It's all about what and who you know and how you present yourself. It's terrifying, but its rewards can be immense.
And "it" could be either the job hunt or the dating scene. There are evident parallels between looking for a quality mate and looking for a quality job.
Greg Churchman, consultant with Churchman Consulting Solutions, Inc., and author of "Daterviewing," most certainly sees the similarities. He wrote an entire book on the subject: "Think of bars on the dating scene as similar to job fairs," he says. "Blind dates are like employer referrals. First dates would be like that first phone screen, and the first interview is like meeting the friends [from the employer's perspective]. The second interview is like meeting the parents. And then the background check is when you get the first opportunity to meet your candidate's friends."
[See: The ABCs of Interviewing.]
"The stakes get higher the further through the ranks you rise," says Churchman, who is also the workforce development manager with New Belgium Brewing Company. "It gets more expensive because you're involving more people and their time in the decision. It becomes more important to make the right decision."
The good news is you can take cues from your love life on how to conduct your professional affairs. Here's how some of the most classic dating clichés can also apply to finding a job.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. A job seeker's "first impression" happens in written form, not face to face. So imagine what opinion the hiring manager makes when reading a boring, generic cover letter and a hard-to-follow résumé? No matter how great your personality, if your written documents don't make your qualifications and interests explicitly clear - while also being grammatically correct and not having typographical errors - then the dominant message an employer receives will be about your carelessness.
To Yolanda M. Owens, lead college recruiter at AOL and author of the book, "How to Score a Date With Your Potential Employer," the first interview is an extension of the first impression. "You really want to bring your A-game," she says. "Make sure that you're punctual, that you look nice and that you're responsive. Be clear about what you bring to the table from the get-go. Be sure to be respectful and polite."
You have to get "out there" to meet people. It's hard to find a significant other when you're holed up in your apartment with just your video games, cats and candles for company. If you want to date, you have to take some risks - attend a few happy hours and maybe even complete an online dating profile - to meet people. And even if you have a few dates bomb or if the happy hour is a dud, at least they're more practice interacting with people, and they allow you to better know what you do and don't want.
An active job seeker also needs to be "out there" - attending job fairs, networking at meetups, regularly updating LinkedIn and touching base with professional contacts - to gain some advantage. It's difficult to know what possibilities are available otherwise. "From an employment standpoint or a personal standpoint, it's not ideal to go on blind dates," says Owens, who is also a contributing writer with The Daily Muse. "It's often preferable to have your friends refer you to a company or for a position. I call this 'pimping your friends.' Don't be afraid to tell your friends that you're on the market. They know you and know what you're suited for, and a lot of times employers have monetary rewards for receiving employment referrals."
People who play games will find themselves "played." Job searching, like dating, isn't a game - even for those who enjoy the process. Playing games on the job hunt encompasses a lot, but includes fudging your previous job responsibilities and salary in an attempt to jockey for a better title and higher pay; shopping around for another job offer as a negotiating strategy to get your existing job to give you a raise; or playing too hard to get during the negotiation process. Any of these strategies has roulette stakes, and they're all a waste of time for both you and an employer. You want to protect your interests and find a job that will work for you, but you don't need to be inconsiderate or childish to do so.
Substance is more important than style. Have you met someone who was "good on paper," only to get too close and then find yourself the victim of a "bait and switch"? Both job candidates and employers fall for this trap. Be careful if the employer is too agreeable to meet all your terms of employment, or if the candidate seems pre-destined to fill a job's requirements. "From a candidate's prospective, you need to ask questions about the job's posting and the description," Churchman says. "Be very clear about what the job entails and what you can do. It's easy to get mesmerized by the role offered, and then once the courtship process is over you realize that you weren't well suited for the position or the company."
Be yourself. Putting on a facade of job qualifications that you don't have, either skills or personality traits, is perhaps the worst mistake you can make when interacting with a potential employer. Establishing chemistry is instrumental to taking the next steps and to finding long-term commitment. "Sometimes an interviewer will be really stone-faced or quick to the point, or won't reveal any personality. Nevertheless, you really want to reveal your true self," Owens says. "Regardless of their demeanor, [the interviewer is] there to find out how they feel about the real you."
If you're up for a job that you know you're not quite the right fit for, you should be clear about the differences in what you can do and what has been requested, then you should express your interest in bridging that gap. And if the difference in what you offer and what an employer seeks is too pronounced, you shouldn't apply in the first place. Before sending the first résumé or going on the first date, Owens says. "You need to date yourself first. Confidence is a really sexy quality in any relationship scenario. Before you put yourself on the dating scene, or on the job market, you need to take inventory of what you offer and what you want."
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