Five Ways to Prototype Your Career

Our regular Friday movie night at our house will be disrupted next week as my daughters will be involved in a fifth grade fundraiser at school. Their school has an outdoor education program that gets rave reviews but is also a bit pricey, so one of the moms came up with a creative approach: run a 100% student-run fundraiser by hosting a movie night at school. The kids learn all the skills involved in hosting a fundraiser, while raising the money to pay for the field trip. Some kids are in charge of event marketing, some pricing the tickets and concessions, and my personal favorite: some are ‘bodyguards’ to make sure none of the kids who have been dropped off by their parents escape.

It struck me that our daughters and their classmates are lucky because they get early exposure to what we like to call “Career Prototyping”- an activity very near and dear to us at Journeous.

The topic of curiosity has been getting some attention recently, including this one on The Business Case For Curiosity in the Harvard Business Review. Here’s the good news – we all started out inherently curious. Spend an hour with a toddler and you’ll either see the proof of that, be exhausted by answering their litany of ‘Why’ questions, or perhaps both. And apparently those still channeling the kid in us are more productive – and if you need a curiosity reboot here are a few ideas on how to go about it.

Here are five real world examples of Career Prototyping:

Curious how you could use your interest in photography / visual design?

  • Find a local photographer and ask to follow along for their next photo shoot and help process the photos
  • Ask a local newspaper editor if you can join one of their photojournalists on the beat for a week
  • Ask a local sports team coach if you can be the team photographer for a month
    Reach out to a local ad agency and request a month-long stint assisting one of their commercial photographers
  • Call a local designer or web design company and see if there are any two- or three- week projects they’re working on that you might be able to help with
  • Then consider:how did I like the environment? The type of work? The hours? The people I was working with?
  • Here are a few things you might learn:
    • I like working with a team for part of my day while also having time when I’m doing work on my own
    • I like the pace of this type of work – intense periods of work followed by a few days of downtime
    • I need more structure in my day than this role had
    • I like working with people who have expertise in areas different than mine so I’m always learning
    • I like being able to be outdoors for my work

Curious about the nonprofit world?

  • Check out sites like Idealist Careers or Volunteer Match to find a volunteer role where you can put the skills you enjoy using to work. For example, create an organization’s social media plan, develop a PR strategy for an upcoming event, or serve as their technology guru.
  • Then notice: What surprises you – positively or negatively – about doing the the things you enjoy doing as part of a role? Are you still as passionate about this issue as you were before you started volunteering? How did you like the environment you were working in, the pace of the organization, the types of people you were working with? Did you like the issue being addressed but not the environment? Try a similar role at another organization and see if a different environment is a better fit.
  • Here are a few things you might learn:
    • I’m still drawn to helping to solve this issue but not as part of my job
    • I liked being part of such a mission-driven organization
    • I liked using some of my skills and realize I need some more training in one of them to be a competitive candidate in the future
    • I want to work in an organization where decisions get made quickly, not stymied by bureaucracy
    • Since I’m early in my career, I want to work in a place where I get some solid training as part of my job

Curious to see if it’s as fun as it looks to run a restaurant?

  • Start by getting a job as a hostess, waiter or waitress or dishwasher. Talk to management and see if you can create a daily specials list marketing the menu’s newest additions, manage inventory, generate ideas that drive customer testimonials or analyze the impact of current marketing efforts.
  • Then notice – how do you like the environment? The pace? The hours? Being on your feet all day? Being surrounded by people?
  • Here are a few things you might learn:
    • I liked figuring out the challenge of scheduling people weekly
    • I didn’t like dealing with customers all day long
    • I liked thinking about how best to market our specials so customers would order them
    • I enjoyed handling the different rushes of customers at lunch and dinner and figuring out who needed what to keep everyone happy
    • I didn’t like working weekends

Curious what the corporate world is really like?

  • Check out Parker Dewey for short-term projects with well-known companies
    Talk to your alumni office or leverage your network to find a connection at a company you’re interested in, and see if they could help you land a contracting or temp role.
  • While you are there, notice – how well does this role and company fit with my interests and skills? Do I like the pace of how quickly or slowly things get moved, and how decisions get made? What do I think of the environment I’m working in – do I like an open office or need more privacy to do my best work?
  • Here are a few things you might learn:
    • I liked learning about all the different teams and what they do
    • I liked working for a company that was committed to a good cause
    • The pace of the work was a good fit
    • I didn’t like being in an open office layout
    • I liked that people got together outside of work for team building

Curious about the world of medicine – but not interested in med school?

  • Have a cause you care about? Search guides like this for a non-profit supporting it and volunteer to help with marketing, operations, or fundraising for an upcoming event.
  • Want to see how care gets delivered (without getting injured)? Volunteer as a candy striper at your local hospital and get a feel for the hospital environment and the different types of jobs there.
  • Interested in improving access to medicine and health technology? Check out your network or alumni to see who you know in the space, or take a look at patient advocate organizations who help expand patient access to medicine, care and new technology. Here’s a sampling of volunteer opportunities.
  • Then notice: What are the issues they’re working on and do they interest me? What roles am I drawn to working in? What do people tell you they like and don’t like about their work, and how well does it sound like their would would fit you?
  • Here are a few things you might learn:
    • I like the idea of working with people in different functions / parts of an organization
    • I’m interested in the issues these people are helping to solve
    • I like combining my interest in health and communications
    • I’m not sure I’d like the pace of this work
    • I like being able to work as part of a team and getting exposed to the leaders of the company based on being at a startup

One of my daughters will be a ‘bodyguard’ next Friday. At 4’10”, I can’t wait to hear what she learns from her prototyping. How will you prototype your next role?

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