Students from seven Indiana colleges pose for photo op after “shadow day” visit with PR pro Sonja Popp-Stahly at Eli Lilly and Company.

By Rayce Patterson

At one point, I thought I wanted to be a surgeon (they make great money!), so I decided to shadow a family friend. After watching doctors in masks cut pieces of bone and goo out of patients’ knees while listening to pop music…I decided I no longer wanted to be a surgeon.

Participating in a job shadow was the best advice I received in high school, and job shadowing has continued to be one of the most informative experiences of my college career. Now, I’m a PR student at Taylor University in Indiana, and have been a part of the university’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) for three years. One of my favorite events each year is Half Day with a Pro, which is a free job shadowing opportunity organized by the Hoosier PRSA chapter that allows students to see PR pros in action.

CollegeRaptor says that the purpose of shadowing is to “observe the career’s culture, explore, and ask questions.” The benefits of shadowing cannot be stated enough and have helped me at key points in my college career. Here are my top three reasons to shadow a pro today!

Explore the habitat

You can conduct all the informational interviews you want, but the best way to learn about what a professional does is to see them at work. And job shadowing puts you right in the thick of it! As part of this year’s Half Day with a Pro, I had the opportunity to shadow a professional at Eli Lilly and Company, a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in Indianapolis. As we walked around their corporate center, I got to see and learn about the employee’s work space, as well as observe firsthand Lilly’s culture and how employees interact with each other. Plus, their campus is an impressive sprawl from several stories up! Shadowing gives you the opportunity to see all of these things for yourself instead of hearing it from someone else and can be very informative when choosing where you want to apply for an internship or job.

Get some advice

“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” This proverb also applies to business, so it only makes sense to seek the advice of professionals who have gone before you. Their stories are unique, and you can stand to learn from their career, both their successes and their failures. During my first year in PRSSA, I shadowed a nonprofit helping homeless veterans in Indianapolis. I remember being so nervous because I was alone, but I was able to ask questions about college with my host, and her advice helped me choose my minor! I’ve found that professionals love to help the next generation, so job shadows are great opportunities to ask questions about anything, whether it’s about their organization, career or life. You may also learn some helpful information about how to have your name stick out when applying for jobs and internships.

Connections galore

PR is a relationship-oriented field, so making personal connections is critical to success. Job shadows make perfect networking opportunities because you get to meet professionals where they work, which is helpful if you want to work there too. If someone you meet offers to be a resource for you, take them up on it! And in return, make yourself available to be a resource for them. When I participated in Half Day with a Pro last year, I was really interested in being a communication intern for The Walt Disney Company. So imagine my surprise when I visited Borshoff, a PR agency in Indianapolis, I met someone who had been an intern at Disney! Even though I didn’t end up pursuing the internship, that person was willing to provide me with more information about Disney’s internship program. It was all because I shadowed there that I had access to such an incredible resource!

If you want to learn firsthand how an organization operates or ask how someone in your dream company got to where they are today, there is not a better opportunity available than to shadow someone you know. Also, if your local PRSA chapter has a shadow day and you’re a part of PRSSA, make sure to reach out and sign up! It’s a great opportunity to learn more about a company nearby, and you can go with a group if you’re nervous about going alone. Also, talk to your professors or university alumni office for potential connections. Many alumni would love the opportunity to help an upcoming professional. So take a chance! You’ll never know what opportunities lie in store.

 Rayce Patterson is a junior public relations major at Taylor University, and is the social media manager for its Public Relations Student Society of America chapter. Rayce is also the News Co-Editor for Taylor’s campus newspaper, The Echo.