5 Strange But True Ways to Find a Job

Finding a job is kind of like looking for love. You can spend hours upon hours methodically searching for the perfect opportunity -- then, the moment when you least expect it, the right match wanders into your life.

With job hunting, there's never been a better time for a serendipitous encounter. Let's face it: In today's job market, even the most polished résumé and crisp-looking suit can leave you empty-handed. Or, as New Orleans musician Fats Domino puts it: "A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A., M.D., or Ph.D. Unfortunately, they don't have a J.O.B."

[ See also: How to Network: 7 Ways to Give, Not Just Receive | Finding freelance jobs: 6 sites for talented techies ]

We tracked down some of the most unconventional job-scoring stories we could find. From careers started on airplanes to connections made in art classes, they all have elements of strangeness -- and they all involve well-placed strangers.

"Everyone outside of family and close friends is a consequential stranger," theorizes Melinda Blau, author of Consequential Strangers: Turning Everyday Encounters into Life-Changing Moments. "News about job openings, training programs, or business prospects is more likely to come from people who aren't close to you."

Don't believe it? Read on, and see just how far a casual conversation can lead.

Strange Way to Score a Job #1: While Riding an Elevator

elevator

You know that guy you see in the elevator every morning? The one you always nod at before turning your attention to the Pop-Tart in your hand and the playlist in your ears?

He might be your future boss.

It sounds like a long shot, I know. That's what Eric Chen thought, too.

"I'd go to work at roughly the same time each morning," Chen, now an assistant professor at Saint Joseph College, recalls. "I soon noticed that I was riding the elevator up with the same group of people, doing the typical New York thing -- acknowledging each other with a nod but not anything else."

Chen didn't actually plan to break his routine. (Hey, those early morning Pop-Tarts can be quite captivating.) It was a bag that did the deed for him.

The bag -- a cloth briefcase, to be precise -- had the logo of the company where Chen worked printed on its side. One of his elevator buddies saw the symbol and struck up a conversation, asking Chen about his responsibilities and his goals for the future.

Fast-forward through some pleasant chit-chat, and Chen was handed a business card along with an open invitation to stop by anytime. Not only did he learn his elevator companion's name -- it was Larry -- he also learned that his new acquaintance was looking to hire.

"A week later, I started working for Larry analyzing biotechnology companies," Chen says.

All because of a short chat on a long elevator ride.

Next page: Strange Way to Score a Job #2: While Waiting For a Table

Strange Way to Score a Job #2: While Waiting For a Table

There are certain facial expressions that are universally recognizable. You've got sadness, for example, and excitement. And then there's my personal favorite -- a little something I like to call the "walking-into-a-restaurant-and-trying-to-determine-if-your-friend-is-there-yet" look. It typically consists of a wide-eyed gaze following by a dash of squinting, a pinch of eyebrow-furrowing, and a slight curling of the upper-lip.

That's precisely the look I imagine Jean Tobin had when she walked into the Bombay Bicycle Club in Ann Arbor some years back. Tobin was meeting a friend for lunch. As soon as she walked in the door, a couple of guys sensed she was searching for someone.

"They asked if I was Sarah," Tobin explains. "I said, 'No, but why?"

The men, it turns out, had mistaken Tobin for someone they were supposed to be meeting for an interview (that's Sarah). Sarah was late. Tobin was there.

"I had a nice conversation with them while we were waiting," Tobin laughs. "I guess they were impressed with me. They asked if I'd come by their office later to talk some more."

Tobin -- who, fittingly, has since authored a survival guide for the unemployed -- ended up getting the gig. As for Sarah, let's hope she at least got a tasty sandwich when she finally showed up.

Next page: Strange Way to Score a Job #3: While Waiting on a Table

Strange Way to Score a Job #3: While Waiting on a Table

You may not be in your dream job at the moment -- but that doesn't mean your on-the-clock hours count only for your paycheck. Why, you might wonder? It's simple: You never know when a new opportunity might sit down right in front of you.

"On two separate occasions, I've hired the person who was waiting on my table at a restaurant," says C. Scyphers, a technical architect with Daemon Consulting.

Scyphers is always on the lookout for new tech support talent, so when he sees standout customer service, he takes notice -- and it doesn't matter whether the service is related to computers or chicken salad.

"Good customer service is good customer service," Scyphers says, reflecting on his recent restaurant-inspired hires. "[The waiters] were very charming, displayed excellent attention to detail and were well-informed about the world in general."

I think it's safe to safe they both got tips they'll never forget.

Next page: Strange Way to Score a Job #4: While Flying Coach Class

Strange Way to Score a Job #4: While Flying Coach Class

If you're anything like me, the second you sit down on a plane, you slap on headphones and attempt to avoid eye contact with everyone passing by. While this approach does wonders for maintaining personal sanity, it may not be the wisest (or, for that matter, most socially conscious) approach.

Think about it: Who flies all the time? Business people. Who knows about upcoming job openings? Business people. And who makes hiring decisions? You guessed it: business people.

Online scheduling service ZocDoc found its current operations manager on an international flight to New York. The woman happened to be sitting next to the company's head of recruiting, and he needed to borrow a pen.

"They started chatting, and by the time they got off the plane, he asked her to send in a résumé," says ZocDoc's Jessica Vaccaro.

Three days later, the woman came in for an interview. Within the week, she was in the office and on the job.

"Our recruitment manager just had such a good feeling about her, her personality and her vibe," Vaccaro says. "He thought she would be a great addition to the team."

Now, that's what you call a first-class experience.

Strange Way to Score a Job #5: While Drawing Dancing Women

Unexpected job-scoring connections can come from everyday situations -- but they can also spring up from some of the most unusual environments.

Just ask Marc Holmes. Holmes, a graphic artist, found his latest money-making endeavor while drawing models at an art class. Let me be a little more specific: He was drawing a seminude woman who was pretending to be seduced by a skeleton puppet wearing a tuxedo on her left hand.

Yes, you read that correctly.

"She was dancing with a skeleton puppet and doing a striptease where the puppet removed her clothes," Holmes explains, without a hint of bewilderment. "You know those ventriloquist dolls -- always out of control."

Holmes and one of his fellow sketchers got to talking, and the topic soon turned to their professional interests. Holmes mentioned his background in film visual effects. Turns out his new pal was looking to hire someone for the visual effects studio he helped run.

"The pile of drawings I was producing convinced him I had work ethic, so he just said, 'Can you come in tomorrow and start work?' Simple as that," Holmes recalls.

Now, you may not ever find yourself sitting in a slightly erotic puppet-enhanced figure-drawing workshop, but there's still something to take away from this: When you're in an environment related to your passion, pay attention to the people around you. Odds are, plenty of them share your interests -- both personally and professionally.

"Pretend that everyday life is similar to a seminar or convention," suggests Consequential Strangers author Melinda Blau. "Remember that small talk has real value."

You don't need a gyrating pervert-puppet to see the value in that advice.

JR Raphael is a frequent ITworld contributor and the co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

Also by JR Raphael:
6 Strange Ways to Make Money Online
Priceless! The 25 Funniest Vintage Tech Ads
How 6 Memorable Tech Companies Got Their Names

Read more about career in ITworld's Career section

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