During the search for your first job or a new position, you may find yourself with an opportunity to shadow someone working in a similar position. Always, and I mean always, say, “yes!” In fact, if you’re interviewing and are thinking you’ve found the right place, requesting a day to shadow is a definite step in the right direction. Regardless of how it happens, you’ll want to take on a shadowing day while knowing exactly what to look for!
Start your shadowing experience by understanding that you’re literally shadowing another person for the day. They have things to do and are going to go about their business as usual. While they’ll most likely allow time for questions, be respectful of their time and try to avoid asking questions that can be answered during your training if you are offered the job. This day is about observation. Observe the flow of the staff around you. Do they work as a team? Is this a lone ranger type of position? Are workers taking breaks? Do you see that standard protocol is being followed? Do staff appear happy? Solemn? Have you seen management around? What happens when a difficult situation or problem occurs? How is it handled? Can you see yourself as a fit on the unit? While it’s okay to take note of fun benefits (such as great coffee in the break room), it’s more important to get a handle on how the workday looks, feels, and flows and how you’ll like/dislike working there.
HINT: If you REALLY want to know how staff feel about their jobs, arrive early and be present during shift change. Observation of moods and outlook during shift change as well as conversations during report can tell you more about a unit than an entire day of shadowing.
When you’re already excited about a prospective position, it can be easy to overlook negatives that you might encounter during your shadowing day. Take note of the following red flags, and if you see them, write them down. Consider them later, and if necessary, ask the hiring manager about them prior to accepting the position. If you’re seeing several of these red flags in one day, you may want to reconsider your options.
- Staff showing up late, or not at all. Ideally the opening that you’ve applied for is not the result of high turnover. But, if you’re noticing a great deal of tardiness or no-shows, you may want to inquire about why, and consider your own immediate departure as well.
- Limited staff interaction. Unless the job demands it, avoid workplaces where staff don’t communicate. A healthy level of socialization, as well teamwork, should be visible during your shadowing experience. High turnover (new staff who aren’t familiar with each other), staff discord, or overly stressful positions are all possible causes of limited communication. If you don’t want to spend time with these workers now, you may want to close the curtain on any future acts!
- Negative attitudes upon arrival. If staff come into work looking miserable and overworked, run the other way. You may be feeling chipper now, but rest assured, those poor chaps felt the same way before their workplace got the better of them. Your best bet is to bid that place a fond farewell.
- No managerial presence. Shadowing for an entire shift should allow plenty of opportunity for you to observe management in their daily interaction with staff. If you don’t see them at all during your shadowing day, you probably won’t see them during your workday. This is a definite sign that you should decamp now and pitch your tent somewhere more promising!
- Optional Protocol. If you’re watching around you and noticing that staff are going rogue, it’s probably time to bid this position adieu. A well-managed workplace with appropriate staffing ratios sets itself up for success, while poor management and over-loaded staff fall into an “us vs them” continuum, and protocol flies right out the window.
- Staff aren’t welcoming to you. While you’re probably a bit of a distraction, a good staff pool will be welcoming anyway. If you get the cold shoulder all day, high tail it out of there because something is just not right!
- While you don’t want staff to be rude, if they are overly welcoming, you might want to question why. You’re a new employee, not the Queen of England. If you’re getting the red carpet treatment, lots of promises, and a sea of overly emphatic “We’re so glad you’re here!” speeches, you may want to check out some real numbers on turnover rates. Those cupcakes are most likely laced with desperation and are a sign that you need to run like the wind!
As the saying goes, finding a job is a full-time job. While it’s disheartening to walk away from an offer, it’s also important to do your due diligence in finding the position that is right for you. Consider your life. What is most important to you? What does work-life balance look like for you? What aspects of previous jobs have you liked and disliked? What are your hopes for this new position? What have you noted during your shadow experience that you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy? What kind of upward mobility are you hoping for? Whatever your answers to these questions are, be sure to thoughtfully consider them all before accepting the position. Be sure that this next step is absolutely the right one for you!