Job Shadowing

This article will examine exactly what job shadowing is, why it works, and how to make the most out of it.


What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is a type of training where one employee follows another, more experienced colleague and observes how they work in their role.

Job shadowing is an excellent way to learn valuable skills and tricks from those with more experience.

It’s a highly effective form of training that allows the trainee the opportunity to ask questions and get real-time answers.

Normally this takes place before an employee starts work.

New staff members can gain a thorough understanding of the role they’re shadowing, an ideal way to see if they’re a good fit and if the role is something that they could excel at. By observing their colleagues they’ll be able to gauge what skills are needed to do the job well.

But shadowing shouldn’t be limited to just new jobs, this training can be applied to any type of job or role.

Benefits of job shadowing

It’s a quick snapshot into the business and the role.

If you’re thinking of adding job shadowing to your training routine here are some benefits you can expect:

  • A deeper understanding of the role
  • Opportunity to learn new skills and ways to work
  • Professional development
  • Networking between departments
  • Build rapport between your staff
  • Trainees will know what problems to expect
  • Trainees can learn solutions to potential problems
  • Trainees will know what hard and soft skills they need
  • A new perspective on how the business operates

By having your new hires shadow someone during their training you’ll have ample opportunity to check in with them.

With a fresh perspective on things, they can present new ideas to increase productivity.

When to use job shadowing

The most common use of job shadowing is during the induction process where new recruits can sit and learn from their new colleagues.

It’s a great bridge between the theory and practical elements of their training.

Job shadowing is also an accessible way to begin professional development within a company. It can help people identify what roles and departments they might want to move into.

The ideal opportunity to learn new ways of work and especially perspectives from a more experienced person without overwhelming them by mentoring programs or long training sessions.

Job shadowing can be incredibly useful for cross-training. To make sure your business is robust and can cover any absences, you may need to look at cross-training your people. Job shadowing allows employees from different roles to be flexible and expand their skillsets.

Finally, job shadowing can also prove extremely useful during interviews. A short 15-30 minute session can be built into your interviews to show potential hires what will be expected of them. It’s a great way to assess whether someone is right for the role, or if the role is right for them.

Tips and best practices for job shadowing

1. Choose the best shadow coach

You will need to match your trainee with an established employee who has a deep understanding of how the role works.

Make sure the person being shadowed is comfortable with it and is happy to talk with a trainee. Some people may not want to train someone else, whereas other people will thrive on it.

Instead of forcing people to do it, find out who would like to help train people and consider offering incentives. Explain your objectives, why you have specifically chosen them and what you are hoping to see.

To help with this, try answering these questions:

  • Who is the best person to learn from?
  • Should it be someone senior? Or it can be a less experienced person?
  • How long will it take? One meeting, an hour, a day, a week.
  • When it will happen?

It’s good to have a preparation call beforehand.

2. Prepare and plan the day

The goal is to get the best use of the shadowed person’s time, so think about the plan of the day and understand each element.

  • If there will be some meetings what will be there?
  • What is the topic, should the trainee participate?
  • If there are some specific tasks or work, what are the goals or objectives behind it?

Ask if there is any preparation coach need trainee to do, how can trainee make the most of this, and anything coach would prefer trainee not to do.

Plan how the trainee could practically help the coach during their training.

Tip: Encourage Social Connection.

Allow them the freedom to have a personal conversation that’s not entirely about work.

This could be as simple as asking the shadow coach to take the trainee to lunch so they can get more comfortable with one another.

3. During the job shadowing

Based on preparation consider the context of the day and prepare for challenges.

We are all humans and maybe the coach has had a difficult day. Help them overcome these challenges.

Encourage trainees to focus on the person they are observing, and to take as many notes as possible, as well as any questions they have.

They can then ask the person they are shadowing if there’s an appropriate time to. This will give them something to refer back to as they continue through their training.

Help the coach and trainee to manage their energy, if it is a long session – split it into segments, e.g. work time, question time, break time, and so on.

4. Consider confidentiality

Respect confidentiality, if the coach has some important sessions or work, agree that the trainee won’t participate or think about NDA.

This is especially important for managing or sales roles because they might have had confidential conversations during that day.

5. Consolidation is the point

The goal of this training is not in the shadowing itself, but what is learned during it.

Before training ends, make sure the trainee has asked all the questions they needed to.

Set a task for the trainee to write a summary of the time they spent, and what they’ve learnt within 48 hours.

Share it with the person they shadowed (make sure you inform trainee about this beforehand), this can help the trainee gain new information and pinpoint new insights.

At the same time, it can help the coach and HR see things from a different perspective as well as review the knowledge transfer.

6. Review the process and collect the feedback

The HR or team lead should host a meeting with the trainee to answer any questions they have and assess what was learnt.

At this point ask if they have any ideas on how to improve things or if they have any concerns. Additionally, you should meet with the coach to see how the trainee handled the training.

Questions to ask when job shadowing

To really make the most out of job shadowing encourage trainee to ask the coach lots of questions.

  1. What is the best thing about your job?
  2. What would you change about your job if you could?
  3. What advice would you give someone who is interested in this career?
  4. What kind of experience and qualifications are required for your job?
  5. Which training courses would you recommend for me regarding this role?
  6. Are there any written materials you suggest I read?
  7. Are there any professional organisations that I should consider joining?
  8. Based on my background, do you think I’m suited to this role? Or do you think there are other industries that I should consider?
  9. What personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this role?
  10. What changes do you see in your industry within the next 5-10 years?