5 thoughts on air travel and the job search

Dr. Joseph Barber

Given its natural highs and lows, air travel can generally be relied on to provide insight into many career-related topics. Here are the 5 career musings I had after my most recent trip.  

1) Always dress for the job your want

It is essential to dress appropriately for interviews, your conference presentations, and other scheduled professional events like this, but how you act and dress on the fringes of these events can also be important. You already know that social events like lunch and cocktails during an interview are still part of the interview. You probably know not to start bad-mouthing people you met during an interview on the phone to your significant other in the car park outside the building where you just had the interview (you don’t know who might be watching or listening). But did you remember to wear nice socks on the way home from the conference where you made some great contacts (possibly someone important in a future hiring committee)? Any good impressions you made during your conference networking will definitely be lost if these great contacts also happen to be at the airport and notice the giant holes in your socks as you are passing through airport security. Always dress for the job you want…, always!

2) You can’t control everything

I left myself plenty of time to catch my flight from my most recent conference in Boston. In fact, I left so much time that I was offered the choice of two earlier flights when I checked in. The staff said that they were trying to fill these earlier flights because of a possible weather event. Instead of my 8:30pm flight I was able to get on the 6:30pm flight home. Success! Of course, as soon as the 6:30pm flight took off, the Captain informed everyone of a warning light with the landing gear, and said we would have to return to Boston. That we did, after a laborious 40 minutes of circling the air (possibly dumping fuel?). The parade of emergency vehicles following us as we landed was quite pretty, a little concerning, but probably just standard protocol. That particular plane was done for the night. After a hectic few minutes back at the check-in desk, I was fortunately re-booked back on my original 8:30pm flight…, which as it turned out was delayed another 40 minutes! Like travel booking, you won’t always be able to predict how some of your career choices will work out. Don’t let uncertainty stop you from taking advantage of different opportunities. In most cases, you’ll find that you can always get back on track no matter what choices you make…, just don’t expect your bags to follow you straight away!

3) Look for silver linings

I have heard of several people being successful in finding ways to meet with busy networking contacts at train stations and airports. If you are open to making the trek over to another terminal once you are through security, then don’t overlook the possibility of having an impromptu informational interview with someone you know is going to be waiting at the airport too. They might find an interesting conversation with you to be a great way to pass the time before their flight. You also never know who you will be sitting next to on a flight. Rather than saying that I experienced an aborted attempt to fly to Philadelphia, and then a delayed flight, you could say that I had two extended opportunities to strike up a conversation with the new and interesting people sitting next to me!

4) People listening for success

I enjoy listening to business people talking very loudly on their phones at airports. You can learn a lot from what you hear. Listen to the way people respond on the phone; listen to the way they name drop; listen to the way that they repeat and reframe what the mystery person on the other end said before they respond. You know when you are listening to a true master communicator when you get a clear sense of what the conversation is all about even though you never hear a word the other person says. A good listener is an active listener who wants to show the person they are speaking with that they both understand and value their perspective – even if they have different one themselves.

5) Look for opportunities that fit

Unlike the giant rolling bags that some people are determined to bring on the plane that JUST WON’T FIT in the overhead compartments, your goal is to find career opportunities that fit your needs, goals, skills, and experiences. You can get close to figuring out what might be a good fit by talking to people who are in the positions that interest you. Ask them what path they took to get to where they are today. Ask what they like about their job and what skills they rely on to be successful. Ask them what advice they have to share. Use the experiences of Penn alumni who have flown off on their own career adventures to help you to figure out if theirs is a path you also want to follow. Also…, please consider checking you rolling bag. Everyone will thank you if you do!

Safe travels!

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).