We met Chip Keever, owner of PROSPER Creative Design in Pike Creek, at NET/WORK Delaware in March. As we were chatting, he shared an under-the-radar work hack that got him in the door at some influential companies — for just one, sometimes career-altering, day.
While job shadowing is a common type of on-the-job training in lots of fields, it’s less common as a type of short-term internship, and less structured.
How do you get one? In Keever’s case, all he did was ask, usually via email, if he could come in and shadow for a day.
Well, that’s not exactly all he did — showing a genuine interest in the company and its work is part of it — but the process doesn’t involve applications, interviews and tax forms.
From high school (his first internship was a half day of shadowing family friend Le’Rhone Walker of The Archer Group) through his years as a Visual Communications student at the University of Delaware, he shadowed dozens of times.
“In total, I shadowed at over 30 studios and agencies on the East Coast,” he said. “Geographically, they ranged from NYC to DC. They ranged from single person full time freelancers working out of their home to big city agencies with hundreds of employees.”
Being exposed to a wide diversity of experience within your chosen field is one of the main benefits of shadowing.
“You get to see a variety of work environments, businesses, for a short one-day experience,” Keever said. It’s also great for networking, since every shadow establishes a relationship with people in the field.
“It’s low commitment from both parties, which is a great way to find out if you’d be a good fit before you even think about pursuing an internship or job there,” Keever adds. “When you apply for an internship, the employer then has to think about lots of details — how much they can afford to pay you, what responsibilities they will have you work on, providing a workstation/tools for you. Shadowing is low commitment for them and they don’t have to worry about all those details, which makes them much more open to it.”
Keever used shadowing both as an alternative to doing traditional internships and to check out agencies before applying for full internships (his college internships with Gecko Group and The Infantree came after he shadowed at each).
Shadowing can be awkward and can sometimes feel intrusive, Keever admits.
But he has a tasty trick for that:
The night before, I would make a fresh homemade batch of chocolate chip cookies to bring with me. During my shadow visit I would walk around with this plate of cookies and a notepad. See, most people don’t want to be interrupted from what they’re working on to talk to some kid who’s shadowing for the day. But everyone will stop what they’re doing and give you a few minutes if you offer them a chocolate chip cookie. So once my host had sort of given me a little tour of the studio and introduced me to everyone as the kid who’s shadowing for the day, I’d walk around offering the employees cookies and I’d talk to them for a few minutes each. I’d ask them what they did at the company, what programs/tools they were using, what types of projects they worked on, what their favorite thing about working there was, etc. I’d write all this stuff down in my notepad while they enjoyed the cookies.
After graduating, Keever decided to take the leap of entrepreneurship right off the bat instead of working as an employee at an agency like he’d originally planned.
Again, Keever said, shadowing proved key:
When I was contemplating starting my own design business, I reached out to many of the owners of small design firms that I had shadowed. They were able to give me great insights. Occasionally, I’ll still reach out to them with business and design tool related questions, especially when it’s a new experience or tool for me.
And, best of all, Keever’s shadowing days may not be over: “Lately I’ve been very interested in architecture, so in the next year I may try to schedule some shadowing visits to some local architecture firms who are doing really cool work. You’re never too old for field trips and with the right mentality you’ll always learn so much.”
Let’s hope he brings cookies.-30-
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