Monday, July 28, 2014

How Job Hunting Is Not Like Dating

A few days ago, I published the post "How Job Hunting Is Like Dating." There are many similarities between a first interview and a first date, but they are decidedly NOT the same thing.

In the startup world, jobs are won through network connections rather than keyword-optimized resumes. The whole job application process is more personal. Often connections are forged through informal coffee chats with employees and hiring managers of a company of interest.

Here are some rules for ensuring your coffee chat doesn't turn into a coffee date.

Don't Make a Big Deal Over Who Pays

(This is only relevant in the "coffee chat" setting, where you meet with a professional contact at a cafe to discuss things over a drink. Obviously, if you're meeting in an office, it's not applicable.)

There's no hard-and-fast rule for who pays, so don't feel pressured either way. Most often both parties will go dutch (pay for their own drink). If you arranged the get-together, you can offer to pay, but it is not expected. Plan to pay for your own drink and don't read into any offers (or lack thereof) to pick up the bill.

Don't Get A Meal

A meal implies a deeper level of intimacy than is needed for an initial professional meeting. Mostly, it's about time. If you ask for a meal with this person, it's going to take 60-90 minutes. Compare that to a coffee meeting, which runs 30-60 minutes. Choose the shorter cafe meeting format to ensure you're respecting the other person's time. A brief meeting condenses your conversation so that it's efficient and focused on professional topics, as opposed to a leisurely meal that sends ambiguous signals.

Also, it's much easier to talk in between sips than in between bites.

Get Personal, But Not Too Personal

When you're meeting a professional contact, it's great to find common grounds. I recently had an interview where the hiring manager mentioned she used to ride horses in college, and we went off on a tangent about horse-back-riding for a few minutes. This made the conversation way more memorable than a dry discussion of my experience.

Common interests, mutual friends, places you're both visited -- these are great topics to connect on. If you can find an opportunity to make a personal connection like his during an interview, you're golden. Just make sure to steer the conversation back to on track.

No Flirting

This one should be obvious, right? You'd be surprised.

There is a fine line between charisma and flirtation. Some aspects of flirtation are appropriate for a job interview: eye contact, smiling, active listening, receptive body language, humor. What doesn't fly:

  • Comments about your romantic life
  • Suggestive jokes
  • Physical contact beyond a handshake
  • Compliments on someone's physical appearance
Crossing the line into flirting will get you into hot water. It puts the company at risk of sexual harassment lawsuits, so maintain clear boundaries.

Keep It Classy

This advice applies to everything from how you dress to where you meet. Make sure that your clothing and makeup reflect a clean, put-together, personal style. Hint: what you wear to a coffee chat should not be the same outfit you wear to a nightclub -- nor to a rummage sale.

As for where to meet, pick someplace neutral and convenient for both parties. Cafes are best, but public parks or libraries work, too. Don't suggest a bar as a meeting place. Bars can be dark, loud, and sketchy. Remember that not everyone drinks alcohol, so be respectful and don't assume they do.

Don't Get Drunk

It's generally discouraged to drink in a professional setting, especially when you're making a first impression. But some startups have a casual, fun-loving culture that encourages social drinking. If you're meeting with a contact and they suggest you meet at a bar, it's fine to say yes. This does not mean you are required or expected to drink; you can order a soda or juice instead. If you're comfortable having a beer or a glass of wine, only do so if your contact is drinking, too. And keep it to one drink, no hard liquor.

In a nutshell: Don't confuse professional interest with romantic interest.


Up next: 10 Tips for Writing Killer Copy

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