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Job Shadows are an Important Experience For Teens

Updated on May 10, 2018
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.


A job shadow experience is a very important step for teens. Job shadows help to have experiences in certain career fields to try careers out for a day and see if it's the right fit before investing money into four years of college to end up with a degree in a field that is disagreeable.

You may be wondering what a job shadow is exactly? The most common definition is a one-day "shadow" of a professional that is in a career a teen is thinking about choosing. Typically job shadows do not include any hands-on experience, but just observing the professional as they go about their daily work. Often job shadows can be arranged by the teen's guidance counselor, or by approaching the Career Center Director at a high school. Job shadows work out best if the teen already knows someone they would like to shadow. If not, the Career Center Director has community connections so should be able to find a suitable professional to connect a student to. Often students can get an excused absence from school, with parent's permission, to complete a one-day job shadow experience.

A true life experience will be demonstrated by an experience of a colleague of mine. In high school, my friend Jane ( not her real name) had thought she wanted to be a dental hygienist. In the second semester of her senior year in high school, she approached the Career Center Director at her school and asked to have a job shadow at a dentist's office. The assigned day arrived, and she observed the hygienist placing her fingers in the mouths of patients all day long, cleaning their teeth and sometimes causing them pain unintentionally as she worked. My friend left that experience knowing she could not spend every day with her hands in other people's mouths because in actuality she is a "germaphobe," and couldn't stand the thought of working with all those germs. Her next step was to job shadow with her aunt who was a nutritionist. She arrived at the hospital where her aunt worked one morning and was enjoying watching her aunt speak with various clients and patients regarding healthy eating habits. At one point during the day, they went into a back room and began mixing different liquids and putting them in an IV bag. They approached a patient's room, and Jane observed her aunt speaking with the patient and pulling out a long needle to insert into the IV bag so the patient could get the liquid nutrition he needed that day. Jane is deathly afraid of needles and knew right then and there that the job of nutritionist was not for her! After some time taking college classes, she majored in Psychology, and later went for her Master's Degree in School Counseling. Today she enjoys her job as a guidance counselor at a very prestigious high school. It was important for Jane to have the job shadow experiences though to sift through various careers to rule out ones that were not a good fit for her.

In my time running the career center at my local high school, I was able to set job shadows up for students in a variety of fields. The local police department accepted two boys for job shadows, and because they were already 18, they were able to ride along in a police car and experience an actual day on the job. Both boys decided to enter the field of criminal justice. Another student who was only 17 at the time, was able to job shadow in the state police barracks, sat in on roll call and a briefing of the day. He also stayed with the dispatcher for some time and was able to hear a variety of calls that came in for police help. He decided to go with his second choice of auto mechanic and is happy in that field today. A female student wanted to be a teacher, and job shadowed a teacher from her old middle school. After that experience, she decided to work with younger children and is in college today majoring in early childhood education.

For students who would like to set up their own job shadow experiences, summer is a perfect time to do so as they will not have to miss time from school. If they want to experience a job but don't know anyone, in particular, that does that job, contacting the local Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary Club is a good place to start. These organizations have connections with professionals in many varieties of occupations and can help connect teens to people who would be more than happy to share their expertise with a teenager in their community.

Job shadows are an important step for teens who would like to experience a career before investing money in a career path that may or may not be a good fit for them.

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© 2012 Karen Hellier


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