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 older interns /  job shadowing

Why consider a mature intern / job shadow?

The aim of recruitment is to hire in the best person for the job, but the standard approach to recruitment (application/CV, interview, offer) falls short.   Recruitment is driven by the underlying assumption that the hiring organisation is best placed to decide who is the best candidate for the job.  Given 87% of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs and that at any one time, 47% of employees (55% if they are based in London) are thinking about changing their career, perhaps this assumption is wrong?  The hiring organisation has the power to say yes or no during the selection process – but it has always been the employee who has the power once hired to fully engage – or not – with their job.

How do we improve things?

It surely isn’t rocket science to suggest that people make better decisions about what job is right for them when they experience it.  There is certainly a significant body of evidence highlighting this fact.  More companies are taking on people on an internship basis – this is a model we’d endorse but taking on someone for (typically 6 weeks) can itself be a significant commitment when in the first week, you both realise this isn’t the right job for that individual.

Is there another way?

Research  on realistic job previews (such as job shadowing) shows people who shadow jobs before taking them perform better at work and they’re happier/more satisfied.  In 2016 a study of the likelihood of a nurse finishing their degree was predicted by whether or not they shadowed the job.  Would be nurses who had never shadowed the job were 8% likely to finish their qualification.  Those who shadowed were 68% likely to finish. 

Vanarama is a van leasing business.  They had a high level of staff turnover because the reality of the job was different from people’s expectations. They changed their approach: before anyone could accept an offer they had to shadow the job for a day first.  The acceptance rate on offers dropped by 35% but their staff turnover improved dramatically.  They reduced staff turnover by around 50%. 

If someone isn’t going to like that job, isn’t a one day investment better than the investment of 3 months of training and salary – not to mention the costs to team morale and customer satisfaction?


Addressing the key barriers

  1. Confidentiality - Many companies don’t offer chances to shadow because they don’t want discreet information being seen by ‘just anyone’.  Non-disclosure agreements can legally give you the security and comfort of knowing that someone spending the day with you has agreed not to share or disclose any detail to anyone else.

  2. Competition? Someone who comes in to shadow could theoretically be a competitor.  Again, non-compete agreements are standard.  We use one on ViewVo which means anyone who shadows one of our experts agrees not to set up competing business in a defined area, they can’t take customers, suppliers or staff.

  3. Insurance?  Health and safety?


Lines between ‘work experience’ and ‘shadowing’ are understandably blurry, but someone who is shadowing is not an employee.  Their legal status is like that of a customer or client coming into your business for a meeting.  Unlike someone coming in to do work experience, you do NOT need to put them on your company insurance, neither do you need to give them compulsory health and safety training.  You are not allowed to treat them as an employee – you can’t ask them to do work you don’t pay for, but that isn’t the aim.  The aim is to inform them about the work.  They can voluntarily ask to try things (e.g work the coffee machine, learn how to process an invoice, test out the point of sale terminal) and this is perfectly acceptable.


A win-win?

Job seekers who have given up their time to shadow someone in a job they are interested in are starting from the mental position of wanting to know what this line of work is like: a career transition is a big step and for many who are returning to work after a career break, confidence levels are low. 

The other significant benefit to job shadowing is the impact on the employer.  It is still early days, but without exception, every employer who we have encouraged to offer the opportunity to shadow has found the experience rewarding and enjoyable.  Helping someone inform a major life decision is not a daily occurrence; it helps remind those offering the shadowing that they are experts; that their work can inspire others and inform dreams.


About the Author

Lucy is a chartered psychologist and is the current Vice Chair of the UK Association for Business Psychology. She is the Founder of BraveStarts -  a platform which gives people wanting to learn more about a particular job a chance to shadow it before they apply.  

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it helps remind those offering the shadowing that they are experts; that their work can inspire others and inform dreams...

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