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Always Be On Your A-Game
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Illustration by Ross Mortensen

I went to get my glasses readjusted the other day and got to talking to the assistant helping me. He was a recent college grad like myself and he had graduated from UCONN with a degree in business, looking for a job in insurance or banking. Unfortunately, he noticed that a lot of local banks and insurance agencies weren’t hiring, so like many of the recent pool of graduates, he was living at home, hoping to stumble across some luck.


One day he went into LensCrafters for a fitting, and the manager liked him and offered him a job. Now he’s working there full-time, and it wasn’t exactly what he was looking for, but he’s grateful to be employed and has enjoyed himself there.

You won’t always find what you’re looking for, but you can find opportunities in the most unexpected places.

For instance, when I was in high school I worked at a local gym as a fitness specialist. I worked there up through my sophomore year in college over the summer. There is a lot of standing involved in the job, so a good way to pass the time was to talk to the gym members. One of the members was a journalist for The Hartford Courant, our major paper in Connecticut, and I’m a writer, so he suggested I apply for an internship with them and mention his name. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I followed his advice and got the internship. I never would have had that experience if I had never talked to that gym member.

One of my networking contacts is the father of a girl on my sister’s soccer team, who I bumped into at the NCAA tournament, and happens to have gone to Bates and majored in English. He’s been advising me on my job search ever since.

An intern that I work with was interviewed by NBC at a local ski area that he works at about the skiing/snowboarding turnout this winter. After the interview was over, the NBC reporter gave him his card and said to stay in touch, and that he’d let him know about any job openings.

You’ll hear stories like this all the time and I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” Really it’s six degrees of separation, and the more you talk to people and network, even when it’s just casually in a grocery store line or while you’re bussing tables at your part-time restaurant job. In this economy, people seem more willing to help a fellow human out, especially if you share their interests and you click personality-wise.

Sometimes it’s just about connecting with someone, regardless of your background or experience. One of my bosses got a job once because he could make that employer laugh. Obviously, you have to do the work and show them your value, but your experience doesn’t necessarily have to be the first thing to get you in the door.

Career service offices will throw around the term “elevator speech,” which my dad calls the “airplane speech.” The idea is that if you bump into someone in an elevator who may be in your desired field of work, you can summarize what you want to do and why on the short elevator ride and sell yourself before they get to their floor. The “airplane speech” is similar, except imagine you’re on a five-hour flight, stuck next to the same person the whole time. You don’t want the snorer, the gross eater, or the annoying guy who just won’t shut up. You want someone who is kind, and with whom you can have a nice conversation, making the long flight bearable.

Be prepared to talk about your career interests at any time because you never know who you will bump into. I’m not saying that you should brag about yourself or stop random people on the streets to tell your story, but just be ready incase the job search comes up.

First impressions are important when people meet for the first time, so that conversation on the airplane could lead you to a job someday.