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Job Shadowing Rounds Out the Hiring Process

Two women looking at a computer screen.

​Some employees think they want to work in a particular job, but once they get the position, they realize it's more than they bargained for.

Kimberly Lundy, SHRM-SCP, has seen this scenario play out when she was an HR leader for a behavioral health nonprofit. She started a job-shadowing program for prospective employees that would give candidates hands-on experience, and they could then determine if they were still interested in pursuing the job.  

"We did it with the incoming talent so it was literally a part of the interview process," said Lundy, who now heads Lundy HR Consulting, a Frederick, Md.-based consulting firm. "I think sometimes it really took people seeing the job to get a good grasp of what they'd be doing."

The potential hires shadowed employees who did the jobs for which they were applying. Lundy said this way, the candidates knew upfront what they would be responsible for and the people they would serve, giving them a realistic view of all aspects of the position, including the gratifying and the challenging.

"It gave them the chance from a candidate perspective to interact," she said. "You find with some candidates, they show one thing when interviewing with a manager and show something else when interacting with a colleague."

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Job shadowing has become so valuable to both hiring and retaining talent that this year, the careers website Monster named it the "gold standard solution" in small-business hiring trends.

Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal, CEO and founder of New York City-based talent management firm Atrium Staffing, said the beauty of job shadowing is that the potential hire learns about the job, and the company learns more about the applicant—it's a two-way street.

"Not only does the candidate get to feel the team dynamic firsthand and also ask questions, but the team also gets a sense of the candidate's understanding of the work culture, if [the candidate is] excited by the environment, and if it seems like a good fit for both of them," she explained.

Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, a research and review site for the VoIP/cloud industry based in New York City, said the key to effectively rolling out a job-shadowing program is to be clear on whether it's being designed for internal or external candidates, because the needs are different, and the structure should be, as well.

"If [it is] for internal candidates, you may need to be discreet about the program's operation. Not everyone wants the rest of the company to know that they are pursuing a departmental transfer or promotion," Yonatan advised. "A consideration unique to external candidates is that they will need to be screened for security and privacy purposes. The structure and design of your shadowing program depends on who it will serve."

Yonatan added that it's best for employers to determine what they hope to gain from the job-shadowing program before they implement one. Likewise, he said potential hires and internal employees looking to learn about and go into a new area of employment should also have a keen understanding of what their needs are before signing on.

"I find the best way to do so is to take stock of each party's needs through a preprogram survey," Yonatan explained. "The person in charge of the job-shadowing program should ensure a best fit by making sure a candidate shadows someone who offers significant overlap with what the candidate desires to learn. By the same token, only those who are genuinely interested in the company and industry sector's future should be accepted into a job-shadowing program."

Dawn Onley is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.


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