Sometimes the best networking happens when you least expect it.

Saturday morning I was at a coffee shop in Gig Harbor looking for a spot to set up my laptop. Though not crowded, all of the “good” spots were taken – the comfy armchairs with the side tables to hold your coffee, away from the sun’s glare that renders the screen unreadable. The only spots left were at the bar facing the window that looked out on the street. Even with the sun obscured by cloud cover it was still too bright to read. Feeling defeated, I was thinking about leaving to find a dark, dank Starbucks.

A woman sitting at a small table in the corner saw me waffling and offered me a spot at her table saying she would be leaving soon anyway. I sat down gratefully and while setting up my techie gear we chatted. It turned out she was just laid off from her job the day before. She asked me what I do, and I enjoyed telling her, “I help people find jobs.” I explained my role here at Puget Sound working with college students. After being surprised by the absolute serendipity of our meeting, she asked me a million questions about things that were burning in her mind.

Her first question was pretty typical: did I know of any jobs in her field? I didn’t, of course – I work with students looking for entry-level positions, and she was at a senior career level. But she didn’t end our conversation there, as most people would have. She continued to ask questions about things someone in my role might know. What was going on in the job market? How had job search techniques changed? What advice did I have for someone looking for work in this economy? I couldn’t point her to specific openings, unfortunately, but I was able to help her with all of her other questions and our conversation ended on a very positive note. We exchanged cards, and even though I may not know of positions in her field, if I do hear of something, I will certainly contact her. After all – she gave me a seat at her table.

There were three things this woman did that made me want to help her:

  • She showed genuine interest in me and the conversation was natural
  • She didn’t stop the conversation when I didn’t have an answer to her first question
  • She asked for the opportunity to stay connected by asking for my card

Students: keep this in mind as you go about your daily lives. There are times to be very deliberate about networking, say at an event like ASK Night, but more often than not, opportunities just present themselves at random moments. Networking happens every day, and an opportunity can crop up anywhere to make a new connection. You never know who you’re going to meet!

© 2009 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photo: Kris Hay