One of my biggest guilty pleasures in recent years is watching the Today Show, and more specifically, the Kathie Lee and Hoda segment. Well, I happened to be watching today during one of my tacit moments of “me time” and tuned in just in time to hear them discussing a recent survey that was conducted on men and dating. Supposedly a study was done by Women’s Health magazine, in which over seven hundred men were asked to vote on the top dos and don’ts of the first date. While I did not agree with all of them, such as “Women Should Make the First Move,” I did agree on most of the issues. I even added a few of my own, and as I was doing so, realized a direct (okay … maybe not so direct) correlation between dating and job interviewing. These same dictums can easily apply during that all-elusive job search. If you want to get what you want out of your career search, then heed the following:
1. “Order the steak already and stop with the salads!!” Just like in dating, too much time is spent putting up a facade and ballroom dancing around issues. We go into interviews or promotion negotiations with the mindset that we will take what they offer and that we are lucky enough just to be here in the first place. NOT! You have worked hard to get that interview, raise, or potential promotion. You have to believe that you are worth it, because, quite frankly, if you don’t, who will? If you want to get what you want, then you have to ask for it ... right up front with no pretensions. This can apply to salary, promotions, a raise, etc. Know what you want before you go into the meeting and ask for it. Be prepared to be shot down, but know that you won’t be disappointed because you didn’t ask for what you want. The old adage stands true: You never know unless you try.
2. “It’s a turn-on when a woman insists on paying all or half of the bill.” Now I would never in a million, trillion years advocate that a woman pay the bill on a date (I know that this poll had to be written by men ... but I digress), I do believe that sometimes interviews and the process can be much like dating, and like dating, socialization is volley for the course. It may do you wise to take your supervisor/manager to be out to lunch/dinner to learn more about each other from a social perspective, outside of the rigorous, bureaucratic confines of the office. It is important to know who you are “going to bed with” outside of the professional aspect, because the truth of the matter is that people typically spend more time at work with their bosses and coworkers than they do at home with their families. Do I condone becoming mindless drone workaholics? No ... but the fact still remains. In the latter stages of the hiring process or promotion process, you may suggest meeting for lunch/dinner (the opportune time for this would be during the actual offer phase ... anytime before that may seem like petty bribery) to discuss details. If, especially if, all goes well, then it may be wise, even advisable to pick up the tab, or at least offer to split the tab.
3. “Prefer to figure perfect date spot together.” People in relationships, even fledgling ones, like to feel as if they are making decisions together and that no one partner is holding all the chips. The same goes for your career. Understand that locking that job or promotion is very much like a tango, with each partner leading and lagging at the precisely choreographed opportunities. Dating is a give-and-take, and there is a lot to be learned from that in your professional life. Lay your cards on the table, make it known what your needs are, while also making it clear in quantifiable, no uncertain terms, why you are worth it and what value you bring to the proposition. Accept that there will be some negotiations and prepare to meet in the middle. Whenever you come to the table, you always want to slightly pad your offer, so that there is room for negotiations. That way, when you figure out the perfect “spot” together, each partner walks away satisfied.
4. “Don’t flash flesh; most people prefer mystery.” I can’t think of truer words being spoken (well, I probably could, but not right now ... in this context). There is nothing tackier or more revolting than showing up for an interview scantily clad, overscented, and highly coiffed in the hopes of arousing your way into a job or promotion. If that is your modus operandi and it has worked for you in the past, more power to you, but please understand that at some point, it will backfire, and you will burn rather than glow. People ... get this through your hairspray-laden heads: You want to know that you have received a job/promotion/raise because you deserved it, because you were worth it! If you get the reputation of being a seductress/gigolo, who is going to take you serious and just how far will your career go? Depending on the job (obviously, there is more creative license for jobs that are just that: creative) dress conservatively. A dark suit is always in fashion and while I don’t think you necessarily have to wear stockings and close-toed shoes (unless you work in a conservative industry such as law or finance), I do still believe in the maxim of minimal makeup, polished hair, no perfume, and unfussy accessories. Nobody wants to hear your bracelets jingling around while you talk or get nauseous from the sickeningly sweet fragrance your sporting.
5. “Would rather have a second date rather than a meaningless hookup.” I think this little pearl of wisdom applies to both parties equally. There is nothing worse for an employer or potential employee than to feel like time has been wasted on what amounts to a meaningless hookup. I can’t overemphasize it enough: know what it is that you want before you go on that first date! Try to have a pre-interview conversation by phone to discuss some of the basics about the position, i.e. detailed job description, pay range (most would argue to not talk money on the first date, but why waste your time if they can not meet your requirements or you, theirs?), flexibility (telecommuting, flextime, etc.), and so on. Know what you are getting yourself into and if the requirements or specifications of the position/company are comfortable to you. Don’t waste your time or theirs going on an interview for a job that is not even in the ballpark of your needs. It is better to know up front than to forage in the garden of meaninglessness.
6. “Great date without a lip-lock.” Yes, you can have a great first date without “sealing the deal.” Aside from the initial phone screening, which is like the Match.com of the interview world, the first date is the time to really delve into the specifics about the job. Just like you would get history on the other person on a first date, such as where they grew up, how many siblings they have, and if they ever had a purple nurple (okay ... maybe this is just me), you want to do the same to, and expect the same from, the company that you are considering working for. This does not mean that you have to leave the table in a committed relationship. The idea is to simply get to know one another to see if there is any chemistry and if a second date is in order.
7. “BlackBerrying is offensive.” As is any other form of distraction. Why somebody would be texting, Twittering, or updating their Facebook status on a date, let alone a job interview, is beyond me, yet it still begs to be discussed as it is happening all the time. It should go without saying that the first thing you want to do prior to stepping into the building for the interview (better yet ... before you even step out of the car) is to turn your cell phone off or at least to silent. There is nothing worse that you hear “Yankee Doodle Dandy” blaring out of somebody’s cell phone in the middle of an interview. The same goes with any other distractions. Please don’t bring your laptop to the interview (unless of course your job is that of a Web designer or graphic artist where a virtual media presentation would be appropriate), and make any notes discreetly. Come prepared with questions. There is nothing more annoying than asking if you have any questions and waiting for you to look inside your faux Tumi, Dooney, or Gucci for your pad of questions. Review your list beforehand and know what you want to say so that you can look studied and prepared for the interview.
8. “Don’t tell me about your last date.” Of course you want, and actually need to talk about your previous job(s) but please ... and I can not iterate this more ... do not tell more than what is absolutely necessary! The one thing that I learned from my husband (if it can be equated to just one thing) is to “never volunteer information.” Just like no date wants to hear about how your ex was a psycho and that you had to take out a restraining order on him/her and now sleep with a baseball bat under your bed, no employer wants to hear all the negative comments of your previous boss/company/position. If you left under less than desirable circumstances, do your best to put a positive spin on it. I am not advising that you lie but I would limit just how much you divulge. For instance, if you were fired because you were underperforming, then say something like ... “I did not feel that the position was a good fit for me, and while I feel that I gave my all to the position, I do not feel that what I was providing and what I was receiving from the position was ideal. I am now looking for an opportunity in which I can fully use my background and experience in (XYZ) to further benefit ABC Company in furthering their goals to be 1) industry leader, 2) cost leader, so on and so forth ... you get the picture. I always say that while I have had positions that I absolutely despised and worked for companies that I have loathed, I have learned something from each and every one of them, whether they were a good fit or not. This is what you should be conveying to your new, potential boss. Nobody likes a whiner.
Interviewing, like dating, is not perfect. There is no exact science ... no quantitative formula. It is truly a learned art form, and the more practice, the better at it that you become. With these tips, a bit of preparation, and a little assertive backbone, you will make your way through the mosh pit of job seekers to the front of the stage.