November 05, 2010, 12:00 PM — 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."
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
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.