Russell Henry, 35, dreamed of a career in IT, but he didn’t have a college degree or the appropriate job experience. By day he worked as a manager at a local theater, and, in his free time, he spent hours tinkering with computers as a hobby.
“I enjoyed the technical and problem-solving aspects of working with computers and thought I might excel in IT, but I had no training, education or contacts,” recalls Henry, who lives in Hyattsville, Maryland. “I really had no idea of how to break into the industry.”
Little did Henry know, he had one thing going for him that would eventually open the door to his dream career: his love of alt-rock. Through a music listserv, Henry, a keytar player, met a bass player named J.*, and the two of them, along with one of Henry’s high school friends, decided to start a band.
“J. was working at the Democratic National Committee at the time and knew that I had an interest in IT,” says Henry. “When an entry-level computer tech job opened up, he put in a good word for me and facilitated me getting an interview. The IT director decided to give me a chance.”
That was 13 years ago. Henry is now an IT coordinator at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Call it accidental networking: the auspicious run-ins, surprise connections and unlikely relationships that lead to big payoffs in a career. It’s the chance encounter on the street that brings on a “So where are you working these days?” which then leads to an interview and, ultimately, an offer. Or the passing conversation at a dinner party that ends with a choice gig.
Life is filled with lucky breaks, and sometimes the best employment opportunities come in the most unexpected ways. After all, networking isn’t just something that happens at so-called networking events and business mixers. The true spirit of networking is a connection that happens naturally.
Stacey Hawley, a professional development coach with The Credo Company, says getting a job through less-direct connections (a friend of a friend of a friend) may be more common than you think.
“My guess is 70 percent to 80 percent of professional jobs are secured through [this kind of] networking,” says Hawley. “It is all about working your connections. A friend might not be able to help you link with someone at a desired firm, but your friend’s friend might be able to help make the connection.”
So when those unlikely connections occur, how do you make the most of them? Henry, and other people who had serendipitous job experiences, share how they leveraged their unexpected opportunities and a few of the principles that helped them get lucky in the first place.
Principle #1: Know What You Want
When it comes to accidental networking, knowing exactly what kind of job you want is the first step in the right direction — even if you don’t have the experience in a particular line of work.
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Take Ashley Poisella. Five years ago, Poisella, 29, already had an inkling that her job as an advertising executive wasn’t giving her everything she wanted out of life. The longer she spent in the role, the more she realized it really didn’t fulfill her need for something with depth, something that helped serve other people. Then Poisella got a true wake-up call telling her it was time to take a big leap and find more meaningful work.