It's always been one of the toughest Catch-22s in the world of employment. Companies want to hire workers with real-world experience, but the only way for workers to get that experience is to have a real-world job.

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It’s always been one of the toughest Catch-22s in the world of employment. Companies want to hire workers with real-world experience, but the only way for workers to get that experience is to have a real-world job. And around and around the circular logic spins.

But you don’t have to have CEO experience to demonstrate valuable leadership skills, solve problems or see a project through to a profitable end. Aaron McDaniel, a corporate manager, entrepreneur and author of the book “The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World,” says that proving that you’re a fast learner can be just as valuable as having a long work history.

As McDaniel recounts in his book, he had no previous experience with project management in one of his old marketing jobs, yet was able to work with his team to “reverse a decline in revenue for our major product line, and I was given a great deal more responsibility to run various initiatives.” Later, when he joined AT&T, he had never led a team of salespeople before, yet his team was able to lead his region for three consecutive years under his guidance, resulting in his promotion to regional vice president.

So is McDaniel just a wunderkind at his line of work? Hardly, he says. Each time he applied for a new job or faced a new challenge, he proved to hiring managers and supervisors that he could quickly grasp a situation and take charge. It’s a skill, he says, that many people don’t know they already possess.

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“I am sure you have come across similar situations in your own careers and have been forced to learn something quickly, just to keep up with your job,” he writes. The key is to focus on those times when you had to think on your feet, and describe the positive outcomes to hiring managers.

If you don’t have much experience and want to become a fast learner, McDaniel recommends a few important behavior changes:

Be a sponge. “At the beginning of any project,” he says, “soak up as much information as you can. As time goes by, you will get a better understanding of what is relevant information and what is not, but to start, be open to anything.”

Ask questions — a lot of them. Don’t be afraid to bother the boss or seem like a greenhorn. “Your managers and peers think it is acceptable not to know the answers to everything when you are first put into a situation,” McDaniel writes. Posing lots of questions in the beginning “lubricates the wheels of fast learning.”

Stay alert. “Keep your eyes open for lessons from all angles,” he says. “Immerse yourself in things you don’t understand.” Much of this can be done by reading books, trade publications and company reports. Seek out advice from those with more experience, and find out what has made them successful.

Always seek new challenges. It’s not enough to merely understand your job; you must also contribute to it by injecting it with your own creativity. Fast learners, he says, need to develop the confidence to know that, “no matter the situation, you will find a way to work it out.” Don’t wait to be told what to do, he sums up. Instead, seek out problems, proactively research them and find out what you need to know to solve them.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.