Human Resources

Job shadowing

Job or work shadowing is where an individual from one area of the organisation has the opportunity to work alongside and gain experience of the role of another individual, and gain an insight into that particular work area. It can also be used to provide an individual within a department the opportunity to work alongside more experienced colleagues so they can learn and develop within their current role. Job shadowing opportunities could occur:

  • between different areas of the University
  • between different or similar job roles
  • between related roles in external organisations 

How job shadowing can help

As part of the SDPR process, job shadowing might be a useful development solution for individuals who wish to develop their current role or for their career development:

  • Broaden their experience, develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of how other roles, teams and departments work.
  • Reflect and learn from others.
  • View processes they are involved in, from a different angle.
  • “Test out” possible career options.


  • It can help to improve communication across departments, faculties and encourage continuous improvement.
  • Hosts can share best practice and often a chance to reflect on own work and see their role through “fresh eyes”.

Key roles

The host 

A host is the person who agrees to be shadowed. This role does involve some preparation and thought and is not just about having someone follow you around for an agreed time span. A host needs to consider if the time requested is the best time for the shadowing to take place and how long each period of shadowing should be for. They will also need to take into consideration their work obligations and ensure that the shadowing experience does not get in the way of their day to day responsibilities. 

The shadow 

A shadow should consider why they are doing the shadowing, what they hope to achieve and do some preparation with their line manager or the host prior to the shadowing to set objectives for the sessions. Following the shadowing it is important to review and discuss outcomes and what happens next with their line manager.

Different types of job shadowing

this might be ‘horizontal’ shadowing, where shadowing someone working more or less at same level or ‘vertical’, where one person is more senior than the other).

Observation – “fly on the wall” 

As a shadow, you will spend the agreed period of time observing a typical representation of what the host does for example, attending meetings, watching interactions with students/customers.  This type of shadowing works best when a shadow is looking to gain a greater understanding of what the host’s job role actually consists of, if someone is considering a career change but is not quite sure if they fully understand what is involved in that role. The host will provide opportunities for questions and a de-brief to ensure that both parties benefit from the shadowing.

Regular briefings – “Burst Interactions” 

Here a shadow will follow the host for specific activities over a period of time which are all preceded by a mini briefing and follow up debriefing. This works best when individuals work near to the host and the host can then advise them of dates and times of specific activities which are of value in understanding their role. This type of shadowing provides short periods of focused activity, rather than passive ongoing observation but needs careful timing and planning if it is not to become disruptive. 

Hands on – “job sharing”

This is an extension of the observation model, where the shadow starts to undertake some of the tasks they have observed and gains 'hands on' experience of the role whilst having the safety net of being closely supervised by the host. This is not always possible and would need to be discussed on a case by case basis by the host and the shadow.