The dos and don’ts of shadowing someone at work

Whether you’re an intern shadowing an employee for the day, or a full-time employee shadowing another as part of an internal team switch, there are things you should strive for and others that you should avoid at all costs. Here’s what to keep in mind when someone is teaching you how to do their job.

Work around their schedule

Remember, the person you’re shadowing is taking time out of their day(s) to show you the ropes. So be flexible about scheduling, and let them give you a time that works best for them so that they can show you what they do in great detail.

There’s a big difference between being clear about when you can meet and taking the other person’s schedule into consideration, and just being pushy about when you have time to step away from your desk.

Don’t act like you somehow have all the answers

Be humble. You’re shadowing them because you want to learn something new.

Sauntering over to your colleague’s department, chucking your phone on their desk, and acting like an office know-it-all are the wrong things to do. Chances are, they’re busy— they don’t have time to decipher your immature facial expressions and body language.

Do this instead: walk over, introduce yourself with a solid handshake, settle in and get ready to take a ton of notes during your shadowing session.

Be discreet, yet curious, as you watch them work

This is also part of being humble. Disrupting the status quo even more in another department by being loud or unruly is sure to rub nearby colleagues the wrong way, and make a terrible first impression.

So instead of using every time your colleague looks away from you as an opportunity to check all the notifications on your phone— yes, I know it’s tempting— practice active listening.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask any questions. Just don’t repeatedly cut them off mid-sentence when they’re giving you instructions. Wait until they’ve finished speaking to chime in with your observations or to ask for clarification.

Don’t forget to send them a thank you note

Whether it’s a kind, brief email or a handwritten thank you card, sending the person a short thank you note is a good way to show them that you’re thankful for their time. So, do the right thing — send them a kind message with a few quick points that you learned during your time shadowing them, and keep the doors of communication open for the future.

After all, failing to follow up after shadowing a colleague probably won’t do you any favors.