PrepWell Blog


Best Summer Job: Career Shadowing

In addition to last week's question regarding How do I build a list of colleges? the next biggest challenge I hear from parents (and kids) seems to be:

"What should my child do this summer?"

Of course, the standard, generic advice is:

  • find a job
  • find an internship
  • volunteer

I like to provide more unconventional advice to my PrepWellers.

Cast a Wide Summer Shadow

If your child wants a unique summer experience, encourage them to "shadow" as many people in as many careers as possible.

These days, kids have no clue what people do at their jobs.

They see people rush into buildings, shuffle around the streets with their Starbucks coffee, and sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway.

What happens the other 97% of the time?

My 8th-grade son is obsessed with the question:

"Dad, what do people do all day at work?"

He is fascinated by the whole concept.

Unfortunately, I haven't the foggiest idea what to tell him.

I haven't had a conventional job for many years so I find it difficult to articulate what actually happens inside those buildings, offices, or cubicles.

Today, many kids find it difficult to pinpoint what they're interested in, what they might want to major in, or what kind of career to consider.

I'm not surprised.

They have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

Who could blame them for being so uninformed?

How to "Shadow" someone this summer

Your first order of business is to help your child compile a list of adults that might be good "shadowing candidates". They can be relatives, neighbors, family friends, or professional contacts.

Ideally, they would work in a field that your child might be interested in - but this is not mandatory. Unless your child has a very specific interest, breadth of experiences will trump depth.

Basically, your child is asking to tag along with an adult to see how the real working world works - just for one day.

In the fire department, we call them "ride alongs". They show up all the time.

An aspiring firefighter arrives at the station at 0800 and just hangs around all day, sees what we do, hears what we talk about, goes on emergency calls with us in the fire engine, and experiences what it's like to be a firefighter-for-a-day. It can be a life-altering experience.

Why not repeat this model 10-15 times over the course of the summer in various industries and fields of interest?

You will be shocked at what your child will learn.

I appreciate that not every child is confident enough or has the chutzpah to pull something like this off without a little guidance.

To get over this speed bump, I'm going to cheat a little bit and give your child some help. They can use the email template below to kick start their email campaign.

Simply have your child customize the highlighted sections below for their particular situation.


Dear Mr. Jones,

My name is Pat Black. I am a 10th grader at Tenderfoot High School and I'm looking for opportunities to explore my strong interest in engineering this summer. I've always been interested in engineering and would love to see how things really work in this exciting and dynamic field.

My mother speaks very highly of you and views you as a great role model for me. I know this is a lot to ask, but would you consider letting me "shadow" you for a day at your place of work? I think I would learn a lot by seeing what a typical day-in-the-life of an engineer is really like. I'm off the entire month of June. Feel free to pick the day that works best for you.

I'm considering majoring in Mechanical Engineering in college and this experience would be invaluable for me. I'm eager to learn all that I can about this field so that I can show colleges that I've done my homework. I am a 4.0 student, water polo player, Robotics Club captain, and Eagle Scout. I also built my own drone last year.

I promise to be respectful, show up on time, dress appropriately, and simply observe what transpires throughout the day. If there are confidential meetings where my presence is inappropriate, I am happy to sit in the lobby with my favorite book until the meeting ends. I will bring my own bag lunch.

If things get busy, you won't even know that I'm there. Of course, if you have the time or inclination to show me the ropes or share some war stories, I'd be grateful as well.

I realize that this might be an unusual request and I am thankful for your consideration. I think it would be a terrific experience and one that might really help me refine my thoughts about my future.

I look forward to hearing back from you. If you have further questions or concerns, feel free to call or text me at my phone number below.

Very Respectfully,
Pat Black

How would you respond to the child of a friend who sent you this email?

My hunch is that most adults would do their best to help out.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting your child sends this email to strangers. This is not a cold call email.

It's best to ask extended family members, close friends, neighbors, or mentors.

Will every adult say yes? Probably not. But if your child gets to shadow 10 people, it will be well worth their time.

The Benefits

Your child will learn many things:

  • How to hustle
  • How to act in a professional setting with adults
  • What it's like to "go to work" every day
  • What it's like to work in a particular industry
  • The difference between job functions (e.g. manager, analyst, salesperson, etc.)

Please keep this summer shadowing strategy in mind when you begin to solidify your summer plans.

It's a winner - beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Of course, if you're interested in getting this type of advice and coaching every week, please enroll in PrepWell Academy today!

Prep On,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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