There’s an old line from the days of radio: “Only the shadow knows.” And in today’s competitive job market, it may be true — job shadows know a little more.
The reference is to those who “job shadow” for a day or more at a company.
The practice can certainly be a good one, according to Mike Gaul, career services director for the college of agriculture at Iowa State University. When used properly, it can give students the opportunity to learn about a company or a specific career.
It can also give the company a connection with some of the top students who may someday make good employees, Gaul said.
The idea is to follow an employee around, or shadow them, in their job for a day.
It worked for Kathleen Harsh, a senior scientist at Newly Weds Foods in Chicago.
Harsh was a junior at the University of Illinois when she got the chance to participate in one of the first job shadow programs offered by Newly Weds Foods about nine years ago. A food science major at the time, she followed a chef in a test kitchen for a day.
“I breaded shrimp,” she says. “That was something I had not known how to do at the time. … I did get some of the experience of being a chef in a food company.”
Harsh ended up working for another company in the food industry after graduation, but she eventually found her way back to Newly Weds Foods. The fact that she already knew something about the company and had been in the test kitchen was a factor in that decision.
Newly Weds Foods has made job shadowing a regular part of its recruitment program, according to Deb Polcyn, director of research and development for the company. It has worked with a number of students at Iowa State University and the University of Illinois in that effort.
“We actually started it 10 or 11 years ago,” Polcyn says.
Today the company generally targets freshmen and sophomores in college for the program, and participation then can lead to internships as the students get closer to graduation. The internships can lead to full-time jobs.
The job shadow starts the process a bit earlier, giving students a chance early in their college careers to get a better idea if they are really interested in a job field or if they may want to consider other options.
Other companies use job shadowing as well, Gaul says. And job shadowing as a less structured activity takes place in many professions as high school and college students make their own arrangements with individuals or companies.
The idea of letting a young person learn about what a day in the life looks like for a specific job or profession can be valuable.