Chance Encounters Bring Chance-of-a-Lifetime Opportunities
David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock via Indiewire
Both New and Existing Relationships are Key to Opportunities
Imagine getting a new job after one serendipitous meeting while running your everyday errands. Now imagine that job transforms your entire life and includes developing the hit TV show Bob’s Burgers and winning multiple Emmys. You’ve just imagined Loren Bouchard’s reality.
After dropping out of high school in 1988 and working odd jobs for five years, Loren Bouchard hadn’t settled on a career path. During that time, he developed a comic about a bartending dog, but novelty publishers rejected the effort and Bouchard abandoned it.
By sheer chance in 1993, Bouchard ran into Tom Snyder while leaving an art supply store in his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tom Snyder had been his elementary-school science teacher and an ex-colleague of his father’s; he asked if Bouchard still drew.
This serendipitous meeting altered the entire course of Bouchard’s life trajectory. Snyder’s business was expanding from software into animation and needed an illustrator. Hired by Snyder, Bouchard would embark on a project resulting in the animated comedy Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. This one coincidental run-in would be the genesis of his animation career and how he would become acquainted with his friends and collaborators, meet his wife, decide where to live, and choose every other life detail affected by professional duties and aspirations.
“I know it’s cliché,” Bouchard told contributing New York Times writer Carina Chocano. “But it’s, like, stunning sometimes, the magnitude of the difference [that single encounter created].”
Personal Connections Mean Business Opportunities
Anyone involved in the entertainment industry does not hesitate to describe it as an industry of relationships and serendipity. Most who have had a “big break” really just met the right people at the right time or had familial entry-points; Bouchard’s story isn’t an outlier — in any industry.
In a 2011 interview with NPR, president of Career Horizons Matt Youngquist claimed, “At least 70%, if not 80%, of jobs are not published...the vast majority of hiring is friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances.” More recently, a 2020 LinkedIn survey found 73% of respondents were hired after someone they knew facilitated an introduction. Another 70% claimed having a personal connection with someone already at the company.
When it comes to a personal recommendation, many wonder what qualifies as “personal” and what sort of relationship longevity this would entail. While no specific formula exists, it only takes one memorable conversation to create an impactful connection.
People Want to Help
Even a newly formed relationship can lead to opportunities and unlock possibilities. Take Quentin Tarantino’s story. After dropping out of high school in 1978, director Quentin Tarantino worked as an usher in an adult movie theater and as a clerk at a video store in Manhattan Beach. In 1985, Tarantino attended a Hollywood party where he met Lawrence Bender. A passionate movie buff, Tarantino must have amazed Bender because he encouraged Tarantino to write a screenplay. From this, Tarantino would write the screenplay for True Romance (1993) to finance his first foray into directing. Because the two stayed in contact, Beder ended up producing that film, written and directed by Tarantino, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino’s experience also shows us this: your serendipitous encounter is not the end. Maintaining and nurturing that relationship through delivery is paramount. And Bender’s generosity wasn’t an anomaly. When a person is truly warm, passionate, and grateful about the project or endeavor they’re seeking help for, people tend to offer support. According to that 2020 LinkedIn survey, 59% of respondents were willing to provide a recommendation and 41% would go as far as making introductions for others to people in their professional community.
More Hollywood Than They Let On
But the entertainment industry isn’t the only one that runs on referrals and interpersonal connections.
When filling an open position, 89% of hiring managers value referrals. A referred candidate receives closer attention to their resume, say 49% of hiring managers, and 52% claim it increases the likelihood of selecting the candidate for an interview. Financial technology professional Ahmed Siddiqui’s story highlights the importance of serendipity and rapport in any employment sector.
In his book The Anatomy of the Swipe, Siddiqui admits his lack of upkeep regarding relationships, saying, “...unfortunately, I wasn’t the best person to keep tabs on high school friends.” Lucky for him, Dave Matter was. After moving to the San Francisco Bay area, Matter connected with Siddiqui on Facebook and reached out to him to grab coffee. Over that coffee meeting, Siddiqui was offered the role of Director of Product Management at the card issuing platform Marqeta, leading to Siddiqui’s writing and publication of The Anatomy of the Swipe. Imagine if his old high school buddy hadn’t moved from Minnesota to the Bay area and messaged him on Facebook.
Interestingly, alumni networks don’t seem to be helping with these connections. According to a 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey of college graduates, only 9% of graduates found their alumni network helpful, 22% saw them as actively unhelpful, and 69% found them inconsequential. That means hiring managers privilege personal recommendations and introductions versus institutional ones. And if Loren Bouchard and Quentin Trarantino have shown us anything, it’s that success isn’t contingent on a high school diploma, let alone an alumni network.
Make Connections First
To increase your chances of serendipity, you have to put yourself out there — effort is a key component to success, or luck. As we age, our worlds tend to shrink since we’re no longer enrolled in school or attending mandatory, or conveniently scheduled, events. But expanding the amount of people you meet is integral to forming a lattice of thoughtful, possibly life-changing connections.
As Career Horizons president Matt Youngquist told NPR, “Individuals looking for work should make at least 100 new contacts a month by making phone calls, sending emails, or even showing up at a company's door.”
And this applies to most non-linear career paths. As we’ve seen so far, creative projects find their creators at parties, art supply stores, and coffee shops. You don’t need to seek out networking groups or attend young professional meetings; start meaningful conversations with strangers wherever you move in the world. Use tools like Clay to help you nurture and grow these connections and increase the likelihood of serendipitous encounters — you’ll be top of mind when they meet or catch up with the person who needs to meet you. And this goes vice versa: you’ll also facilitate meaningful connections for them; Clay helps make relationships symbiotic.