Maybe it’s managing new product development schedules or overseeing department budgets. You’ve got the smarts, the drive and all the other ingredients to really shine at this job, but you simply don’t have the experience on paper that you know they’ll be looking for.
If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone talk about this conundrum, I could buy a lot of carne asada burritos. But, seriously, it’s important to identify where the problem lies in this thought process. Too many young professionals think they need jobs (or an internship) to get experience.
This is the problem. You see, people equate getting a job with gaining experience. When in reality, experience is out there for you to invent, and apply it in creative ways.
I’ve got your magic-freakin’-bullet right here, and it’s called the Monkey Bar Project. The Monkey Bar Project (MBP), is self-initiated project that will A) help your present employer achieve greater success, and B) give you a rich story to tell at a future interview.
Like the playground equipment it’s named after, requires you to keep a firm handle in two different places while you move from point A to point B. It is critical that you are never formally asked to take on this project, or that the nature of the deliverable be anything resembling a current assignment you are working on. It must come out of left field, yet when revealed it should fit effortlessly well with goals of your current employer.
The MBP is intended to accomplish two very powerful goals:
- Make you outshine all of your colleagues by demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm for supporting your company
- Empower you with presentable, measurable evidence of a successful (or unsuccessful , which is ok!) project to show off at your next interview.
But let me be clear – this is not a selfish endeavor, nor is it deceitful in any way. Your MBP must genuinely benefit yourself and your employer. When designing your MBP you should think seriously about the intent and reasoning behind the project. After all, you don’t want to entirely waste your own time which could be better spent boosting your hireability in other ways.
Step 1: Define Your Target Job
Research your target job and understand what skills or strengths they are looking for. List specific skills or experiences their ideal candidate would have. Most of the time you will have some (but not all) of these skills. List them in order by priority. Identify what skills you are missing.
Step 2: Survey your Current Location
Take a close look at your current work environment and answer the question: What defines success? This is easier said than done – in actuality it’s a difficult question that many leaders in the business world struggle with everyday – but it is the backbone of really nailing the MBP. Spend some time thinking about what your goals are, and the goals of your team. What piece of your work is struggling? Where are the problems? What annoys you or causes you to stay late at work? Where is there an opportunity? After all, that is the magic word: opportunity. Begin by investigating your own work, speaking with colleagues, and even point blank asking your boss how he/she defines success.
Step 3: Develop Your Plan
[Things that drives success] + [Skill you’re missing from target job] = [Monkey Bar Project]
Let’s take a look at a few examples of MBP’s in action…
Jordan is a senior in college majoring in Economics, who works part time at the ticket counter at a local movie theater. He’s a solid B/B- student with a GPA that’s nothing to brag about, so highly coveted (and competitive) internships are out of the question. But he’s extremely resourceful, and a fast learner who is willing to go the extra mile to reach his goals.
Jordan is a sports junkie, and loves attending exclusive launch parties, getting hats signed and scoring free tickets and swag with his favorite players names stitched on the back. Yesterday he found a new job listing for an Event Marketing Assistant for a local sports management company. This is it! It’s his chance to break into his dream industry. But reading further into the listing, he notices the job requires experience overseeing event logistics, negotiating with venues, managing relationships with vendors and assisting with budget oversight. He’s a smart dude, but operating a ticket booth doesn’t quite give his resume the boost he needs right now.
Tuesday nights are always slow at the movie theater. Theaters barely reach 30% capacity, so that leaves 70% of seats waiting to filled. Jordan identifies this as an opportunity to pitch a new idea to his boss, and he proposes the following: Jordan will invite 100 of his facebook friends to go see the new historical thriller next tuesday night. It’s relevant because his political science class just studied that period of history. So at a cost of $9 per ticket, Jordan’s plan will drive $900 of new sales to theater. To entice his friends to come, he negotiates a deal with his boss to allow one free popcorn for every 2 students he brings. At $4 per popcorn, that equals $200 in lost sales. His boss agrees. Jordan’s friends see a movie with free popcorn, the theaters nets $700 in sales on an otherwise slow Tuesday night, and Jordan gains event logistics experience that he can document on his resume. It’s a win-win-win situation.
Sarah just graduated with a degree in graphic design. She got good grades, but is lacking where it really counts for her field: her portfolio. Since all the internships she found were unpaid, that simply wasn’t an option, so she found a job working at the front desk of a dentist’s office. They hired her for her website skills, with the hope that she can refresh their website and social media strategy, while booking dental appointments and managing patient files. The job is just alright. It pays pretty well, but after a year at the office, Sarah is uninspired and not working to her full potential. It’s time for a change.
Sarah finds a brand new job posting for a Digital Video Editor for a hot Gawker-esque online magazine. In the ad, they want to see a video portfolio and required advanced knowledge of Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects and experience recording live sound. Feeling defeated, Sarah knows this would be a great first step on her the way to her dream career working in online media, but she her resume lacks all the skills they’re looking for.
The dental office has 90% repeat clients, who come in year after year for cleanings, fillings and root canals, but the office has had trouble booking new clients. They hoped that Sarah’s work on the website would solve that problem. She did a beautiful job, overhauled their search engine optimization and even made the website look great on mobile phones. Still, very few new clients were coming in. So Sarah approaches her boss and proposes the following: she will film short video testimonials for the website of 5 happy patients, plus one introductory video of her boss explaining his philosophy of creating a comforting, safe environment for his patients. Sarah’s boss loves the idea, and gives her a list of 5 patients who would be willing to go on camera. This is great news, but Sarah has one small problem: She doesn’t have a video camera, and has no idea how to use Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects. So in the period of one week, shes buys a DSLR camera from Costco (which she will return in 90 days), gets a cheap lavalier microphone on Amazon.com, and spends 4 nights learning Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects with the help of tutorials on Lynda.com ($25). Equipped with new tools and skills, Sarah sets out and records her video interviews.
The response is very fantastic. New clients watch the videos on their website and are swayed by seeing authentic faces with real, honest stories. New client appointments increase 25% over the next 3 months, and Sarah’s boss is beyond pleased. Sarah got the experience she needed to demonstrate her video skills, and not only has real live work to show, but has a killer problem-solving story that demonstrates her initiative, drive and creativity. It’s a win-win all around.