Job Shadowing – a Brilliant Strategy for Employers & Job Seekers

How can employers and job seekers know they are right for each other before extending or accepting a job offer? Easy… it’s called job shadowing, a seldom-used but incredibly effective approach to making consistently better hiring decisions.

Author disclosure: I work with employers and jobseekers alike as a best-practices coach. The following case studies are real. I’m not revealing the employer and individual real names to protect their competitive advantage.  I have hundreds more examples just like them.


What is Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing is the interviewing and selection process practice of having candidates for positions spend several hours to several days assigned to an employee as he or she goes about his or her normal work activities. Job shadowing us usually done in advance of making a hire decision.  Job shadowing his highly beneficial for both the candidate and the employer.

  • The candidate gets to see what the actual work is like, experiencing the employer’s culture firsthand, while being able to ask questions about the job and organization. Think of this as an extended interview of the employer.  Does what he or she sees in the workplace reflect what the employer or hiring manager described in the interview?  As a result of job shadowing, the candidate  now has a more complete picture of the job and employer and is in a better position to make the right decision should the job be offered.
  • The employer gets to observe the candidate in the actual work environment as the employee – usually high-performing incumbents in the position – can get a clearer sense of the candidate’s fit for the position and the culture. Candidates may be assigned to one or more employees to shadow. Employers should use this as an extended interview of the candidate, who will often not feel the pressure of a formal interview and will be much more at ease. The shadowing experience becomes one more valid hiring factors.

Case Study 1: Second Thoughts About Our New C-Level Leader

Ted was a well-loved senior executive, so it was with a bit of sadness that the board of directors accepted the announcement of his retirement.  The board engaged a highly regarded search firm to lead the process of finding his replacement, the same firm that found Ted a decade earlier.  As part of a rather thorough search process, I was asked to evaluate the finalists and administer several assessments that could help us make the best decision.  After a number of rounds of interviews, assessments, and references the finalist was chosen and accepted the job offer the board extended.  He arrived on a Monday, and after working with him for several days it was apparent to everyone that he simply was not capable of the role into which he was hired. 

Despite all the best efforts of a thorough hiring process, we still made a hiring mistake that had to be undone.  Had job shadowing taken place before the hiring decision was made, it is very clear that we would not have hired the candidate.

Case Study 2: Seasoned Call Center Veteran Not Right for This Busy Call Center

One of my Mid-Atlantic regional clients operates a very busy 40-seat call center selling transportation logistics services on a broker basis.  Call center staff handle inbound calls from both shippers needing transportation of full and partial truckloads from point A to point B, and from independent truckers wanting to bid on short- and long-haul contracts using their own equipment.  The inside sales job was not difficult but required someone to possess a quick-thinking process mindset with good customer service skills.


La Tanya C. had come from the freight brokerage business for a busy west coast and has excellent work references.  Her husband took a position near my client’s location, and given her experience, she seemed like an ideal fit.  She interviewed well and passed every interview stage with flying colors… that is, until we had her spend a day job shadowing several of our best performers.  That’s when LaTanya saw the intensity and pace of the job would not be the right fit for her. She declined to take her candidacy forward.

That decision saved us over $45,000 in hiring costs, training, and compensation to the wrong person for the job we needed to fill.  Not to mention the time lost it would have taken to discover she was not a good fit.

These are just two very recent examples of how job shadowing enabled both the candidate and employer to make much better decisions about whether or not to join an employer or hire an employee. 

Job Shadowing Q & A

Q1: Do I have to pay the candidate while he or she is shadowing the job?

A1: It is not required by most employment statues because no work is being performed (but check your locality just to be sure).  Some employers offer a travel stipend to cover any out-of-pocket travel expenses and meals during job shadowing. Plus, mealtime with candidates often reveals a great deal about him/her!

Q2: If this candidate sees what we are doing, and goes to work for a competitor, he or she will take away proprietary information about what we do and how we do it.  How do we protect ourselves?

Q2: A simple one-page job shadowing agreement can include intellectual property protection and outline some of the employer’s rules for job shadowing.

Q3: Job shadowing sounds like it would help me make a better choice about who I want to work for.  What is an employer doesn’t offer this?

Q3: Have you asked the employer?  By explaining what you have in mind, most employers can see that this is a highly beneficial and reasonable step.  You may get extra consideration for being hired because they moved forward and it was your idea. 

Q4: After reading this article I think job shadowing make sense for my employer. How could I interest my boss in this?

A4: A good place to start is with HR to discuss the idea, and if you have support, bring it to your supervisor’s attention.  Use this article to help you.  Ask to trial the idea.  Taking the initiative might be the best career move you make this year!

Bottom Line

Job Shadowing is an idea whose time is now, when employers are looking to improve their ability to attract top talent, and candidates are looking to improve their hiring choices. If your employer doesn’t offer this, educate them. If an employer you’re interested in working for doesn’t have a job shadowing program, ask if you could be the first candidate.

This article is excerpted in part from Boyer Management Group’s best-selling training programs, Leading Through People™, LTP-5 Staffing, Recruitment & Onboarding

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team’s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials™ (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster™

I help leaders and aspiring leaders improve their performance and acumen, and sales and marketing professionals to become more productive and effective. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. We develop sales teams with our highly regarded B2B Sales Essentials™ and B2C Sales Essentials™ tailored sales curriculum.  My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.  



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