job shadowing as a means for recruitment

Let’s Rethink Recruitment and Improve Employee Engagement


Employee engagement starts with recruiting the right people. Focusing on strategies to engage employees is a wasted exercise if you’ve recruited people who don’t have the likelihood of ever being ‘engaged’.  To improve employee engagement in the workplace, we really need to rethink recruitment.


People make better decisions about what job is right for them when they experience it. 


Our current methods of selection are poor because they are driven by the underlying assumption the hiring organization is best placed to decide who the best candidate is for the job. Given 87% of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs¹ and that, at any one time, 47% of employees (55% if they are based in London)² are thinking about changing their career, perhaps this assumption needs to be challenged? The hiring organisation may have the power to say yes or no during the selection process – but it has always been the employee who has the power once hired to fully engage – or not – with their job.

Currently, a substantial 70% of organisations DO NOT measure any return on investment from recruitment activity³ and, for those that do, they are really only measuring the average cost per hire/time to hire.  They do very little to assess the methods of assessment themselves.

The most common method of assessment in the UK is interviews based on a CV – a method which is used by 72% of organisations in the UK. This is what is referred to as an unstructured interview and, according to research, this method will predict the future performance of the employee around 14-15% of the time – meaning 85% room for improvement!

The best measure to assess the methods of selection is called ‘predictive validity’. It takes a measure of how well someone performed during selection and compares this with how they are performing in the job several years later. The best method of assessment currently, is a combination of General Mental Ability Tests (GMA – cognitive reasoning tests) and a work sample (an actual sample of the job – e.g. proofreading a document if the job involves a high level of proofreading). This takes the prediction levels up to around 38%.

There are over 300 organizational factors which engage or disengage employees. Add individual differences, personality, values and motivations into the mix and it’s easy to see trying to predict it all is at best short-sighted and at worst arrogant.

So how do we do better? Organisations – certainly at the graduate recruitment phase – appear to be coming around more and more to the idea of job shadowing, internships or work experience placements as a means to select and hire candidates:

‘Many employers consider that recruiting candidates who have proven their abilities during a work placement to be a more reliable way of employing graduates. Up to a third of new graduates are now recruited directly through employers’ work experience programmes and employers in sectors such as law, oil & energy, and investment banking are expecting to recruit at least half their graduates this way in 2015. Correspondingly, the number of paid work experience placements available at Britain’s leading employers has increased very substantially over the last five years.’

– The graduate market in 2015, High fliers research

It surely isn’t rocket science to suggest that people make better decisions about what job is right for them when they experience it. There is certainly a significant degree and body of evidence based research highlighting this fact. A meta analysis on realistic job previews (such as work shadowing) shows people who shadow jobs before taking them on are both more productive and perform better at work, and subsequent levels of turnover are reduced.


Why not empower the person who will actually do the job to experience it before they make a decision about accepting an offer?


More often used in the medical profession, shadowing is seen as a more critical tool for identifying the right candidates due to the costs of sponsoring medical training for the wrong people. In a study by Morrell and Detty Gin (2016) within the nursing profession, two groups were compared: one group had the opportunity to shadow a senior worker against another control group which had people interested in nursing but who did not participate in shadowing. The results indicated that 60% of the shadowing group planned to complete nursing education with 62% actually going on to then do so, compared to only 8% in the control group who planned to study.

Proposed change? On the basis no one wants to apply for a job they’ll be bad at, why not empower the person who will actually do the job to experience it before they make a decision about accepting an offer? I listened to a talk by Helen King (NED at Vanarama) who introduced shadowing at the point of job offer because the turnover in the role was too high. By asking people to ‘choose’ them on the back of shadowing the actual job, she reported a 35% drop in turnover and a far happier group of people who had joined with far more realistic expectations.

Concerns around confidentiality and potential competitors abusing the opportunity can be addressed legally through non compete and non disclosure agreements. In our early stage experience at ViewVo, no one has abused this privilege. People who give up their time to spend shadowing are at least starting from the mental position of being interested and seriously considering the that particular line of work.


The problem is the traditional approach to recruitment is broken.


The last and final reason this isn’t just a nice to have, but arguably essential component of a recruitment process, is because what I’m noticing through ViewVo is a difference between men and women. It’s still too early to be categorical about this, but men (in general) will approach a career change shadowing opportunity with confidence and bravado. Women less so – when they do the job for a day, the mystery is stripped away. More often than not, the response is ‘why didn’t I do this 5 years ago’, ‘I can totally do this job’. Women are less likely to apply for jobs they don’t have experience of doing. Speculating why this happens is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say, there is plenty of research on imposter syndrome to back up my observations. The fact is, if we know women need the encouragement of experience to make an application decision, why don’t we offer it? The problem isn’t that women don’t apply for senior jobs. The problem is the traditional approach to recruitment which I’ve hopefully demonstrated is broken. Stop trying to coach and train the woman to fit the system. Please fix the system.

For those offering the shadowing – a chance to spend time with prospective employees, is in itself motivating. Without exception, everyone we’ve worked with who’ve had people shadow them for a day find the opportunity rewarding as it gives them the chance to meaningfully give back. What could be more rewarding than helping shape someone’s life?

I’d love to hear your examples of how you incorporate shadowing into your recruitment processes? If you know organisations doing this, please can you put me in touch, I’d like to learn more?

I’ve written a longer e-book with articles on career changerships, implications of the new career deal on L&D and outplacement, which you can download here.


  1. Gallup 2013 State of the Global Workplace survey
  2. Careers Report Survey – London School of Business and Finance:
  3. CIPD Resourcing and Talent planning survey 2017. file:///C:/Users/lucy/Downloads/resourcing-talent-planning_2017_tcm18-23747.pdf
  4. The graduate market in 2015, High Fliers Research:
  5. Effects of Realistic Job Previews on Multiple Organizational Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis, J. Philips, 1998.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.  View the original article here.