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Exploring Career Paths: Internships and Job Shadowing

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John Milovich
John Milovich
ScamFighter Expert
Former college customer turned freelance writer, shares insider insights on the essay industry.

You're sitting there, scrolling through job postings, and it hits you. You don't know what career path to take. Well, in my student days, I found internships and job shadowing opportunities incredibly valuable for figuring out what I wanted to do. They're not just lines on a resume but a gateway to understanding your career inclinations. So, let's dive in and explore why these experiences can be game-changing for your future.

What Is Career Exploration?

Remember being a kid and daydreaming about becoming an astronaut, a chef, or a detective? Well, career exploration is like the grown-up version of that. It's learning about different careers, industries, and roles to discover where you fit in. Now, you might ask, what is job shadowing in this context? Job shadowing is when you follow a professional during their workday to get a firsthand view of a day in the life of that job.

The Value of Career Exploration

Don't underestimate the importance of trying before you buy – in terms of a career. During my internships, I asked questions like crazy. If you're job shadowing, there are specific questions to ask when job shadowing that can open up a well of useful information. Queries such as, "What poses the greatest challenges during your day?" or "What led you to pursue this field?" can yield unique and invaluable perspectives.

Gaining deeper insights equips you with greater confidence as you embark on your professional journey. Remember, internships and job shadowing experiences aren't just additions to your resume; they are pivotal in molding your career trajectory and influencing your decisions. So, feel free to delve into these opportunities with enthusiasm!

Internships: Gaining Real-World Experience

Internships are your ticket to getting the hands-on experience you're interested in. As a student, this was a must-do on my checklist. The difference between a job shadow and an internship is significant. An internship usually spans several weeks or months and lets you dive deep into the tasks and responsibilities of a particular job.

  1. Skills Development: Learn specific skills that will benefit you in your career.
  2. Networking: Establish relationships with professionals in the industry.
  3. Resume Builder: Add concrete experience to your resume, which can be a huge advantage when applying for jobs after college.

So, why should you apply for one? Because, as a college student, you get to learn and apply what you've learned in a real-world setting.

Job Shadowing: A Day in the Life

Job shadowing is different from both internships and fellowships. To clarify, the difference between internship and fellowship options often comes down to the level of expertise and duration – internships are for learning the ropes, and fellowships are more about deepening your expertise. On the other hand, job shadowing is like a quick sip of a career, just a day or two to follow someone in their role. You observe tasks, attend meetings, and get a snapshot of the daily grind. While it doesn't offer the depth of an internship, it does give you a quick, informative glimpse into a particular job.

Networking for Career Exploration

Networking is the secret sauce in the recipe for successful career exploration. I can't tell you how many doors opened for me just because I knew someone who knew someone. When considering internship vs shadowing, remember that both offer unique networking opportunities. Internships allow you to work closely with team members and supervisors, whereas job shadowing often provides a chance to quickly meet a range of people.

Resume Building and Skill Development

When it comes to growing professionally, never underestimate the power of a robust resume and a skill set to match. I've found that internships are fantastic for honing specific skills and building up your resume with hands-on experience. However, don't sleep on the benefits of job shadowing, either. Though shorter in duration, job shadowing lets you quickly acquire an understanding of various roles and tasks. It could be the difference-maker when you're in an interview and can speak intelligently about various aspects of a job or industry.

Exploring Diverse Career Paths

Ever heard the phrase, "Don't knock it till you try it?" Well, the same applies to careers. Internships are fantastic, but they're a more extended commitment. Job shadowing could be a great fit if you're unsure about a career path. So, what does it mean to shadow someone at work? It means you spend a day or two observing a professional go about their tasks, giving you a glimpse into a role without the long-term commitment. Exploring diverse career paths helps you understand where you'll be most satisfied, productive, and successful.

Balancing Academics and Career Exploration

Ah, the ever-elusive balance between studying and figuring out your life plan. Been there, done that. To manage this, start with setting achievable goals and a realistic timetable. But you're probably wondering how to get shadowing experience without disrupting your academics. It's simpler than you think. Contact professionals in your desired field through LinkedIn or mutual contacts and schedule a day to shadow.

How to Explore Your Career Choices

Navigating your career path might seem daunting, but breaking it down into manageable steps can simplify the process. Begin by actively pursuing opportunities that enable you to practice and accumulate valuable experience. If you're contemplating job shadowing and are uncertain about the approach, don't fret. One way to dip your toes into a field is learning how to ask for shadowing. A simple, well-crafted email or LinkedIn message to someone in the industry can set the ball rolling.

Start with Yourself

First and foremost, you've got to know yourself to choose a career that suits you. Reflect on your interests, skills, values, and lifestyle preferences. Why is career exploration important, you ask? Doing so can align your job with your inherent qualities and long-term aspirations. When you discover a position that resonates with your authentic self, you're not merely earning a salary but constructing a fulfilling and purposeful career.

Research Viable Careers

Research is key. Without digging into what it entails, you can't know if a job suits you. How does shadowing work in this research phase? Well, it's like a mini-internship.

    Online Resources: Websites and forums offer tons of information on various careers.Talk to Professionals: Schedule interviews or casual coffee meetups to pick their brains.Educational Webinars: Many industries offer free webinars that can provide a basic understanding of the field.

Once you've gathered all this information, job shadowing can serve as a trial run, confirming if your researched career aligns with your experience and expectations. It's the difference between reading about swimming and diving into the pool.

Eliminate the Careers That Don't Appeal to You

It's as important to know what you don't like as it is to know what you do like. You'll likely come across careers that seem fascinating on paper but are total snoozefests. It is where job shadowing can be extremely helpful. Typically, how long does job shadowing last? It's often just a day or two, enough time to get a good feel for the job without a long-term commitment. If the job doesn't suit you, you've saved yourself the trouble of diving too deep, too soon.

Speak to Others in the Field

Insights from professionals can be priceless. When I was just starting, I found conversations with people already in the career I was interested in to be golden nuggets of wisdom. We'd talk about everything from the necessary skills for the job to the ins and outs of their daily routines.

Get Involved in the Workplace

After you've developed a clearer understanding of the careers that pique your interest, the subsequent step involves breaking into the field. Internships represent an excellent avenue for achieving this goal. Through internships, you acquire practical, hands-on experience, seize opportunities to demonstrate your abilities in a real-world context, and, importantly, enhance your resume. How do you go about securing an internship? Your interview aptitude plays a pivotal role in this process.

Revisit Your Choices

Career exploration isn't a one-and-done deal. It's a cyclical process. You learn, you try, you adjust. Every job or internship is a new opportunity to reassess your career direction. The more you explore, the more you learn about what suits you and what doesn't. So, never stop revisiting your choices. Maybe you find a new passion, or perhaps a job you had initially ruled out suddenly has a new appeal. Keep your options open and continue to seize every opportunity for exploration that comes your way.


Internships are long-term and hands-on, while job shadowing is short-term and observational.

Internships offer practical experience, skill-building, and networking opportunities, often leading to job offers.

Usually, there are no formal prerequisites, but some professionals may ask for a resume or short interview.