What’s Next in Your Design Career? Consider Job Shadowing

How experiential learning can expose you to new perspectives and opportunities

Shailja Pahuja
Experience Matters
Published in
6 min read2 days ago


Abstract image of purple, overlaying reflections similar to smartphone screens

When you reach a certain point in your design career, you might be wondering whether you’re ready for the next step and what that might look like. Have you thought about job shadowing? Shadowing provides valuable insights into different roles and helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of their aspirations. If your organization offers the opportunity to shadow senior leaders and executives, you should take the chance to catch a glimpse of their daily life and the potential role that you aspire to step into.

As a User Experience Design Expert at SAP, I am grateful for the platform my role has provided me. Over the past 10 years, I’ve grown from a design student into a competent professional. Now, as an aspiring design leader, I continuously study leadership styles, develop new skills, and strive to make a meaningful impact in enterprise UX. I recently had the opportunity to follow along with our Chief Design Officer Arin Bhowmick and experience what it means to lead a diverse community of UX designers, user researchers, developers, and product experts that make up SAP Design.

Below I share 6 tips from my own job shadowing experience to help you get the most out of yours:

#1 Consider who you want to shadow and approach them with confidence

When choosing someone to shadow, it’s important to consider who you’d like to learn from and gain insights into their role. Ideally, this person is a few steps ahead of you in their career path, so that you can get a glimpse into how your own journey might potentially develop. Once you’ve narrowed it down, it’s time to fearlessly ask to shadow them. Here are some steps to help you approach and secure the opportunity:

Tap into your network: Consider shadowing someone you or your colleagues are already familiar with. This can make the process more comfortable and informal. Reach out to individuals in your network who might be open to the idea of being shadowed.

Put it in writing: Writing a formal email has always been a reliable approach. Address the person you want to shadow or their team in a respectful manner. Clearly express your interest in shadowing them and explain how their knowledge and experience align with your career goals. Highlight the potential benefits for both parties.

Be prepared for a “no”: When reaching out, it’s important to keep in mind that responses can vary. Some individuals may decline due to time constraints or other commitments. Accepting a “no” gracefully and appreciating their consideration is essential. Alternatively, you may not receive a response at all. In such cases, consider exploring other shadowing opportunities or following up with a polite inquiry.

Either way, it’s essential to be clear about your intentions, express your eagerness to learn, and highlight how shadowing them can benefit both parties.

#2 Do some prep work

Once you’ve secured your job shadowing opportunity, it’s important to invest time in preparation. By preparing in advance, you can gain clarity on what is expected of you during the shadowing experience. This includes understanding the goals, objectives, and specific areas of focus that the person you are shadowing has in mind. It allows you to align your expectations with theirs, ensuring a more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience. Here are some ways you can prepare:

Do your research: Familiarize yourself with the background and achievements of the person you will be shadowing. This can include detailed information of their job profile, their recent work, social media activities, and conferences they participated in.

Identify focus areas: Job shadowing is an opportunity to learn and gain insights from professionals in the field. Preparing beforehand allows you to identify specific areas or skills you want to focus on during the shadowing experience. It helps you tailor your observations and questions to extract the most relevant information, enabling you to learn and grow professionally.

Put your best foot forward: Last but not least, being prepared shows professionalism and respect for the time and effort of the person you are shadowing. Be ready to contribute to meaningful discussions and leave a positive impression.

#3 Figure out what you want to learn ahead of time

To make the most of your shadowing opportunity, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what you want to learn and achieve beforehand. By identifying your goals and areas of interest in advance, you can tailor your job shadowing experience to focus on acquiring the knowledge and skills that will benefit your career aspirations. Here’s what I focused on:

Collaboration Style: Observe how they interact with people across hierarchies, roles, and backgrounds. Take note of how they create a conducive and open environment for effective collaboration. Pay attention to their communication skills and how they manage conflicting situations.

Leadership Style: Understand how they devise effective strategies, communicate them, and tackle complex situations. Observe how they guide the organization towards its mission and handle challenges. Look for their values, ethics, and the overall vision they have for their team.

Motivational Style: Learn how they stir enthusiasm and motivate teams to perform at their best. Observe their approach to personal and professional development, empowering designers, and creating accountability. Take note of their emphasis on quality, excellence, and celebrating small victories.

Building a Brand: Explore how they focus on building the brand perception of the organization. Understand their motivations for thought leadership and how they stay up to date with trends and technology. Observe their investment of time and efforts in publishing authentic content and establishing credibility in the industry.

By gaining insights into these areas, you can gain some valuable knowledge enhancing your own professional growth and development.

#4 Identify winning work patterns

Every day is unique, even for the executive you might shadow. Despite the diversity of tasks they face, they maintain certain rituals and patterns. Try to identify these patterns and you might discover some best practices. Take note of their job responsibilities, daily organization, stakeholder interactions, required skills, motivations, and sources of inspiration. Observe how they structure their day and manage their tasks.

#5 Grow and maintain your network

Shadowing not only offers a first-hand glimpse into the daily routine of an executive but also provides networking opportunities and chances to showcase your abilities. Greet and introduce yourself to everyone you encounter, explaining your purpose for being there. Utilize networking opportunities wisely and aim to establish genuine personal connections, such as requesting a photo during appropriate break times if appropriate.

After the shadowing experience, it’s important to reflect on what you’ve learned and consider your next steps. One meaningful action you can take is sending a thank-you note to the person you shadowed. This simple gesture not only shows gratitude but also helps strengthen the professional relationship you’ve established. Additionally, leverage the communication channel you’ve established during the shadowing to explore opportunities for collaboration and support. Last but not least, take the time to reflect on the valuable insights gained during the shadowing and consider how you can leverage them for future professional journey.

#6 Reflect on your experience

For me, this shadowing experience has been incredibly enlightening. It reminded me that executives are just as human as anyone else, and there is much we can learn from them. Having spent a packed and fruitful day with Arin, here’s what I was able to take away as I look towards my future career path:

1. Empathy and compassion are key: It’s important to prioritize building strong relationships with project stakeholders and approach disagreements with empathy and compassion, fostering understanding and cooperation.

2. Always seek to connect: Strong leaders seek opportunities to bridge gaps, foster connections, and break down barriers within the workplace, creating a collaborative environment where ideas can flourish.

3. The best leadership style is one that empowers your team: Taking a note from Arin, I hope to hone a leadership style that supports and empowers others, encourages fearless innovation, embraces the lessons learned from mistakes, and promotes accountability.

There you have it! As you look towards your next career steps, I hope that my experience inspires you to consider the value of job shadowing and fuels your personal and professional growth. Best of luck on your own journey!

Experience matters. Follow our journey as we transform the way we build products for enterprise on www.sap.com/design.



Shailja Pahuja
Experience Matters

User Experience Design Expert @SAP | Design Thinker | OKR & UX Coach