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The Job Shadow Knows: Try on a Career Before You Commit

The Job Shadow Knows: Try on a Career Before You Commit

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Dreaming of pursuing a new career? Take a step closer to making it a reality through job shadowing.

"Job shadowing is a great way to get a sense of what it's truly like working at a specific job," says certified career coach Hallie Crawford. "There's no way to be 100 percent sure you're going to fit into a position until you've actually tried it -- and shadowing or volunteering is as close as you can get."

Job shadowing involves following, or shadowing, a professional throughout a workday (or work week) to get a close look at what a particular job involves. It's an ideal way to determine if you might really be cut out for a career -- or not. You may have always wanted to work as a chef only to spend a workday with one and learn that you don't enjoying being on your feet all day. Conversely, you may find that you enjoy the excitement and interaction that you witness while shadowing a seasoned sales professional.

It's a Good Time

While students and recent graduates have long embraced job shadowing, Crawford, author of Flying Solo: Career Transition Tips for Singles, says everyone should consider job shadowing, especially in this economy. "You have to be more assertive than ever with your career, and asking for the opportunity to shadow someone is a way to not only learn what that job is like, but to expand your network as well," she says.

Crawford, who is based in Atlanta, notes that certain industries lend themselves well to job shadowing, including medicine and law. However, you can usually plan a job shadow for any kind of job. Your college's career center, alumni association or your local chamber of commerce can all be instrumental in helping to arrange a job shadow if your immediate network doesn't yield any possibilities.

What You Should Do

Before you show up for your shadowing assignment, do a little homework to make the most of it. Research the company, its competitors, the industry and the position of the person you're tailing so you have a context for your new experiences. Come prepared to merely observe, but be ready to roll up your sleeves and work as well.

Ask to spend the last few minutes of your day reviewing your experiences with the person you're shadowing and getting answers to questions you may have. Solicit feedback as well.

Be sure to thank your job-shadow host, either over email or with a handwritten note. Make every effort to maintain your new contact as an active member of your network. You may even ask her to help you pursue additional job-shadowing opportunities within the industry so you have the broadest picture possible of the profession.

While job shadowing is essential when planning a career switch, it probably won't answer every question or banish any doubt you may have. "You have to do the work required to determine if a job is the right fit, but after that, you have to go with your gut and decide whether to dive in," Crawford says.

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