Saturday I sat on a panel discussing career issues in front of members of three engineering associations: ASEM / ASME / SWE. We had a lively conversation, but my biggest take-away was something shared by another panelist who had been a hiring authority at one time in his life. He said that one of his favorite ways to find new hires was to attend a professional development class where his ideal candidates could be. Informally, he'd strike up conversations with his "classmates" and ask questions about their interests, skills, work history, and even topics not normally covered in interviews. By the time the class ended, he would have a small pool of candidates from which he offered positions.
I have to admit that after 25 years in career management, this was a new idea for me. When I thought about it, it made so much sense! By getting to know people in an informal setting, he was able to see people in their most authentic way. By not knowing they were being interviewed for a job, these people were relaxed and truly themselves while their potential employer was evaluating them.
The lesson here? Just like a good Boy Scout, always be prepared. Be dressed for the part (like one gentleman wearing a tie who approached me today after the panel discussion) no matter where you go, even to a casual meeting of your professional association.
(By the way, taking a professional development course - not required by your company, but paid for by you - is a great way to add to your resume to help transition you into a new career.)
Wishing you career success in 2010!