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Job Shadow on an Interview?

Job Shadow on an Interview?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

October 11, 2010

A reader writes:

A colleague of mine with whom I’ve previously done business recently recruited me for a job at his company. It’s a VP position reporting directly to him. It’s an important position in the company and it would be an awesome job for me. He said he feels like the position was made for me and he’s sure I’ll be a fit, but he needs the rest of his staff to think so, too. Fine, then. Let the process begin. And I do mean process.

First, I came in for an interview with him. Normal. We ended up in the interview for over 3 hours. Relatively normal, considering I know this guy already and the nature of the position.

Then, I came in to interview with HR and another VP. Again, fairly normal. They did go on a bit about the culture and how it’s very different (but good, they assured) from other companies and it takes a special person to work there. Okay, fine. I’m special.

But here’s where it starts to veer off into an episode of The Apprentice. They now want me to come in for a few hours during the day this week and shadow another member of management with whom I’d be working closely, so I can “get a better feel for their culture.” Of course, I’ll have to take time off from my current job for this, but I’ve done that before for interviews, but shadowing? Is this normal at the VP level? I’ve never heard of such a thing and I’ve never been subjected to it at lower levels.

What’s your take on this practice and what it says about the company? Should I do it?

This type of investment of time in the hiring process isn’t necessarily a red flag; it says they care about making sure they’re hiring the right people, which is smart (and will probably impact your quality of life positively if you end up working there). But the shadowing element is unusual — not necessarily troubling, just unusual.

My question would be how this “shadowing” is going to work exactly, and what you’ll really learn from it. Frankly, a better use of the time might be to have you come in and actually do some of the work you’d be doing in the position, or meet with the people who would be your new team. That can give both sides a lot of insight into whether the fit is right. Shadowing, though — well, I’m not sure how much insight that’s going to give you. (I also wonder if they really mean “shadow” in the normal sense — i.e., are you just going to watch this guy answer emails and go to meetings, or is it going to be more interactive?)

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On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t have accepted their current jobs if they’d been able to peek behind the curtain for a couple of hours and see how things really worked at that company. You’re getting that peek, and it’s hard to think that’s a bad thing. In fact, more information when you’re deciding whether or not to spend a huge chunk of your waking hours somewhere for the foreseeable future is pretty much always a good thing.

So I’d say do it, keep an open mind, and see what you think of the whole experience. (And then come back and tell us, because I’m curious now.)

Overall, the biggest point I’d take away from this is that they clearly think there’s something unusual about their culture and that not just anyone will be a good fit. And when people emphasize culture in the hiring process, there’s usually important information there for you — about how happy you’re going to be in that workplace and how happy they’re going to be with you. So pay attention to what they’re telling you, take advantage of the chance they’re giving you to look behind the scenes, and figure out whether or not this place feels right for you.

Next: How to Handle Awkward Interviews >>

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