Is your elevator pitch polished enough for a plane?
Be the annoying person who talks to your neighbor, and you might just meet the connection to an excellent job.
After a morning of job interviews in Anderson, South Carolina, in 2007, Kevin Sherman prepared to board his airplane back to Michigan, where he was about to graduate from Michigan State with a mechanical engineering degree. He chatted with his fellow job interview candidates in the boarding area about other job opportunities.
As he got settled on the plane, his seatmate said he had overheard his conversation. “He said, ‘I’m an engineering manager,’” recalls Sherman, and the two struck up a conversation. “He interviewed me for two and a half hours,” Sherman says. Within weeks, Sherman, now 33, had accepted a formal job offer with the company, where he ended up working for four years before moving on for another opportunity.
As Sherman’s experience shows, the conversations you have on planes can change your life. When traveling for business or pleasure, you can increase your chances of turning a casual conversation into a job interview by learning from people who have done just that. We spoke to two people who turned a plane ride into a networking session. Here are their tips.
Be on your best behavior, even when tested
When Sherman first sat down on the plane, he kept his backpack on his lap. His seatmate — and future boss — made a comment that some might have taken to be rude: “He said, ‘I hope that’s not going to be on your lap the whole time,’” Sherman recalls.
Sherman calmly told him not to worry, he would soon be putting it away. A few minutes later, the conversation that turned into a job interview began. “If I would have said, ‘Don’t be a jerk,’ that wouldn’t have turned out well,” Sherman says.
Practice your opener
For Carolyn Clancy, an executive vice president at Fidelity, the life-changing plane ride took place returning from a direct marketing association conference in 1999. She turned to the person next to her and asked, “Are you going home or are you on vacation?” — a line she frequently uses as a conversation starter.
Clancy discovered her seatmate had been at a Fidelity sales conference, and they started talking about the future of marketing. After two hours of chatting, they exchanged business cards. The next morning, Clancy received a call from a Fidelity recruiter. Within two weeks, she had a new job at Fidelity, where she has been ever since.
Even if you’re not jobhunting, Clancy says conversations can be a chance to learn more about a new industry or company.
“Have a genuine curiosity and ask questions,” she says. “You could learn about where to take your next vacation, a great hotel, or how to do your job better.”