Shadowing in the Workplace: What It Is, How to Benefit, and Real-World Examples


Shadowing in the workplace is an invaluable learning experience that allows individuals, whether new hires or those seeking career transitions, to gain a firsthand understanding of a specific job role by closely observing an experienced employee. This article explores the concept of shadowing, its benefits, and how it differs from internships. Discover how shadowing can help individuals become more proficient in their roles and contribute effectively to their organizations.

What is shadowing?

Shadowing is an informal yet highly effective method for individuals to grasp the intricacies of a particular job within a workplace. It involves closely following and observing an experienced worker in that role, allowing the learner to gain insights and practical knowledge.

Job shadowing opportunities are commonly offered to new or junior employees, but they are not limited to this group. Even seasoned professionals seeking to transition to a different department can benefit from shadowing to expedite their learning curve. The primary goal of shadowing is to provide firsthand exposure to the role, ensuring that the individual feels confident and competent in performing the job independently.

Understanding shadowing

Imagine a scenario where a recent college graduate, armed with a computer science degree, joins a tech company. This company has a well-structured shadowing program in place, pairing new employees with experienced staff members who possess mentor-like qualities and a passion for teaching.

In this example, the fresh graduate shadows a senior software engineer responsible for coding a critical banking application platform. She sits beside the experienced engineer, keenly observing his day-to-day responsibilities and posing questions to deepen her understanding of the role. She actively participates in daily progress meetings, joins conference calls with the bank, and accompanies her mentor to meetings with their manager.

Over the course of several days or weeks, this immersive shadowing experience equips her with the knowledge and confidence needed to excel when she eventually assumes her own desk and receives her first job assignment at the company.

Benefits of Shadowing

Job shadowing offers several advantages, both for new hires and existing employees looking to switch roles:

For New Hires

Hands-On Learning

New employees can experience real workplace scenarios and tasks by closely observing experienced colleagues. This provides practical insights that go beyond theoretical training.

Learning from Mentors

Shadowing typically involves pairing new employees with seasoned staff who can act as mentors. These mentors offer guidance, answer questions, and share their expertise.

Accelerated Learning Curve

Shadowing helps new hires get up to speed quickly, reducing the time it takes to become productive in their new roles.

For Existing Employees

Career Transitions

Employees looking to transition to a different department or role within the same organization can benefit from shadowing. It helps them understand the requirements and challenges of the new position.


Shadowing allows employees to build relationships with colleagues from other departments, facilitating smoother transitions and collaboration.

Cost-Effective Training

In many cases, shadowing is more cost-effective than traditional training methods, as it leverages existing resources and expertise within the organization.

How Shadowing Works

Shadowing involves a structured process where the individual who is new to a role closely observes and learns from an experienced colleague. Here’s how it typically works:


The organization pairs the new employee (the “shadow”) with an experienced colleague (the “mentor”). The mentor should possess the necessary skills and knowledge to provide effective guidance.


The shadow accompanies the mentor in their daily tasks. This may involve sitting alongside the mentor at their workspace, attending meetings, and participating in job-related activities.


During the shadowing process, the new employee is encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification. This interactive element is crucial for a deeper understanding of the role.

Progress Meetings

The shadow may participate in daily or regular progress meetings with the mentor and the team. This provides insight into the organization’s workflow and communication processes.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a comparison of the advantages and distinctions between internships and shadowing:

  • Immediate exposure to job responsibilities
  • Enhanced understanding of role expectations
  • Opportunity to build mentor relationships
  • Not all interns transition to full-time employment
  • Internships often involve routine tasks
  • Supervisors guide and evaluate intern performance

Frequently asked questions

Is shadowing only for new employees?

No, shadowing can benefit both new hires and individuals looking to transition to new roles within their organization. It’s a versatile learning method.

How long does shadowing typically last?

The duration of shadowing can vary based on the complexity of the role and the individual’s learning progress. It may last for several days or weeks until the learner feels confident in the role.

Are interns and shadowing participants expected to perform the job?

No, interns typically complete assigned tasks, while shadowing participants observe and learn from experienced employees without being responsible for job functions.

Is shadowing suitable for all types of jobs and industries?

While shadowing can be beneficial in a wide range of job roles and industries, its applicability may vary. It’s particularly valuable in roles that involve complex processes or unique tasks, where firsthand observation can significantly enhance learning.

Are there any formal guidelines for implementing a shadowing program in an organization?

Yes, organizations often establish formal guidelines for shadowing programs. These guidelines may include selecting experienced mentors, setting a timeframe for shadowing, and defining the learning objectives for participants. It’s essential for companies to structure shadowing effectively to ensure its success.

Can shadowing lead to job offers or promotions?

While shadowing is primarily a learning tool, it can certainly make a positive impression on employers. A successful shadowing experience may lead to job offers or promotions, as it demonstrates a candidate’s commitment to understanding and excelling in their chosen role.

What are the key qualities of an effective shadowing mentor?

Effective shadowing mentors should possess expertise in their roles, patience, excellent communication skills, and a willingness to teach. They should create a supportive and educational environment for the learner, encouraging questions and providing guidance.

How can I request a shadowing opportunity at my workplace?

To request a shadowing opportunity, express your interest to your supervisor or human resources department. They will guide you through the process, including finding a suitable mentor and outlining the goals of the shadowing experience.

Is shadowing limited to on-site experiences, or can it be done remotely?

While traditional shadowing occurs on-site, remote shadowing has become more common, especially in organizations with remote or hybrid work setups. It involves virtual observation of an experienced employee’s daily tasks and interactions through video conferencing and screen sharing.

Are there any drawbacks to shadowing in the workplace?

One potential drawback of shadowing is that it requires the time and commitment of both the learner and the mentor. It may also be limited in effectiveness if the mentor’s work schedule is highly unpredictable or the job role is difficult to observe due to confidentiality concerns.

Key takeaways

  • Shadowing offers a firsthand understanding of job roles by closely observing experienced employees.
  • It is not limited to new hires and can benefit career transitions within the same organization.
  • Internships and shadowing differ in terms of expectations and outcomes.
View article sources
  1. What is “Shadowing”? – University of South Florida
  2. Shadowing – University of Michigan
  3. Shadowing – Cornell University
  4. Warren Buffett’s Guide to Investing for Retirement – SuperMoney