We are very excited to introduce our October Alum of the Month, Emmy-nominated Executive Producer Lisa Hennessy (IES Abroad Vienna, Spring 1990). A Chicago native and alum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lisa has led an impressive career in the entertainment industry, producing shows like Rockstar and The Biggest Loser.
Her latest endeavor is a digital platform and TV series called DreamJobbing, which involves candidates submitting video applications for once-in-a-lifetime job opportunities, and being chosen as finalists by the online community.
Read on to find out how Lisa got to where she is today, and how she credits her study abroad experience for encouraging her to be brave.
IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study in Vienna?
Lisa Hennessy: I had studied German starting from grammar school through high school. The Vienna Program had International Relations, and it was basically right in the middle of Europe. It was at a really exciting time, when the wall came down in Berlin. Eastern Europe was changing at rapid speed, so we were right in the middle of a lot of political change.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad influence you, personally and professionally?
LH: I grew up in Chicago and went to school in the middle of the corn fields. All of a sudden I [was] exposed to people from all over the world as well as world class professors. The program really opened up my eyes in terms of all the different possibilities that are available globally.
If you can head over to a new city and a new culture and adapt and shine, it allows you to be brave. It gave me the skills and confidence to move out to California and try it in the entertainment industry.
IES Abroad: How did you get your start in the industry?
LH: Right after college, I got a job with waste management in Chicago coordinating…riding shotgun in a garbage truck. I did that for about six months and realized it was absolutely not the right path for me. I had always loved California. I just hopped on a plane one day when I was 23 or 24 and hustled my way into getting an internship at Edelman PR.
In 1994, I heard of an adventure race called Eco-Challenge. It was sports, adventure, travel, and TV: four things I just knew were exactly what I wanted to do. For about six months, I called the office to try to get an interview. Eventually, I had an interview with [British-American television producer] Mark Burnett, and there were about four of us in the office that worked on this production, a global adventure race. I got in the door, and the rest is history!
We worked in 12 different countries … in Morocco, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji … we scouted Jordan. It was amazing. From there, all those experiences we learned on Eco Challenge, massive logistical events, turned into Survivor…Survivor was the biggest game changer ever. We went on to produce thousands of hours of TV.
[I’ve been an] executive producer for Eco-Challenge, The Contender, Rockstar, The Great American Roadtrip, Biggest Loser… My specialty is large format, big competition reality shows.
IES Abroad: What is your favorite part of working in entertainment?
LH: You’re always learning. No matter what project you work on, you’re going to learn a new skillset. The entertainment industry allows you to learn about, make some changes, and bring awareness to a lot of different types of genres.
IES Abroad: How did you conceive of your new web platform, DreamJobbing?
LH: It’s really a combination of all my experiences, the fact that everything was meant to be. Because I’ve been so fortunate and because I’ve been able to learn so many different things from so many different aspects of my life, this is an opportunity for me to pay it forward.
By making a video and sharing it with your friends, you can truly change your story. My business partner Alex Boylan (the winner of Amazing Race Season 2) has been so blessed to travel. And, by making an application video [to get on the show], it changed the trajectory of his life. We really want to give people amazing experiences; we want to inspire people that this isn’t a dress rehearsal. You get one go around, and you might as well make the most of it. Go outside, travel, get outside your comfort zone. So that’s why we started DreamJobbing.
IES Abroad: Who is the ideal candidate for a Dream Job?
LH: Anyone who wants to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s really hard [for college students] right now to get a job. It’s a tough market, hard to get in. Travel costs are ridiculously expensive. The opportunities available for young people are bad. It makes me bummed out. Those people that have that spark and want to do something interesting—millennials, or older people who made different decisions for whatever reason to stay in stagnant jobs—can check things off their bucket lists.
IES Abroad: What are some examples of jobs offered through DreamJobbing?
LH: The first Dream Job we offered was to be a guest on-air talent with Nick Lachey on VH1. The videos are really good. The final three are going to be auditioning on air next week. The winner will be on air November 10. That will be the first DreamJobbing live experience, and the winner will blog about their experience.
[Others jobs include] a Tour Reporter in New Zealand for three weeks on a live action sports event called Nitro Circus … Guest Producer for The Millers, a CBS comedy … Wildlife Volunteer in Thailand working with Asian elephants … Global Giver for TOMS shoes… Kings Hawaiian culinary explorer… there are a lot of things in the pipeline. Pretty much every week we launch a new dream job.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students?
LH: My key advice is to study abroad. Of all my friends who are successful, the underlying common denominator with most of us [is that we] studied abroad. I think studying abroad at a young age opens your eyes to opportunity and gives you the skills to be brave enough to take chances and do extraordinary things.
I would [also] recommend you follow your passion. It’s the most important thing. If there are things that you love, try to figure out a job in that arena, because you spend so many hours a week working. If you do what you love, you pretty much never work a day in your life.
Find out more about DreamJobbing at www.dreamjobbing.com.