Helpful Tips for Making the Most of your Shadow Experience

Student Tips for Shadowing IT Professionals


Congratulations on making such a smart career decision.  This is one of the best ways to test out a career path.  Understand that not ALL jobs in this field will be like THIS exact job/company /environment.  Try not to over-generalize and make rash decisions based on just this experience.


This is an educational experience, not an interview, job or internship. It is unlikely that your assigned IT professional will know specific job openings, so please do not ask him/her for a job or a referral to someone else in their firm. However, this highly valuable experience is an opportunity to gain advice, information, and exposure to daily lives in the field of IT, as well as develop a future contact!


So how can you make the best out of your shadowing experience?


  1. Preparation is the key to gaining the most benefit out of your shadowing experience.  Researching the company your IT professional works for is the first step in your path to a successful day at the office.  The company website will be the primary source of information.  Consider researching the following:


  • The type of product or service the company sells
  • Who owns and operates the company (Is the company public or private?)
  • The company history
  • Current news or strategic actions the company is implementing


Any information that may be provided on the company website with regard to your assigned IT professional will obviously also come in handy.  Your school’s career center site has resources as well.


If you have questions about the experience beforehand, contact me, Melissa Ruggiero at 716-645-3232, If you have to, you can contact your shadowing supervisor with your question.  Be aware of the dress attire, but when in doubt, wear a suit. 


1.   Come prepared with a professional looking folder filled with a pen, notepaper, business cards (optional), and perhaps even a few résumés (just in case).  These materials will aide in your learning and networking efforts. But remember, this is not a formal interview and it not an internship. The shadow sponsor should not “put you to work.”


  1. Develop several pointed and specific questions for your assigned professional.  Remember that this is not only an opportunity for you to learn about IT, but also an opportunity for the professional and the company to learn about you.  Also, brainstorm and anticipate possible questions the professional may ask you.  Your educated and well thought-out responses will definitely impress associates at the company. Examples of questions to ask the professional are listed later in this sheet.


  1. Finally, it is essential to send thank-you notes to your assigned professional as well as anyone else in the company who was instrumental in your shadowing experience.  This quick and kind gesture will forever be remembered and help secure yourself a place in your assigned professional’s network of business contacts. Email thank-you’s are okay, but formal letters are more impressive…. Remember to get their business cards so you have their contact info.


This is your opportunity to learn about the IT field and perhaps determine what area within IT is right for you.  Please act in a professional manner since you are representing your school as well as yourself and have fun!


What questions to ask?


Learning about an industry and networking with affiliated professionals are two crucial procedures for any successful businessperson.  However, setting up face-to-face conversations, such as this shadowing experience, is pointless if you do not know what questions to ask once you get to the meeting.  Since wasting contacts' time is a no-no, you should prepare an agenda before each meeting, decide what you would like to find out from your contact, and then prepare questions to elicit that information.  The key is to develop pointed and educated questions.


What Work is Like (Basic questions on which you can elaborate)

  1. Would you say today is like a typical day?
  2. What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis? (technical and non-technical)
  3. What parts of your job do you find most challenging?  
  4. Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job? Why?
  5. How would you describe the corporate culture? …i.e. Is it more collaborative or competitive?


Keep in mind that you can use information that you know about the company or industry within your question. This shows your knowledge base and seriousness. An example of how to make question # 3 more relevant: “Since technology changes so often, how do you make sure you keep current with the most up-to-date languages, software, procedures, etc?”


State of the Industry

  1. What developments on the horizon could affect future opportunities for your company?
  2. This industry has grown dramatically in the last several years. What has the response been from your company to rapid changes? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?
  3. Who are the most important people in this industry today?


An example of how to make # 6 more relevant: “I’ve noticed that there are a large number of WNY companies providing cloud services. What percentage of the local market has been tapped so far to support the large number of these companies?”  Also, “What percentage of your clients are outside of the WNY area and if none, are there future plans to develop a market outside the area to support growth?”


Skills and Experience

  1. What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to work in this field?
  2. What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?
  3. How do most people enter this profession?


An example of how to make # 10 more relevant: “I read through some of the job descriptions on the HR section of your website in preparation for my visit today. Most jobs I’d be interested in listed Java programming, teamwork, project management and client management skills as necessities. Can you tell me how those skills are used in this profession? Also, what other skills do managers look for that are not written in the typical job descriptions?”


The more specific and targeted you are in your questions (without being personal) the more the professional will understand that you are serious about this experience and the more they will take you seriously.


Good luck in your shadowing experience!

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