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Cantaloupes, Mermaids, & Surfing: The Random Stuff That’s Gotten Me Hired

by Lauren McCabe on June 13, 2011

No, it wasn’t the professional resume writer who produced a four page CV for me before I even graduated and had NO WORK EXPERIENCE.

It wasn’t those heartfelt cover letters that I scrawled first by hand and with a quill because yes, quills totally make me produce better work than typing, and yes I stuck it in my woolen hat in the winters because it looked so 17th century and AWESOME.

And it surely wasn’t those job applications that I sent out. Those things have never gotten me a call back

It was lugging my surfboard around the NYC subway. And carrying a backpack with the word “cantalope” misspelled on the back. And it was telling people I was a mermaid.  Those were the things that actually got me traction in my job search.

You don’t need to tell me that this sounds random. It is, but the straight-laced traditional way of getting jobs is even more random—sending your resume to a random person at a random company that might randomly give you a call back, but probably not.

Especially in the job search, you need to make randomness work for you by creating context in ways that are fun and awesome. Like with mermaids. And Surfing.

Here are my three examples of how I’ve dominated randomness to get me hired.

1.) Cantaloupe misspelled on a backpack helped me network. When I opened the cheerily wrapped box on Christmas morning, I was definitely not expecting a backpack with the word “Cantalope” misspelled on the front.

“Mom, you do know that Cantaloupe is misspelled.” I said.

She looked befuddled.

“I spellchecked it before I ordered it.”

Didn’t mater– I loved my mother’s gallant efforts to make me happy, and it wasn’t misspelled so badly that strangers trailing behind me weren’t able to decipher the word of my favorite fruit (thus why it was the number one thing on m Christmas wish list), so I kept it. For 10 years (those LL Bean backpacks sure are hardy).

And without fail, whenever I was in the airport on some random day of the week in college, some dude or dudess in a business suit would wander up behind me and say, “You know Cantaloupe is misspelled on your backpack.”

I would sigh. “Mom didn’t spell-check the Christmas gift.”

Then they would ask, “What do you have in that thing anyway, bricks?”

And I would be like. “Poetry.”

And then we would talk about how I was studying English, and the irony of an English major having cantaloupe misspelled on their backpack, and what was I going to do with an English major anyway?

Bingo. That’s when the gainfully employed businessperson would hand over their business card and offer sage counsel as I embarked on my first job search.

Networking gold.

Surfing got me hired. I’ve actually written about this before, and the true heartfelt story is on the KODA blog here, but that link will be probably be taken down soon because (tear drop) KODA no longer exists. So here’s the gist:

Yes, you can surf in New York City, and when I was in college I would wake up at 4 AM and lug my seven-foot surfboard n the subway to Queens to catch a few waves before classes.

On my back to school, I would pass through Times Square during the height of rush hour, shoving my the board into the packed cars where people in business suits held my sandy surf board up between their business suits (New Yorkers are so nice).

Then they would ask, Why am I holding a surfboard that actually looks like it was just in the ocean?

And I was like, the beach, man, you can totally surf in New York City.

And then we got to talking about how I was graduating soon, and how I didn’t know what I was going to do, and one day I met someone who passed on my business card to a CEO. And I got hired.

Mermaids helped me nail a job interview. It was totally a joke, the 500 business cards that I had printed (for free) saying I was a Mermaid Specialist.

But then again, I didn’t have any other business cards my senior year in college when I was going to networking events and interviews, and when someone would ask for my contact information, I would always fumble around in my backpack for a piece of notebook paper. Totally awkward.

So one day when I was in an interview and the dude gave me his business card, I took a deep breath and handed over my mermaid business card.

His eyes lit up.

“Now we’re getting to the real stuff,” he said.

I got hired.

Morals of these stories?

You need a reason for people to care enough to hire you, and unfortunately it’s not a pleasant smile and hair plastered into “the bun.”

It’s more like sitting on the NYC subway covered in sand with seaweed in your hair, and doing stuff that you love.

This is all about creating context for people, making them care about you, and starting conversations.

Of course, I know some of you gregarious go-getters don’t need cantaloupes and surfing jaunts to start talking to people and networking—you just do it.

But it never hurts to have people approach you. Double your networking power with minus the effort because you’re just being quirky, random, YOU, and people are engaging with you because they like you, right off the bat.

So tell me—what is your most random networking tale?

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