisations that you are interested in working for. Send them your CV along with a covering 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 which are open to approaches for work shadowing.

Periods of work shadowing can be arranged at any time but bear in mind that the more notice you give to an individual or company the more likely they will be to agree to your request.

How will it help my career?

The main outcome of work shadowing is an increased knowledge of an area of work or job role that you might be considering in the future. It will help you gain an understanding of the workplace and help you to build your network of contacts, which can be invaluable 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.

If you've tried work shadowing and would like to gain more in-depth work experience, search graduate jobs for internships, graduate schemes and full-time vacancies.