The Secret to Career Change and Starting Over: Job Shadowing, by Lucy Standing


Are you sick of these sorts of mantras: ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’?  You just have to find your passion!  Play to your strengths!  Do what makes you happy!   If so, then read on. This is a no nonsense article, here to blast away unhelpful myths and get you doing some rather uncomfortable things – but things which will work.

Let’s start with why these mantras are so tedious.  In essence, they aren’t really ‘wrong’.  There is nothing wrong with the principle of doing work you enjoy and are good at.  The problem is, how on earth are you supposed to know if you’re going to be good at something you’ve never done?  Likewise, finding you passion is easy to say, but in a world of almost infinite options and possibilities, how to you go about choosing?

Too many options?

The problem with options is they paralyse you.  This is referred to as the paradox of choice and was popularised as a concept by Barry Schwartz – an American professor of psychology.  In essence, the paradox of choice shows when we have lots of options it tends to lead to confusion and anxiety.  We find it harder to make a choice when the options are numerous vs when options are few and limited.  What is more, when there are many options, we are more likely to be disappointed because we are left wondering ‘what if’ I’d chosen another.  When we are told we need to find our passion, it is easy if the options are: coffee shop owner, accountant or nurse.  If you are a well rounded and talented individual, the range of infinite options means finding the right job for you will be a nightmare.


‘Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’? raises expectations to a ridiculous level.  Permeated and perpetuated by the saturated life coach, success coach, well being coach, mindset coach market (have I missed any here) means these messages are pumped out.  In a bid to beat their competitors, coaches have to sell the dream.  The messages they need to promote have to promise the world.  In a world of instagram, twitter, facebook, the message has to be shorter! Punchier! Hard hitting! Aspirational!  Consequently, ads need to sell in 2 lines – no one line – no one very short line!  ‘Love your job’!  Let’s be honest, the message which is more realistic is probably one of: ‘I will help you find work which you’ll think is a pretty decent match and I’ll help manage your expectations, but it is unrealistic to think you’ll love any job for years and years, because after time once you’ve mastered it, you’ll start to get bored and your drive to learn will put you onto the hamster wheel of wanting to do something else in another 10 years.  How engaging is that?

42304034 - notepad with lets try something new on office wooden table.

Invest in yourself

The last thing to flash up to also put a dampener on things, is women (especially) don’t really have the confidence to try things they’ve never done before. the social conditioning behind this and the ‘imposter syndrome’ is a little beyond the reach of this article, but suffice to say, evidence largely points to the fact that men are more likely to give things a go and invest in themselves.  I find speculation as to why a little unhelpful.  Pointing out the error (investing in yourself is very worthwhile) and indicating how to go about doing it as well as sharing some stats might help.  Hence read on – the rest of this article is going to do exactly that!

Try before you commit

So the myths are wrong and your expectations have been mismanaged what is the solution?  Quite simply, action and experience are always more insightful and useful.  You don’t know if you’ll like something without trying it.  Think of how much more confident you are in a decision you’ve made when you’ve experienced it (the car you’ve test driven, the house you are going to buy, the food you’ve just sampled).  When you’ve experience something, you get data.  Actual data of how that feels for you personally and that helps you make a more informed choice.



We’ve all heard of volunteering and work experience, and whilst I fully support the idea of going out and doing this, I also want to flag up, it isn’t as easy as that.  I often think because tere is a lack of practical opportunities to find out about different jobs, people throw out the old ‘go volunteer or get some work experience’ but in all honesty, these are really hard options to find.  I volunteer and help run a professional body (The Association for Business Psychology – ABP).  As Business Psychology is such a popular Masters degree, we get loads of requests to volunteer but we don’t really have the manpower to manage them all!  Giving time and energy to a volunteer is hard work so whilst I would strongly suggest this be an option, I also want to manage the expectation that just because you are offering your time for free, doesn’t mean people will necessarily take you up on the offer.  I also want to flag up the point that volunteering is very often not the ‘job’ you are interested in doing.  Many of the people volunteer for the ABP because they want to work in consulting or in industry as a psychologist.  If however they volunteer for me, I get them helping out with running our training courses, speaker events, conferences etc..   The sorts of skills I need are people who can market, are proactive and are willing to do the admin it takes.  It is great for giving an industry insight and developing a network, but it is a far cry from the work an actual business psychologist would do.  The reality is, volunteering and work experience often don’t give you the insight you’ll need and they are (in some cases) just as competitive and hotly competed for as the actual jobs themselves.

Job Shadow

I think the one area which is completely untapped is the opportunity to job shadow those doing jobs you’ve been considering/thinking about for a while.  I run a job shadowing service, (full disclosure) but let me be clear, I’ve not invented anything here.  Job shadowing is the oldest and most effective form of learning there is.  We simply don’t consider it an option because it is never advertised as being an option.  In all honesty, having someone shadow you at work is a bit of a hassle.  Not many people want to do it, but there are a considerable number that do.  You won’t gain clarity by reading posts, watching videos or planning.  The evidence for job shadowing is far more compelling.  In a study in 2016 by Morrell and Detty-Gin on the commitment of nurses to completing a year long study programme, there were two groups.  A group which has no shadowing option and a group that shadowed nurses at work before doing the training.  The group which didn’t shadow had an 8% apply and completion rate for the year long course.  Those that did shadow had an application and completion rate of 60%.  I myself found this when I used to work full time.  I was head of graduate recruitment at an investment bank and the interns who had spent time for 8 weeks over the summer, who then went onto the graduate recruitment programme, were not only happier at work, but were also more productive by comparison to their counterparts who had not had any experience.  It isn’t really rocket science is it?!  People ask me, ‘can you really get the insight you need in just one day?’  The answer is yes, because there are only about 32 different competencies.  Yes – just 32.  There is vastly different levels of knowledge you need, but that knowledge sits on top of the competencies you have.  A doctor for example may know a lot about the anatomy of a knee, but the factors that make them a successful doctor are their listening skills, their ability to build relationships, to organize their notes, to follow up with their actions, to take initiative to research symptoms they aren’t sure about and so on.  By experiencing something for a day, you not only get the visceral and experiential part of the day you need, but you also get to ask the questions which relate personally to you – and your circumstances.  Based on my experience, I have 9 tips for you which I know make a huge difference to people saying yes:


9 Tips to have somebody agree for you to shadow them in their job


  1. Recognise the value.  I’ve recently reposted a blog post I read titled: ‘No I won’t let you steal my business idea’.  It was a wonderful rant by a business owner who gets contacted all the time by people wanting to ‘take her out for coffee’ to ‘pick her brains’.  She thinks it cheeky and rude – she has a business to run and just because she’s successful doesn’t mean she has the time and energy to devote to people who want to follow in her footsteps and short cut their way to her level of success.  I have some sympathy with this viewpoint and suggest many of you, if faced with the same situation would feel the same.  If someone is prepared to share with you how they set up, what methods of business development work, what suppliers are great, what you should spend on things (and what you shouldn’t) – this is all hugely valuable and I think you should offer to pay for that.  The most successful people in their fields are mobbed with requests.  It’s not they don’t want to help – it’s that they realistically can’t.  If however you can offer them the opportunity cost of what they’d earn to spend time going through things with you, this feels more honest and from trials we’ve run, a fairer way to expect people to give you the value and the insight you need.  When we did free trials, people were less likely to turn up and mentors felt less happy giving away their knowledge because it felt too valuable to just ‘give’.  However – not all mentors need to earn additional money, so we also use this as a way for charities to fundraise.  Successful mentors can charge a fee which is donated on their behalf to charity.  The financial transaction helps both sides to take the day, the time and the advice more seriously.
  2. Approach people who are successfully doing the job. Success is a subjective factor, but for any profession there are some who are winning and others who are struggling.   It isn’t an exact science, but take a holistic view:  reviews from customers, what awards they’ve won, if they’ve been featured in the press, if they’ve been operating for at least 3 years and what qualifications they have relative to the industry.  You don’t want to base decisions on someone who isn’t really smashing it, so take advice from those who really know and can give real insight.
  3. Don’t judge someone by their website alone. Some of the most successful people in different industries have incredible reputations and can rely on word of mouth.  A flashy website is an indication of how much they care about their public image, not their ability to do a great job and share meaningful, helpful insights with you.
  4. Be prepared to travel. This is your life people!! If the best person to shadow lives in Newcastle and you’re based in London, go and make a short break out of the opportunity. Where and who you shadow should be based on their expertise and ability to help – not how convenient it is for you.
  5. Be prepared to get rejected. It’s natural. If someone contacted you and asked if it was OK to shadow you at work and ask you all sorts of details about how you do your job, you’d be skeptical.  Most don’t want to share and don’t want the hassle of having someone hanging around.  However, for every 5 people we approach, 1 says yes.  Often they appreciate how hard it was for them starting out.  So make sure you try at least 6 different people and I provided you follow these other tips, I guarantee you’ll get one!
  6. Understand their fears: if you are wanting to go into a new industry, you might ultimately be a competitor. Being up front and addressing the fear by indicating you will be operating in a different sector or location, will massively help to put people at ease. For example, if you want to shadow a florist, indicate you have no intention of setting up in their town/village area. To this end:
  7. Download a non disclosure agreement from the internet and tailor it. We found developing an NDA and a non compete agreement helped massively in getting people to feel less threatened by you.  There are free versions on line.  See what you can download and tailor to your own circumstances.
  8. The term ‘work experience’ carries with it legal obligations which are not the case for job shadowers. Asking for work experience means the company should (legally) follow certain steps to register you as a temporary employee, having to put you on their company insurance and give basic health and safety training.  You can point out as a shadower, these don’t apply because your status is the same as a client or customer.   We find experts are pleasantly surprised by this and makes them more likely to help you.
  9. It goes without saying that if you spend time with anyone, thank them. Tell them 6, 12 months down the line how you are getting on. If someone has invested time with you, they will love hearing how they’ve helped and they’ll always then be someone you can make the odd phone call to and ask the odd question. Remember, if you’ve invested in them, they feel more compelled to invest in you and if they’ve invested in you – they care.


In summary, the your next career step or you is something you will learn through experience. You won’t ‘find’ your passion by reading, dreaming or thinking. You will find it when you invest time and energy in doing. It is the collective data you get from experiencing something that you need to give yourself the best insights you can. It is this rich information you take with you then you are exploring different options. You’ll know if something feels right when you try it.

If you’ve changed jobs or are happy to be a mentor to others who’d like to shadow you at work, I’d love to hear from you:,

This article was first published on ‘Fab after Fifty’  – a website dedicated to women over fifty being fabulous and making the best of their lives.

Lucy Standing is a chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Vice Chair of the Association for Business Psychology (ABP), and founder of ViewVo.

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