It may seem like an ironic title, but there are many similarities between first dates and job interviews. There is the newness of the interaction. You are meeting with someone for the first time. This is your chance to make a first impression even if you have exchanged emails and text messages or spoken on the phone.
There is a fresh excitement about that first meeting, kind of like the first day of school.
The preparation usually includes an extreme focus on the visuals, after all, that is the first part of a first impression. You wonder if a suit makes you look serious or leaving off the tie says I can connect with regular people. Is a skirt the right uniform for the occasion? Short? Long? How short is too short? What message do you want to send in those first few moments of what could be an epic encounter that leads your life in a whole new direction?
I love to wrestle with non-verbal communication issues, partly because there is never a right answer but so much to consider. Humans are deliciously unique and precariously emotional. Perhaps the best part of any initial encounter is the anticipation as you stride out into the unknown wondering, will I fit the other person’s expectations? Will I surprise and delight? Am I what the other person is looking for, and how will we recognize this as a good fit? Do I dare hope for the ultimate success in this first meeting — a connection?
When you meet someone for the first time in a job interview, a first date, a chance encounter, this thing happens (or, sadly, it doesn’t.) We call it a connection. You call your best friend when the encounter is over and say, I know this will go well because I felt a connection. Of course, you hope the person on the other side of the table felt it, too.
What’s in a Connection?
In an age of data-driven everything, we try to simplify the first encounter by examining data points. Whether you use an automated resume reader for applicant screening or an online dating service, you probably want to crunch the numbers before executing a face-to-face encounter. Someone figured out that if an applicant uses the word “communication” at least eight times in a resume, that person will be well-suited to a job in your communications department – certainly better matched for the job than a person who only uses the word four times, maybe even twice as qualified.
…and don’t get me started about dating services. Here we rely on the applicant to describe what he or she is looking for and then only match people with similar goals. In my personal relationship experience, I have yet to meet anyone who really knows what they want or can articulate it clearly, but that’s just me.
All of this data mining and matching ignores the fundamental aspect of interpersonal relationships — communication. Whether you are going into a job interview or a first date, communication is this spontaneous, imperfectly human phenomenon that ultimately dictates the existence of a connection (or a spark.)
What to Watch out for
I know right now you are thinking, PANIC I cannot be spontaneous and get it right. The beauty of spontaneity is that it is always right. You just have to be yourself and say whatever comes to mind. The connection happens when it is right without much effort. You just have to be okay with the outcome and recognize that everyone is not meant to connect with everyone else. Sometimes the fit is not right; don’t force it.
While you are being yourself in this initial meeting, you are also evaluating the information presented to you. It starts with the visuals, as I mentioned before, and it goes from there. What if the applicant you are interviewing has the inside track? What if they did some research, learned your style, wore your favorite color, and tapped into as many subliminal channels as possible to win you over? (Hire that person for a marketing position on the spot!)
Interpersonal communication is a delicate balance, almost like a dance. Each person reveals a little and risks a little as the interaction goes forward.
It is not hard to ace a job interview; all hiring managers want to hear the same thing: I am a hard worker, loyal to my employer, and talented in my field. I can get along with my co-workers and lead them in projects when appropriate while fostering everyone’s career growth and not hurting anyone’s feelings. But you can’t fake that connection.
I’ve Been Fooled Before
We all have, but that’s just part of the human condition. With each encounter, you get better at reading the signs. Rehearsed answers sound, well, rehearsed and are probably not genuine. He may say he enjoys long walks on the beach, but his profile says he’s never been to the coast. The job applicant who says he respects his co-workers but then bad-mouths his former bosses (all of them) might be putting a good spin on his interpersonal skills.
And are you honestly representing the work environment? Listen to yourself explain what a good company it is to work for. The management is always open to new ideas, and the staff feels like one big family.
I interviewed at an inner-city high school once where the principal told me that the student and faculty population being split roughly 50/50 black and white resulted in no racial issues in the building. I thought either I had landed in the middle of Utopia or this man was incredibly ignorant. It turned out to be the latter, but in all fairness, I would have taken the job anyway.
There is no true shortcut for exercising communication skills to connect with another human being.
Data is nice and neat, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. If you rely too heavily on the numbers, you’re going to miss out on some great opportunities.
First meetings, for business or pleasure, are an excellent place to practice your communication skills. In this case, practice does not make perfect because there is no such thing. We are all continually striving to improve communications and that can only be done through constant practice. Anytime in life that you allow yourself to stop practicing, you’re going to suffer a reduction in skill level. Keep practicing!