Companies, large and small, use an effective, efficient approach to training new hires – job shadowing – to cut the learning curve and get new employees fully productive more quickly.

Job shadowing is on-the-job training ideal for new employees, interns, college students, and long-time employees transitioning from one job to another within the company.

What is job shadowing? Why is it so effective? And how can you use it to make your employees more productive faster?

What is job shadowing?

Simply put, job shadowing is allowing a new hire to follow, or work alongside, a seasoned employee for a period of time – a day, a week, or whatever management feels is sufficient to give them a good background in the position and the company.

In the past, companies hired employees based on how well they fit a written job description, or how well they did during an interview with a member of the human resources team.  While these may be good measuring sticks of how well a prospect might fit into a certain job opening, it may take more time than necessary to get the new employee up to speed and fully productive.

It takes time to train new hires on their new job duties, how the particular business conducts operations, and where the supply closet is. Even new employees with years of previous experience have to learn how business is conducted at your company.

Job shadowing provides detailed, real-world, nine-to-five experience in how things get done in your business.  Shadowing another employee enables new hires to get down into the trenches from Day One to see what a particular job entails and how to handle everything from lunch breaks to missing orders. Job shadowing is a more nuanced form of on-the-job training, identifying small details that come into play each day in the new position, and how to manage those small details.

Why is job shadowing so effective?

Well, it works. Telling a new hire about job responsibilities and operational procedures has been the traditional approach to onboarding new employees, or training existing employees for new positions within the company.

However, telling a new employee – even the most motivated, eager-to-please employee – how the company operates isn’t as effective as showing these new co-workers how things get done. Filling the new employee’s head with task minutia requires that they remember all those details.

Shadowing a designated employee who fully understands the ins and outs of the job can be much more effective. The new employee sees how things are done. Job shadowing also enables new employees to actually engage in work activity – the very same work activity they’ll be expected to perform in their new positions.

Hearing how a job functions, and seeing how a job functions, are two distinct means of learning. The more enriching approach is seeing and participating in daily job activities as soon as possible to get that new employee up-to-speed faster.

What do job shadowers do?

  • observe work routines
  • perform work-related tasks
  • attend relevant staff meetings
  • tour the facilities to learn where “things” are kept and how to find the break room
  • attend special training seminars for new staffers
  • assist the mentor with task completion
  • visit or talk to company clients and customers

These activities are essential to the creation of more productive employees – employees who get the job, and get the job done!

What jobs are best suited for job shadowing?

Probably all jobs can benefit from job shadowing. Even senior executives find themselves making more significant contributions to the company faster after shadowing a counterpart.

Experts agree that most positions requiring new employees benefit from job shadowing, though with some jobs, shadowing delivers more results faster.

The kinds of jobs that most benefit from job shadowing tend to be detail-oriented. Some of these kinds of jobs include:

  • jobs in skilled trades like carpentry, electrics, plumbing and other jobs that involve building;
  • administrative jobs like administrative assistants, receptionists who have to learn how the phone system works, secretaries, filing clerks, and other nut-and-bolts administrative jobs that require mastery of many skills;
  • manufacturing positions, including machine operators, supervisors, quality control inspectors, and others working on the factory floor;
  • medical support, including patient in-take,  personal nurses, lab techs, physical therapy assistants, and others who do everything from filing insurance claims to working directly with patients in a medical setting;
  • restaurant employees, from kitchen staff to those who greet customers, and waiters, must learn how the restaurant runs efficiently to keep meals hot and customers coming back.

Whether your company maintains a stable staff of long-time employees, or experiences a high turnover rate, assign new employees to an experienced mentor and let them get to work and become fully productive sooner.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.