Job ShadowingCareer Tips

Job Shadow or Internship: How to Know Which is Right for You

By HOPPIN - last updated on May 6th

Whether you’re looking to break into a new industry or seeking a bigger challenge in your field, there are many strategies to test the waters and explore a potential job.

Two such ways are internships and job shadowing experiences. At first glance they seem similar in structure and benefits: they get you “in” at a new company, help you meet new people, and offer a short-term set-up to explore your career interests and learn new skills.

But internships and job shadows are not interchangeable. When choosing which to pursue, it all comes down to your mindset and priorities.  

The Difference Between An Internship and Job Shadowing

Let’s start with the basics. Job shadowing is an experience in which you spend time with a professional and follow along on their day-to-day activity at work. During a job shadow, you get a sense of that workplace’s culture, your host’s job role and responsibilities, and a typical “day in the life.” As a shadower, you observe, listen, ask questions, and participate when invited. Job shadowing experiences can last as little as a few hours to a few days.

An internship, on the other hand, is a period of time in which you apprentice in a short-term job role. During an internship, you act as an employee of the company with your own position and responsibilities. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and typically last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Internship or Job Shadow? Choosing the One that’s Right for You

In a sea of exciting opportunities, it can be tough to identify which to go after. Here’s our handy guide for deciding between internships and job shadowing.

Job shadowing is a great match for you if...

Your focus is on exploration over experience. One of the primary reasons people shadow jobs is to see if a particular industry or type of job is worth pursuing in the first place. The jobs you shadow may have very little, if nothing, to do with your current position, and that’s ok. Your time job shadowing is less about showing off your skills, and more about learning what the job really involves behind the scenes. With that being said, show up to your job shadowing experience ready to be curious, connect with new experts, and absorb everything around you.

You value time flexibility and efficiency. With a lower time commitment compared to internships, job shadowing is an appealing choice for those looking to get a quicker snapshot of a particular career. Whether you are still in a full-time position or just can’t swing a months-long internship at this time, coordinating a job shadow can happen quickly and you can do it as often as you like. There’s no application deadlines or interview rounds to deal with, and jumping from shadow to shadow is an efficient way to explore new passions, assess your fit, and make strategic moves.

You want to break into a new industry. Job shadowing is a great way to explore completely new career pathways and see if there’s long-term potential. It’s a no-strings-attached engagement where you can visualize your future and intentionally decide your next move. During your shadow, you can assess whether that career setting resonates with you on a passion and purpose level. You can then identify any skill gaps to address, if you want to take the “commitment” further.

Internship is the way to go if:

You already have an idea of exactly where you want to be. You’ve got your eye on the prize, and you’re ready to get to work. At this point in your job exploration, you know which companies, positions, and people are the perfect match for your next career move. So go for the longer-term positions, like internships and full-time jobs, where you can settle in and make your mark.

You’re looking to build on your experience and skill set. Compared to job shadowing, internships involve much more hands-on experience and responsibility. As an intern, you typically act as part of the company and are accountable to certain deliverables and teams. The stakes are higher, but an internship environment lets you increase your marketability: demonstrate your strengths, fill skill gaps, and gain the time and experience required for ultimate dream job.

You want to form a long-term relationship with a company. An internship is a strategic way to signal genuine interest and commitment to a particular organization or team. Once you’re in the door, you can focus on adding value, integrating into company culture, and forming lasting bonds with your co-workers and managers. The time and investment of an internship can lead to a fantastic job offer, treasured mentorships, and more.

Whether you’re going for an internship or a job shadow, you can never go wrong when you embrace new experiences for career discovery. Enjoy and explore!

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