For hands-on career exploration, spend a day on-the-job with someone who is working in the field you'd like to know more about.

Share story

At 60, Silvana Clark found herself weighing her career options, including opening a doggie day-care business. She’d been working as a brand spokesperson for several years, but putting down roots in the Seattle area meant settling down a bit.

So Clark asked a day-care owner if she could job shadow — observe real-world work in an unpaid capacity.

“After an hour, I realized I’d never work there,” Clark says. The owners were enjoyable people, but the barking? Well, it’s loud. “OSHA actually requires [workers to] wear earplugs when going into the main area because of the noise level,” she says.

Clark set up the job shadow — and five more — looking for an “encore career.” Others shadow to experience a new occupation or figure out whether they’re suited for a particular career culture.

Puget Sound-based Career Advisors coach Terry Pile once helped a man in his late 20s who was considering a law-enforcement career. As a result of a job-shadow request that Pile coordinated, the man rode along in a police cruiser for part of the day.

Some fields are more amenable to taking on a job-shadow candidate, says Mark Oppenlander, who works at Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Applied Learning to coordinate job shadows for students.

“Most commonly, there’s a hands-on component to see or do,” says Oppenlander, who cites health-care occupations as prime positions to observe, especially since pre-med students are expected to job shadow.

Other great hands-on job-shadow opportunities include graphic design, event planning, science research in the lab, and environmental testing. Some educational professions might offer shadow opportunities, Pile says, such as sitting in on a classroom during the school day.

Other industries aren’t as excited about having someone hanging around, primarily out of necessity or culture. For example, government agencies must cope with security concerns, and some health-care organizations deal with privacy restrictions, Oppenlander says.

Want to job-shadow a video-game designer? In the high-tech field, proprietary information is everywhere. “With cutting-edge technology, [companies] may say, ‘Sorry, but everything we work with falls under our confidentiality agreement,’ ” Oppenlander says.

If that happens, offer to sign a nondisclosure agreement or whatever waiver might be requested, or perhaps undergo a background check for accompanying a worker in the schools.

Some careers don’t lend themselves to easy observation. When Clark contacted a large, Seattle-based cruise line to job shadow, she discovered that she’d be watching someone else type at a computer.

However, Clark enjoyed shadowing a Seattle casting agent, who she says “was so polite, giving each person her full attention. She had this skill of making [people] feel welcome, even though she knew they wouldn’t have a chance. I thought that would be interesting.”

Adults looking to arrange job-shadow prospects may want to mimic the way Oppenlander approaches businesses. “We mobilize our network, make phone calls,” he says. “LinkedIn is an essential tool, particularly the alumni search.”