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Valentine's Day: 5 reasons interviews are like dates
To some, Valentine's day is nothing more than a money-making gimmick. To others, it is a perfect opportunity to express their undying love to someone special. Either way, as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Sound similar to any other situations?
Much like a date, going for a job interview requires you to sell yourself, dress to impress and (hopefully) pencil in a second meeting. But the similarities between dating and interviews don't end there...
Love is in the air
I get excited for Valentine's Day. Not because I'm a hopeless romantic and want to show the world how much I love my girlfriend by giving her a 7ft teddy bear that's totally impractical and downright useless. No. I get excited for Valentine's Day because there's usually some great offers on chocolate. I can always tell, at the checkout, that the cashier thinks I'm adorable for buying my crush the biggest box of Ferrero Rocher I could find.
Little does she know that I'm skipping home to systematically consume the entire box in one sitting. Alone.
The Apprentice was on as I consumed my final piece of chocolate. Sir Alan Sugar wagging his finger at me, telling me I'm fired, didn't bother me much as I contemplated ice cream for dessert. But the programme did inspire something - just how similar are job interviews to dating? The parallels between the two are sensationally relatable and what better time to divulge in such a subject than the most romantic week of the year. So if you're wondering just how the two crossover, keep reading. Just remember not to mix them up and move in for a kiss at your first interview. That is not cool.
Take along a portfolio so that you can show them what skills you have, rather than give them empty words that other candidates will no doubt use.
21st century dating
More and more people are finding jobs online these days, through job boards and recruitment agencies. Similarly, more people are also going online to find the love of their life, through dating apps such as Tinder, Plenty of Fish and eHarmony. Both methods come with some problems as a result of this, the most famous one being the fear of getting 'catfished'.
Made famous by the American TV show of the same name, to be 'catfished' is to be lured into an online relationship with (what seems to be) your dream partner, only to find they've used a fake profile to conceal their true identity. So you find out that glamour model Saskia from California is actually Big Dave from Rhyl. To avoid such a disaster from happening, always try to find somebody local to you who is willing to meet up for an actual date - there is no hiding that way.
Believe it or not, similar practices are being used in job advertisements. Apart from stating highly ambitious, 'potential' commission earnings, an increasing amount of companies are choosing to conceal their identities through job boards and agencies. Although this is partly to stop unsolicited calls coming through, it is also a technique used by smaller companies to put them on a 'level playing field' with the big corporations.
Just like a first date, 'fashionably late' does not apply to any interview situation. Ensure you are on time, or even a little early, to avoid inevitable preconceptions of irresponsibility and unprofessionalism.
Given the option of two identical jobs, a candidate will likely favour the larger company in the hope of better career prospects and packages (healthcare, pension, company car). By removing the company name from the job (or 'catfishing'), this removes the issue to some extent.
However, it does serve to undermine the advert somewhat in terms of performance. A recent study showed that the application rate for a branded advertisement (with company logo) fares better than an anonymous advertisement by around 82%.
So the lesson to learn from this is to do your research. Find out as much as you can about the company before the interview, because you never know what questions they might ask. Likewise, find out some stuff about your date too, although avoid the whole 'I know what you did last summer' approach. That might not go down too well.
Hopefully, at this stage, you've now got yourself a date or interview pencilled in. The next stage is worrying about how to make a good first impression. Let's have a look at how effective body language, dress code and eye contact can be used to impress an employer or potential love interest...
The formal first date
Just like a first date, 'fashionably late' does not apply to any interview situation. Ensure you are on time, or even a little early, to avoid inevitable preconceptions of irresponsibility and unprofessionalism. Leaving your date (or interviewer) hanging gives the impression that you don't see their time to be as valuable as your own, leading them to instantly reconsider the whole thing before you've even arrived.
Turning up on time isn't a hard thing to do either - if you know the driving route is particularly congested, or there is a bus that's been cancelled, set out earlier than usual. Once you've arrived on time, what do you think is the next, most significant first impression?
Shoes. Categorically the most important part of any outfit. Just like you would for a date, polishing your best shoes for a job interview is essential. It's a widely known fact that the majority of girls tend to judge a man by the condition of his shoes. And, while men aren't quite as observant, the notion of wearing immaculate shoes that are befitting of the outfit (no matter age or gender) transcends both dating and interviewing. That most definitely means no socks with sandals. Or Crocs.
'First impression' shoes should always be understated. Avoid flashy, two-tone brogues, patent leather and anything snakeskin. In fact, always avoid the snakeskin. Nobody except Crocodile Dundee looks good in that. Finally, always match the shoe colour to your belt and, if wearing a blue suit, always wear brown shoes.
Do they see any mutual connections? Can they see the potential of it leading anywhere? These are the exact sentiments an employer will also have in a second interview.
Of course, depending on the job (or date), your attire could vary dramatically. Our more in-depth article covering what to wear for a job interview will give you all necessary guidance into sartorial etiquette, from colours to combinations. Whilst the colour red means passion and love in the world of romance, wearing a red tie in a sea of corporate grey can show that you are confident, optimistic and ambitious. For sales and marketing roles in particular, you can't go far wrong accessorising your outfit with a splash of red.
Now that you've dressed to impress, the next concern is that all-important, face-to-face meeting. Having never met this person before, you're likely to have exchanged emails and text messages and had some kind of interaction with them. However, those pesky nerves can play a big part if you are in front of someone.
There is no luxury of carefully constructing a concise email when speaking one on one with someone, as you're having to be spontaneous with your answers and acknowledge their every word like a nodding dog. You need to be well prepared for all kinds of questions that head your way (revert to the earlier point of doing your research). The key to remember is to be interesting. The most simple way to be interesting in an interview situation is to show a passion and enthusiasm for what you do.
If you apply the same theory to a date, being enthusiastic about your hobbies and interests makes a much better impression than appearing indifferent and boring. A classic sales technique (and that's what this is, sales) is to show and not tell. If you are an artist, animal lover, writer ... whatever ... make sure you convey your passion for it. If need be, get your phone out and show them pictures of your pets or sketches, or even go to the zoo or art gallery.
Constantly giving romantic gestures and getting nothing in return will eventually wear thin, just like consistently exceeding targets and not being recognised for it. Relationships should be two ways and so should employment.
Again, in an interview, do the same thing. Take along a portfolio so that you can show them what skills you have, rather than spewing out empty words that other candidates will have no doubt overused. Once you have shared your passion with them, you don't know where it may lead. They might have a similar interest or hobby, in which case you can talk with them on a whole different level about it. All of a sudden you have created a bond and trust between you - two features which are important to any personal or professional relationship.
Second date / interview
If you have followed all of the above steps correctly, then a second date (or interview) should definitely be on the cards. But this time your nerves won't be as overwhelming, as you already know the person and the ice is already broken. This doesn't make it any less important than the first though. You've clearly made a positive impression thus far, but the game is about to change.
On a second date, the person will be trying to 'figure' you out more. They will have made a conscious decision that they like you, but now it runs a little deeper. Do they see any mutual connections? Can they see the potential of it leading anywhere? These are the exact sentiments an employer will also have in a second interview. Don't be surprised to undergo an assessment day, testing and the presence of other senior staff in the second meeting.
The gift of social media
Hiring the wrong person can be a costly affair, so the fact that they are vetting you so well is the sign of a cautious but intelligent company. Further than that, it gives you the chance to see whether you are suited to the job at hand and actually enjoy it. So there is a mutual gain here.
A second date goes both ways too. Both of you will be eager to learn more about one another, finding an even ground of common interests and searching for that chemistry. Without sounding like a social media stalker, have a look over their Facebook or Instagram accounts (if you have them) before you go out the second time. After all, that's what they are there for and you can get an idea of what kinds of stuff they like.
Where a bottle of champagne or monthly bonus may be an adequate reward in a working environment, maybe a romantic meal out or a gift would work in your love life.
If they are always posing outdoors, travelling or playing musical instruments, then you know hot topics of conversation will revolve around these subjects. Likewise, you can see what areas of interests are mutual too, if both have any favourite films or shopping spots that are the same. Then, when you meet up, the trick is to avoid referring to the fact that you've traipsed across all of their online profiles to garner such information. Make natural conversation and, where applicable, nudge it in the direction of those subjects.
Before you know it, they'll get all excited and start showing you their pictures on Instagram anyway. Just remember to act natural and be totally surprised. You most definitely weren't on there 2 days ago building a mental catalogue of their entire life, were you? No.
But guess what? Employers do the same thing before you go for an interview. That's right, a colossal 91% of employers use social networking sites to screen prospective candidates. Aside from the obvious networks such as LinkedIn, employers like to scope out your Twitter and Facebook accounts too, in order understand what type of person you are outside of work. So if your Facebook account isn't set to private already, I would consider deleting those Magaluf '09 photos of you strapped to a tree.
Things are getting serious
Nerves tend to subside from the third date onwards, as you both feel more at ease and start thinking about the seriousness of the situation. Choosing to go out with someone a second time is a decision that shows you are keen, going out a third, fourth and fifth time just exemplifies this even more. The equivalent to this in interviewing terms is the job offer. You've been vetted enough times by now and have passed everything they've thrown your way. They're convinced you're not a psychopathic murderer and are willing to give you the job.
They might have a similar interest or hobby, in which case you can talk with them on a whole different level about it. All of a sudden you have created this bond and trust between you - two features which are important to any personal or professional relationship.
But the hard work has just begun. Saying 'hard work' is harsh, but now that you've got the job, you need to prove your worth and show the employer they've made the right decision hiring you. Being eager to learn and highly motivated are the two best places to start when doing this, ensuring your probation period turns permanent.
Keeping the spark alive
Relationship-wise, you've got the task of keeping that spark alive. Again, calling this a task sounds bad. It shouldn't be a seen as a chore. The best kind of relationships make this happen naturally, with romantic gestures, spontaneity and quality time all ranking high on people's recipes for a good relationship.
Visiting different places together, trying new things and consistently surprising each other is the dating equivalent of going the extra mile in work, staying late to hit a deadline and generally going beyond your call of duty in the office.
Of course, these sentiments should be reciprocated. Constantly giving romantic gestures and getting nothing in return will eventually wear thin, just like consistently exceeding targets and not being recognised for it. Relationships should be two ways and so should employment.
Delivering a consistently good level of productivity and producing high-quality work should yield recognition, achievements and incentives. Where a bottle of champagne or monthly bonus may be an adequate reward in a working environment, maybe a romantic meal out or a gift would work in your love life.
The possibility of a break-up
Break-ups can be messy. Who gets to keep the house, the kids and (most importantly) who gets to keep the dog? Leaving an employer can sometimes be the same, but instead of a dog or house, you fight over a company branded fleece and desk organiser. Is there actually a way to end a long term relationship amicably?
The answer is yes, depending on the circumstances. Some people, particularly in highly skilled vocations (usually in times of skill shortages), get poached by a rival company. To be headhunted in a working environment is the equivalent of having an affair.
The difference is, sometimes in your career, you need to go along with this sordid affair if you want to progress and earn the 'big bucks'. In a relationship, cheating on your partner is a definite no-no. Talking with them and expressing your true feelings is the first step to take. As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy.
Is honesty the best policy when leaving an employer though? Sneaking off for an interview elsewhere is usually concealed as a 'sick day' or holiday, for obvious reasons. Then, when the time comes to handing in your resignation, what do you tell your boss? What is the reason?
The top 3 most common reasons an employee leaves their jobs are lengthy commutes, lack of responsibility / promotion and no pay rise. Employers with a good snout will be able to tell when a worker is about to leave anyway, but it is up to you to break the news. In doing this, the most important thing to avoid is burning any bridges.
As you progress, you'll come to realise that always keeping your options open in your career is one of the most useful assets you can have. Even if you never plan on returning to that company in an employment capacity, you may find they become one of your clients or key partnerships elsewhere. If you keep healthy relationships alive with the managers or directors there, then should they move on to other opportunities, you've always got a door open. In career terms, this is an amicable split.
In relationship terms, it's not quite the same. You may stay friends in a sense that you occasionally speak or (if you have children together) see each other, but your head and heart should have totally moved on.
Writing this article has proved more challenging than I first thought. Finding the right balance between being a career coach and agony aunt was, I can safely say, a new experience for me. Hopefully, I've managed to pull it off though, and you now feel like you can ace your interviews in style AND woo your dates in the bargain.
Even after writing this, the crossover between dating and interviews still surprises me. The frequency of the two events in your life can differ dramatically however, with some people holding down the same job for 38 years but having six different wives (yes I am referring to Henry VIII), whilst others might remain monogamous to the same partner but be a restless soul in their careers. So experiences of this phenomenon will vary. Whichever you are, you're now more prepared than you were before. Happy Valentine's Day!
By Jon Clarke