Here’s how you can turn your small talk on a plane into a new career

As a fresh university graduate, moving to London to begin my career in an unknown position and industry required a great deal of self-confidence.

Photo: Suhyeon Choi

Hunkering down for a long flight, I adjusted my seat and flashed half-hearted smiles at the strangers awkwardly shuffling into the seats next to me. I would’ve never guessed that a few hours later, one of those strangers would be my future boss.

I was on vacation, catching one of those convenient and affordable intercontinental European flights to my next holiday destination — career opportunities weren’t necessarily the first thing on my mind. But as luck would have it, I sat next to a chatty business professional on his way home from a meeting in London.

The 2-hour plane conversation that changed my life

After exchanging pleasantries and discussing what each of us was doing on a plane headed from London to Austria, we naturally fell into a conversation about the e-commerce industry the businessman was a part of. As a fresh graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask an expert about the booming industry. Although my knowledge was limited, I rattled off questions about the company he worked for, as well as industry logistics, legislation, and future projections for the global market.

Pleased to discuss his line of work, the businessman enthusiastically dove into a description of the current state of the industry and provided in-depth answers to all of my questions.

After entertaining my friendly interrogation and asking me about my credentials, the businessman revealed he was actually the Managing Director of the company I’d been quizzing him about. Before parting ways, he handed me a business card, said he liked my enthusiasm, and asked me if I’d ever considered relocating.

The critical follow-up

After settling into my hostel in Austria, I immediately grabbed my laptop and sent an email thanking the businessman for our interesting conversation. Although I still had a week left of my carefree European vacation, I knew that a prompt, standout follow-up communication was critical if I wanted to further explore this opportunity. I informed him of when I was returning to Canada, and suggested we set up a Skype conversation to reconnect shortly after.

A few days later, while watching the Austrian Alps blur past the window of the train I was on, I received a reply from the businessman with a list of times that he was available for a Skype meeting. At that moment, for the first time, relocating my life to London started to feel like a tangible opportunity.

Determined not to further rely on luck or happenstance, I devoted the rest of my travel time (what else was I going to do on my 9-hour plane ride home anyway?) to further researching the e-commerce industry and the businessman from the plane’s company.

Surprise – I actually did it

Four months later, I relocated from my quaint hometown, Victoria, Canada, to the bustling European metropolis, London, for an ambitious (and at the time, terrifying) career opportunity with the stranger from the plane. I’d never lived in a big city (let alone on another continent), had very few personal contacts in London, and had no clue how or where to find an apartment — but for some reason, I found myself throwing my cutest rain gear into my suitcase without hesitation.

After stepping off of the plane in London, I was immediately overcome with apprehension and self-doubt. The cautionary warnings I’d received from anxious friends and family before leaving Canada played on repeat in my mind. I’d done some impulsive things in my life, but this was crazy—even for me. I took a deep breath, pushed the voices to the back of my mind, and stopped my shaking fingers from calling my best friend in a panic.

But how did I end up here?

Once I was a bit more settled into my new career, I’d often find myself staring out of my office window at the enchanting city I’d grown to call home — perplexed at how this new life of mine had come to be.

Having recounted the story of why I moved to London countless times, the ludicrousness of my decision to accept the man on the plane’s offer had somewhat lost its luster to me — until a drink with a particularly inquisitive co-worker. I was sharing an after-work pint with a new coworker when she asked me a question that no one else had asked, “How did you manage to get a job offer on a two-hour plane ride? How could I do that?”

I realized that I’d never explored this question with my boss, nor had I taken much time to seriously consider it for myself. So I decided to schedule a meeting with him.

The importance of understanding your strengths

Delighted to discuss the topic, my boss tangentially articulated the importance of understanding your personal strengths. He attributed his own successful career progression to the ability to select roles that promoted his strengths and curtailed his weaknesses.

Next, he suggested I take The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), ponder the question myself, and schedule a meeting to review my findings. After ruminating on my personality traits, completing the MBTI, and reviewing my boss’s cliff notes, I finally had an answer to my co-worker’s question. My interpersonal skills, open-mindedness, and self-confidence were the strengths that lead me to this job.

Honing my personal strengths

My boss cited my robust interpersonal skills as the fundamental reason he offered me a job. I’d often been congratulated on my strong interpersonal skills, but I couldn’t comprehend the rarity or correlation to success in a workplace.

Interpersonal skills are basically your ability to interact with other humans — reflected through both verbal and nonverbal communication. I’ve always found it easy to form genuine human connections, and didn’t think much about starting a conversation with a stranger on a plane. My boss said he’d been caught off guard by my natural networking skills, palpable enthusiasm, and ability to quickly form an honest connection with a stranger. As a frequent flyer, he assured me that my interpersonal skills set me apart from the rest of the people on the plane.

My decision to move to London to pursue a precarious job offer from a man on a plane was met with both doubt and apprehension by many people in my life. Naturally, I experienced my own dose of trepidation alongside this, but I chose open-mindedness instead of fear. Risks are okay. Mistakes are okay.

As a fresh university graduate, moving to London to begin my career in an unknown position and industry required a great deal of self-confidence. I used to think the nerves and apprehension I experienced regarding my move meant that I didn’t have a strong sense of self-confidence. Now, I understand that choosing to move despite my internal self-doubt demonstrates true confidence and self-efficacy.

Getting on the plane was the equivalent of investing in my own stock — I believed that I had the ability to influence my own life and handle anything that London might throw at me.

This article first appeared on Career Contessa.