Tips for how to create your own luck and take advantage of professional opportunities whenever they present.
I waited tables throughout my college years and had many memorable customers. But one busy Saturday lunch hour was particularly unique: a woman dining with her family was oddly curious about my career aspirations and essentially interviewed me between her refills of Coca-Cola.
By the end of her meal, she offered me a job as her research assistant making twice my salary serving pizza. It was puzzling to have an impromptu interview. But being prepared for the unexpected puts you in a position to capitalize on exciting opportunities at the drop of a hat. And who doesn’t want to take advantage of a nice stroke of luck?
Here are a few things you can do right now to make sure you’re ready the next time you bump in to an unexpected future boss:
Prepare an elevator pitch. While you can’t anticipate all the questions a potential boss may ask you on the spot, one thing you can be sure of is that they will ask you what you’re doing now and what you want to be doing. It is especially important to have an answer that is positive, confident, and tells a story. Rehearse your pitch verbally, and try recording it with a video camera or audio device so you can get a sense of how a potential boss will interpret your story. Revise your delivery accordingly until you’re satisfied you have an honest, confident and up-beat way to present yourself.
Dress for success. Even on weekends. We’d all like to think the weekends are our own, but the fact is you can run into a future boss anywhere. There’s no need to wear a suit on the weekends, but think twice before leaving the house in something you’d be embarrassed to see a future colleague in.
I had an anxious day when I got a call mid-day from a potential employer inviting me for an interview just three hours later. Unfortunately, I had not exactly worn an interview-quality outfit to my job at the time and did not have enough time to go home and change. That mistake cost me the expense of a new suit while en route to the interview. The moral of my story: always leave the house in interview-ready clothes — even if your current office attire doesn’t really require it.
Never leave the house without the essentials. Your bag should always contain the networking essentials: your business card, a notebook and pen. If you bump into a potential professional contact, don’t let the opportunity pass without giving away your contact details and agreeing on follow-up steps.
Prepare a portfolio. It may be more obvious for job seekers in the creative industry, but many other types of job candidates can benefit from having a professional portfolio. What should you include? It depends on the type of work you are seeking, but it might include articles you’ve written and published; advertising campaigns you’ve designed, supervised or otherwise participated in; screenshots of websites you managed, designed or coded; if you’re an architect it might be blueprints or photographs of spaces you’ve designed; if you’re a chef it could be menus you’ve prepared and served. A variety of job industries have tangible documents you can use to prepare a portfolio, so think about what makes sense for your line of work. Can you carry it with you everywhere? Probably not. But early in my career, I kept one at my office and one at home. If an interview or other opportunity came up. I had something tangible to put in front of a prospective boss or client. Today, an online portfolio is also handy, and if you have one, it’s great to put a link on your business card.
Finally, if you find yourself in the midst of an impromptu interview, don’t forget to smile, be confident and end by asking how and when you should follow-up on your conversation.
Whitney Parker is vice president of user experience for Brazen Careerist, director of social media for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, and media coordinator for the Institute of National Security and Counterterrorism. You can follow her on twitter @whitneymparker.
You can hear more advice on acing unexpected interviews at the NYC Creative Interns panel discussion in New York City on Tuesday, August 9.