Job shadowing in Junior and Senior High School – students can observe and ask questions

Job shadowing in Junior and Senior High School – students can observe and ask questions – includes information sources for counselors

Matthew Mariani

Lots of students have an interest in a certain career, but they still wonder: What would that career really be like? Renata Robinson and Mike Behrends answered this question for themselves.

Mike and Renata took part in job shadowing. Like thousands of other students each year, they went to a jobsite and spent a day watching, asking questions, and learning how classroom studies tie in with the real world of work.

Renata shadowed several workers at a Federal credit union. Mike shadowed the head nurse in a hospital emergency room. Their experiences suggest how you might use job shadowing to explore any one of hundreds of occupations. Sometimes, reading about possible careers isn’t enough. You have to see them with your own eyes.

Seeing for Yourself

Mike and Renata did job shadowing in their junior year of high school. But this activity is not limited to high school juniors. Students in grades 7 through 12 often take part as well. Normally, a counselor or school-to-work coordinator helps students arrange a job shadow with a local employer. Like most of the students who job shadow, Renata and Mike learned a lot about the careers that interest them.

A day in the ER. Mike Behrends, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School in Juneau, Alaska, won’t forget the day he shadowed in the emergency room at Bartlett Memorial Hospital. “This guy was brought into the emergency room in a wheel chair,” Mike recalls. “He’d been shot in the stomach with a nail gun.” The sight of blood gave Mike a rush of adrenaline. Despite his excitement, he noted that each member of the ER team played a different role, but they all worked together, quickly and efficiently, to treat the patient. “I was shaking,” Mike says. “It was weird, but it was cool because I saw what it was like.”

Earlier in the day, however, Mike learned that even an emergency room gets boring at times. “In the morning, it was really slow,” he says, “and they showed me how to use the computer that tells you all about medications.” Later, he watched the nurse insert an IV needle into a vein in a patient’s arm. The nurse explained calculations she had to make in order to administer intravenously a correct amount of medication. That surprised Mike. “I didn’t think they used math so much,” he says.

During a lull, Mike asked his host questions about the education and training she had completed to become a registered nurse. When someone came in with a smashed finger, Mike’s host sent him to radiology with the patient to see how x rays are done.

“I liked it,” Mike says of his entire job shadowing experience. “It was fun. And it really opened up my eyes.”

Credit for a career. Renata Robinson’s experience proved no less eye opening. While a student at Crescent High School in Iva, South Carolina, Renata shadowed a marketing director, an accountant, a collections officer, a loan officer, and a teller at the nearby Anderson Federal Credit Union.

“I met with everyone for an hour,” Renata says, “and I asked questions.” She learned about the job duties of each of her hosts and the education they had pursued to prepare for their careers. “It led me to believe that to get a good job,” she says, “you have to stay in school and work hard.”

Renata also discovered she liked the idea of working with customers in an office setting. “The people I shadowed had a very positive attitude with their clients and knew them by name,” she says. “It was really nice to have that kind of atmosphere.”

The amount of interaction between the various workers surprised Renata more than anything else. “It was amazing to me,” she says, “how everyone did a different occupation, but it all tied in together. All of it revolves around dealing with people and money and different situations.”

Getting with the Program

Job shadows like the ones Renata and Mike experienced require preparation. Some schools have formal programs to help students do job shadowing. But even if your school does not, your guidance counselor or school-to-work coordinator may still be able to help you. Formal job shadowing programs often include the following steps:

* Interest survey. Students fill out a survey to identify their career interests and the kind of job shadow they might want to do.

Sometimes, this step includes extensive career exploration. Renata, for example, used a computerized career information delivery system to learn about types of work she might like.

* Matching process. A coordinator matches each student with a volunteer who has agreed to serve as a job shadow host.

Local organizations, such as chambers of commerce or rotary clubs, help identify volunteer hosts in a variety of occupations. Coordinators try to match students with hosts working in certain careers, according to student interests. Perfect matches often aren’t possible. For example, Mike first asked to shadow an emergency medical technician, but this was impractical.

* Orientation activities. Students prepare questions for their host and learn how to conduct themselves properly in the workplace.

Students are coached on details like telephone manners, making eye contact, giving a proper handshake, and knowing when to ask questions. Some job shadowing experiences call for extra preparation. Before Mike shadowed in the emergency room, for instance, he completed an additional hospital orientation to learn about patient confidentiality and how to prevent the spread of disease causing germs.

* Student confirmation. After a coordinator schedules the job shadows, students call their host to introduce themselves and confirm the schedule.

It’s important to make a good first impression and seem interested in the host’s work. Students must also obtain permission from their parents to take part in the job shadow.

* The shadow. Students spend 3 to 6 hours on the job with a host worker in a certain occupation.

The students observe closely and ask questions. They inquire about training, the role of technology, and math and communication skills.

* Followup. Students write a letter thanking their host and think about what they have learned.

A job shadow host may prove helpful as a contact in the future, and a thank-you letter strengthens the relationship. Students may also have to fill out evaluations, write brief reports, or make oral presentations to underscore what they have learned. They may discuss their experience with a coordinator or counselor, as well.

After the Shadow

Renata’s and Mike’s experiences are just two examples. Students use job shadowing to explore all kinds of occupations. Some students decide they would love a career in the occupation they’ve shadowed; others discover they would hate a certain type of work. Either way, it’s a valuable lesson. And that’s not all. Shadowing any occupation often spurs a better understanding of what qualities you’re looking for in a career. This leads to smarter job shopping down the road.

Sometimes, shadowing introduces other activities, which help students explore further. Renata accepted an after-school internship offered her by the credit union where she had shadowed. Mike welcomed an invitation to return to the hospital to do volunteer work. In both cases, the extra experience proved useful.

The job shadows and the extra work experience helped both Mike and Renata confirm their career plans. Before her job shadow, Renata had an interest in accounting. Her experience strengthened her resolve to become an accountant. After graduating from high school, she plans to attend college and major in accounting, with a minor in business.

Mike started with a desire for a career as an emergency medical technician, or EMT. His job shadow confirmed that emergency medical care is the field for him. The experience also prompted him to consider the occupation of registered nurse as an option.

Right now, Mike is still leaning toward an EMT program. To get a headstart during his senior year, he will attend a basic EMT class at a local college, in addition to his high school classes.

Renata and Mike agree that pursuing a job shadow can put you on the path to the right career. They know there’s no better way to size up a job. As Mike says, “You have to experience it for yourself, because if you don’t, you won’t know if you’d like the work or not.”

RELATED ARTICLE: A Note for Counselors

For more information on job shadowing and other school-to-work activities, contact any of the organizations listed here,

National School-to-Work Learning & Information Center 400 Virginia Ave. SW; Room 150 Washington, DC 20024 1 (800) 251-7236 Web site:

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) Education and Work Program 101 SW Main St., Ste. 500 Portland, OR 97204 1 (800) 547-6339 Web site:

Jobs for the Future One Bowdoin Square 11th Floor Boston, MA 02114 (617) 742-5995 Web site: E-mail:

For how-to guides on structuring job shadows, see Job Shadow Guide For Staff and Job Shadow Guide For Students. These publications resulted from a joint effort of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and Jobs for the Future. Send orders to the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Cost is $19.95 for both guides.

Matthew Mariani is a contributing editor to the OOQ. (202) 606-5728.

COPYRIGHT 1998 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group