Job shadowing involves having a person accompany an employee during a work day, to observe the tasks associated with the individual's job. This gives a person experience with multiple types of jobs within a short period of time.
The intent is not necessarily to actually engage in the work, but rather to observe what goes on in the position. By doing so, an employee gains a better understanding of what is required to succeed in a career. A common result is that employees elect to terminate some career options based on what they have seen, and instead focus their attention on other areas.
The concept can also be used to gain expertise in certain specific areas. For example, a junior manager might shadow a more senior management person during labor negotiations in order to learn more about the process. Similarly, a specialist could shadow a more senior person in order to learn more about a specific technical skill. These shadowing assignments tend to be of short duration, lasting only until the necessary knowledge has been transferred.
A considerable benefit of job shadowing is its efficiency – an employee can gain an understanding of a position within a relatively short period of time, thereby avoiding what might otherwise have been years of effort to arrive at a position and then find that she does not like the work.
The approach is especially useful when a person does not have a clear idea of her career direction. There may be several alternative paths available, or perhaps she has expressed some interest in a particular direction, but there is not a clear fit between her abilities and that career path.