Let me start this off by providing you with one of several examples I’ve witnessed over the years in my time in recruiting that proves the secret to getting your next job is truly that: a secret.

A pretty decent position opens within the company, a lower mid-level job that would be a great pay raise for any office worker who has started their career within the past 5 years and great exposure to learn more about the business back end to build relationships with higher-level management.

As expected, a good number of people apply, all with great qualifications. After several rounds of interviews, a person is chosen to fill the position.

Sounds pretty normal so far, right? A typical hiring process.

This is where it changes: after the announcement goes out about who filled the position, several people schedule meetings with me afterwards to complain about the person who got the job.

The twist? The person hired was one of the custodians, not one of the many office workers who would have been predicted to fill the role.

People hate losing out on a position, but they hate it even more when they feel like they’re more qualified than the person who got it. It’s ingrained in human nature to constantly compare ourselves with others (gotta size up predator vs. prey), especially when our ego is damaged.

In this situation, though, the custodian figured out “the secret” long before these “next-in-line” office workers did, and it’s not the only time this has happened.

So what did the custodian do that no one else who had applied for the position did? Two years ago, he figured out that when that position opens up, he wants it. Since he determined that early on, he stepped up his game and asked to job shadow the role and the department to have a better understanding of it so he could be better equipped with knowledge and experience should the position ever open up (which, of course, it did).

There’s the secret for you: job shadowing. For those who aren’t as familiar with the term, job shadowing is when you observe someone doing their job in real-life time to learn from their vantage point and experiences.

I have seen this technique be successful time and again, but not enough people tap into it.

There are a few reasons why this is such a powerful technique:

Number one, it’s clear the candidate wants THAT position. From a recruiter’s perspective, sometimes it can be challenging to figure out who is applying just to get a pay raise or get out of their current job versus actually caring about being in the open job itself. But if someone is already spending their free time learning about the position LONG before the position opens up, it speaks volumes about their intentions.

Number two, it gives the candidate an opportunity to network with those who are in the position already and the team members who would be supporting him. The custodian was job shadowing at varying levels for two straight years before the position finally opened up. By then, the department and supervisor was very familiar with his work ethic and dedication.

Number three, you learn valuable insider pieces about the role you want. During the interview, the custodian in this case could speak knowledgeably about the role itself and use real-life examples of how his strengths would be beneficial. It’s easy to interview for a position when you know the ins and outs of it, right?

Why don’t more people job shadow?

Some colleges will encourage their students to shadow positions that may interest them, but once people get into the “real world,” it seems like that idea drops off.

You should know that no matter where you are in your career, job shadowing is still an option for you.

From my experience at the corporate level, there are two types of workers:
(a) those who are floating by until they see a job in the next pay grade level that potentially interests them so they’ll apply assuming it’s theirs since it’s logically the next step,
and (b) those who are spending time intentionally seeking out a career path and preparing themselves for what’s specifically needed to seize that next level when the opportunity opens.
Which one are you? Which one would you rather be?

How does one go about job shadowing?

If you don’t know what the next mark on your career path should look like, don’t hesitate to talk to people in different roles. It takes just ten minutes at a time to interview people and really get a feel for what they do and if you’ll be interested. Most people won’t mind spending ten minutes to talk to someone about what they do. It’s a great way to filter out the jobs that you DON’T want to do as well as peg those that may be on your radar someday.

Once you find a position that interests you, talk to your supervisor and/or Human Resources department about a job shadowing opportunity. There may be stipulations around it like only being able to do it for half an hour, or having to do it when you’re on your lunch break, etc. but all of those are easy boundaries to work within since it won’t be an every day commitment. You want to make sure you’re able to job shadow more than once, though, since you won’t experience all faucets of a position within one visit.

If you’re looking for a position that’s outside of your company, or if your company flat out says no to a job shadowing opportunity, start networking. Use platforms like LinkedIn to research people at companies that could provide you with the chance, connect with them, ask them if job shadowing would be an option. Email their Human Resources department. Nothing bad can come out of asking, but nothing good can come out of not asking about something you really want.

Job shadowing is truly the secret in landing your next job. It’ll give you a thorough understanding of what the position entails, the challenges, the rewards, the hard and soft skills necessary for success, and a leg-up on any candidates who haven’t spent their time proving that job is what they want.

Plus, you’ll impress your future supervisor with the knowledge and skills you’ve already gained.