There is a funny saying I have seen around the internet. It says, “Dating over 30 is easy. It’s like riding a bike. But the bike is on fire. And the ground is on fire. Everything is on fire. Because you are in hell.” This strikes me as funny because throughout my career I have heard the analogy of interviewing to dating—and with such prevalent strong feelings about dating, no wonder interviewing is a major cause of stress!
Dating is a trial-and-error process, with far more “error” than success. Falling in love, however, is always wonderful, yet not attainable without experiencing the ebbs and flows of the dating process. Too often in interviews we are afraid to invest ourselves for fear that if we “fall in love” during the interview process, we will only be disappointed (that is, we won’t be offered the job). We guard ourselves.
Being turned down is ALWAYS disappointing. But if you never invest yourself, then you never have the opportunity to fall in love. What a shame that would be! There is much we can learn about successful interviewing from the process of falling in love.
Love at first sight
Whether or not we like the idea, first impressions are important, on both sides. More important than your clothing is your smile and eye contact. For these assets to stand out, the clothing and accessories you select should become part of the background. When you last fell in love (I mean love, not lust), was it with an article of clothing, or was it with the face that reflected the soul?
I’m often asked about tattoos, piercings, large jewelry and/or vivid outfits, and I always have the same advice. Do not wear anything that speaks louder than your skillset. Anything you wear should fade into the background like a frame does for a beautiful painting. Your smile, personality, confidence and knowledge should take center stage.
Personal expression is important, and you should look around and see if the environment is a good fit for you. Assume you should wear a suit or other formal business attire that fits you well, and makes you feel like a million bucks. If you are told to come more casually, follow the advice.
There is no end game in mind
Most of us go on a date because there is some mutual attraction, and we hope to have a good time. The short-term goal is to get to know the person, have some form of adventure, be it a nice meal or maybe a movie. We don’t go on a date thinking about planning our marriage to the person; falling in love would be a happy surprise. Yet we go to job interviews completely focused on getting the offer. Before we have the understanding to discern if we want an offer, it is already our goal. It would be like going on every date thinking, “I MUST GET MARRIED! This is the one! I know everything she likes.” Or, “I will be that person so that he will propose to me very soon.” I think we all know that is a recipe for a broken heart.
When we go on a date, we are listening for more subtle elements of connection. Do they listen to me? Do they understand me? Did they laugh at that joke? Are they smiling? Do they make me smile?
When I reflect on my career and the people I have worked with, many vivid memories come to mind. I have lost count of how many funerals I have been to with colleagues. I’ve also been to a fair number of weddings and baby showers. I have had to problem-solve through some nightmare problems at work, and I have celebrated major successes. I’ve traveled across a big part of Canada on a week-long car trip with two colleagues. I’ve been to Paris and China with others. I’m not bragging. I share this to make a point: What’s more important than the perfect answer to the behavior-based question is the answer to this question, “Do I want to work through a big work challenge with the people across from me?” If hired, the panelists in front of you will become your friends. The people who will support you through the events in the next chapter of your life, because truly there is no “work/life,” there’s just “life.” Focus on getting to know them during the interview. Be in the moment with them, hear them, understand them, and allow them to do the same with you.
“Love is patient, love is kind.”
This Biblical passage from 1 Corinthians is often used at Christian weddings, and, religious beliefs aside, it is sage advice in how you should settle into your interview discussions and allow yourself to be in the moment. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate or the perfect employer. Each candidate brings pros and cons, things they can teach the team, and things they will need to be taught. Candidates who allow their personality to come out and make a genuine connection with people tend to find interview teams who are more considerate about what they are missing. If you have been invited for an interview, you had enough of the skills to be considered for the job. Most of the time the person who gets the offer is the one interviewers want to be with, every day. They seek their smile or laugh, their kindness, their graciousness, their sense of humor or perspective.
A word about blind dates
The cringe-worthy blind date is one of the least anticipated events in a dating year, yet some turn into marriages that last a lifetime. This always seems to work best when it’s organized by someone who knows both parties fairly well.
I often hear that getting a job is all about “who you know.” I would go a step further and say that it’s all about who you know well. The best reference is from someone who knows and respects your work, and can communicate specifically with the recruiter or hiring manager about what you would bring to the firm. After a lifetime spent in recruiting I can tell you that I have never been influenced by someone who says, “This is a guy I know, kind of, or this is a woman who is a friend of a friend.”
Networking with strangers is a good idea if you are looking for company information, job leads, or feedback on your resume and/or personal presentation. Use the people you did your best work with as your references, and consider asking them to write a reference for you on LinkedIn. Write one for them first, and be specific!
How do I find love?
Maybe you have been in a job search for a long time. Maybe you have been turned down a lot. Stress can build, and it becomes harder to hide it. The same is true for dating. Maybe you have had too many breakups, or you feel you have been single much too long. You find yourself expecting to be disappointed before the doorbell rings. This kind of attitude is not fertile ground for falling in love.
I wish I had a recipe for falling in love, because I would be a gagillionaire! Alas, I do not. However, I can tell you some things that might help you loosen your grip on a successful outcome, which may help you achieve it.
- We have always heard that we shouldn’t study for a test right before the test. It’s like that. Prepare for your interview by anticipating what you might be asked, but within 24 hours from your interview, let it go. Instead, visualize the meeting. See yourself in the interview and how you will perform. Visualize it positively, don’t allow yourself to visualize making mistakes.
- Watch Amy Cuddy’s video on YouTube about the “power pose.” Arrive a few minutes early, go to the restroom and take a few minutes to stand in a power pose. I don’t recommend doing it in the parking lot, as your interview panel may see you out the window, standing like Super Man.
- While waiting for the interview, don’t fiddle with your phone. Phones bring us news that can cause stress, and it makes you look insecure. Put it away, or leave it in the car.
- Focus on breathing, deep breaths gently in and out. Don’t hyperventilate.
- Smile as often as possible.
- Don’t fear silence. We fall in love with people because they open up the world for us. They make us ponder things we have never pondered, and we become more than we were before. If you are asked a question you don’t have a ready answer for, don’t feel defeated. Instead, marvel that they have given you an opportunity to learn more about yourself. Ask for a moment to consider it. It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question, let me think about that,” before you reply.
Happily ever after
Don’t let preparation smother improvisation. Both have a place in a successful interview. This isn’t Jeopardy, where we smack the buzzer and yell, “What is a successful project, Alex?!” The moments we remember are the moments when we are real. Invest yourself, don’t fear rejection, and allow yourself to fall in love.
Like dating, you may feel the sting of rejection more profoundly this way, but you also open yourself up to a greater degree of success this way, and even more so, it was more fun. It may take 30 interviews to get hired. It may take 50. It may take 5. Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy them, however many there are?