It’s exhilarating, yet marginally terrifying! You’ve got butterflies in your stomach. Butterflies of excitement, or is nauseous butterflies? These feelings, normal as they may be, describe two life experiences: job interviewing and dating. The butterflies of interviewing for a job are often characterized as the same response we get when interviewing.
Ever wondered why a first date feels like a job interview? Knowing the answer to this can make or break your ability to turn your interview into a successful new career.
They feel the same, seem the same and often produce the same outcomes because a job interview and a date in fact one in the same.
While that may sound like an unpopular parallel to draw hang with me a moment while I explain why dating and job interview is one in the same. Just as important, why it’s important to understand this and how it impacts your experience and ability to land the job you're interviewing for.
Let’s start with the obvious – people make decisions largely based on feelings.
Did you know the majority of the time we making hiring decisions based off of one thing – how much or little we like a person. This has been studied time and time again producing the same outcomes. We’ll hire someone who may not check every box we need for the job from a function or experience perspective but if we like them as a person we have a tendency to overlook a lack of experience. We do this because we’re wired to think, operate and act based on our unconscious biases which control our perspectives on race, education, economic status, personality, values, etc. Simply, if we can relate to the person, we’ll have a tendency to want to hire them more often than not.
Ironically, this is the same exact process we use when searching for a mate and going through the dating process. When we’re on a date we’re sizing the other person up as quickly as possible to determine ‘is there a reason I should see this person again?’. Simply, can I relate to them? We have a positive bias towards people who are similar to us and therefore a negative bias towards people who are different than us.
We don’t often associate first dates and job interviews as one in the same however the more we look into each experience and how we act during them we come to find that both of these human interactions are eerily similar.
How does knowing this information help me with dating and interviewing? The better we understand the psychology of these interactions, our feelings on them and how we make decisions we can approach each situation with better perspective and hopefully end up on the other side with a better outcome.
Let’s look at the similarities between dating and job interviewing and how each of them impacts our decision making process.
- First Impressions: This is the holy grail of decision making when it comes to whether or not we like someone initially. Failure to have a good first impression will more often than not result in a second interaction never making the calendar. Psychologists call it "thin slicing." Within moments of meeting someone, we’re deciding and making assumptions on all sorts of things about the other person, from status, intelligence, career success and even promiscuity. This can be as quick as 7 seconds! What that means is that everyone is trying to put their best foot forward, which can make things tricky because often times both parties are wondering if the person they’re talking too is the ‘real’ John Doe or the in-character John Doe.
- Chemistry: You know it when it exists. Things just seem easy. You laugh more, you tend to lean in closer to the other person more often and you even overlook potential red flags because your gut is already invested in the other person long before your brain has had a chance to catch up. On the other hand, when chemistry is lacking you feel like you’re on a date from hell. It’s awkward and painful, causing you to wish you had an escape route pre-planned to get you out of the date or interview.
- Communication: Communication is much more than just verbal, it also includes nonverbal cues like the unspoken word and body language. Ever been in an interview and eye contact communicated more in 4 seconds what a 10 minute conversation could accomplish? I’ve been there and it’s a powerful experience. When our verbal communication is locked in sync it can feel like we’ve been friends for years. When communication struggles it feels like pulling teeth to have an average conversation. Both people may be speaking the same language but it seems as if one person is speaking Russian while the other is a Mandarin linguist. We become bewildered and confused, not exactly a great start towards building a solid relationship.
- Commonalities: “Wow, I went to USC as well. Fight On!” “You’re from Handsome Eddy, New York also? What a small world.” Finding common ground during a first date or a job interview can immediately disarm both parties allowing more casual conversation to occur. Bonding takes place over the things we find out we have in common such as our love for golf, knitting that fabulous turtle neck sweater for the holidays or volunteering for a similar cause. It doesn’t really matter what it is so long as we have a shared interest. Most of us don’t realize when we’re in these moments what we’re looking for is something we already know and like – ourselves. When we struggle to find something in common with the other party it has a direct negative impact to the chemistry we’re trying to build on.
- Perception vs. Reality As the date and or job interview continues we inevitably begin to ask question to get to know the person in hopes of better understanding them and what they bring to the table. Many times what happens during these exchanges is we get a glimpse into a person that isn’t very real at all. I don’t believe people do this on purpose, at least most people, however the fact of the matter is in a first date and job interview we are doing our darndest to put our best foot forward. As a result, people can often times misrepresent themselves for who they are and what they’re all about. This is similar to the honeymoon stage where only after a period of time we’ll be able to know if the person today is the same tomorrow.
- Emotion Love at first sight! Let’s face it, emotion is a part of every first date and job interview, but it can also help us or hurt us in our decisions. Help us in that if we become emotionally invested in the other person it allows us to overlook small red flags that otherwise might get in the way of us making a decision that could be good for both parties. Emotions can also hurt us because if we experience something which causes our ego or pride to be damaged we then make decisions that aren’t in the best interest of the interview or date because we’re focused on protecting ourselves.
- The Angle “What’s he really all about?” ‘The angle’ is described as the feeling when a person has ulterior motives. This happens both in interviewing and dating. Candidates are angling to get a job, sometimes presenting themselves in a light which makes them appear more qualified than they really are. Employers also do the same by upselling the career opportunity to entice candidates to consider the role even though the actual work might not be nearly as glamorous as how it was made out to be, or the company may not be the best place to work.
Key Take Away: People by their very nature go about experiences, such as first dates and interviewing for jobs, in a fairly predictable way. While the outcome might be out of our control, the way we go into the experience and how we handle ourselves during the experience greatly influences the outcome. Knowing this information, first dates and job interviews are similar, can help you go through each experience with a broader perspective allowing you to make better decisions for yourself and potential career or company.
Action Item: Next time you find yourself on a first date or job interview remember that these human experiences are designed to see if it is worth it or not to have a second go around. The best approach is to just be yourself, as a result you’ll find that your interactions with others are far more valuable to you and the person on the other side of the table.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
Companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time
Do you have what it takes to be an effective leader?
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions: 1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People? I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’? This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator? What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate? Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink? It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away: Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Action Item: Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
I recently read an article on careers and education which asked an interesting question – “do any of these [career certifications in a particular trade, skill or software program] make a real difference in a job application?”
On the surface this question had some great merit. My initial thoughts were, “Great question. Of course they do! People need advanced training and knowledge in order to operate at a high level.”
As I continued to read on a perplexing question of my own began to form which gave me an interesting perspective on the article I was reading. “Does this article, which talks about the importance of choosing the right professional certification, entirely miss the bigger picture?”
Survey says - Yes, I believe the article misses the bigger picture!
I’m a strong proponent character will always trump competency. Why? You can’t teach character, but you can teach competency all day long. Similar to application versus theory. Application [the ability to apply yourself] in my opinion is a much more vital characteristic for most professionals than theory [an academic or textbook understanding of something] alone. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of engineers spanning pretty much every discipline there is in the world of product development and product manufacturing. To do this day I’ve yet to find one person who excelled in their career with a heavy doze of competency and theory yet was lost on the character and application side of things.
So what’s the point?
The article mentioned above fails to see the bigger picture. Yes, professional certifications such as CQE, EIT, PMP, PE, Six Sigma, Certified Auditor and Lean, all have their place. They give their newly found owners a badge of honor which can be used to gain new opportunities and win career advancements.
What a certification doesn’t help us with is being good at our job or keeping that job, for that matter. Technical certifications don’t teach you how to necessarily be a better professional, or human being for that matter. They don’t teach you how to communicate thoroughly and fully, and they certainly don’t teach you how to be a good team player, one that is flexible and capable of adapting to each situation.
The reason certifications can’t offer this is because that’s not their MO. Communication, thoughtfulness, being a team player, etc. these are all personality characteristics which can’t be studied from a textbook. One may surmise that these characteristics can be learned on the job or through a mentor, yet I will tell you in my experience you either have it or you don’t. Most people by the time they’ve become a young adult and landed in their profession did so with a personality and set of characteristics which were long set in stone. Changing them, well let’s just say walking on water might be an easier feat to pull off.
Key Take Away: Before you consider getting a certification make sure go beyond asking yourself the standard questions of, “do any of these [certifications] make a real difference in a job application?” Ask yourself, “if I get this certification can I raise to the occasion professionally to really make it worth my time?” It’s a tough question to ask of oneself. Most won’t be able to do so, and answer honestly, yet those who can may find they save themselves in a position either saving a lot of money and time or taking hold of an opportunity to elevate oneself to the next level.
Action Item: If you’ve done some reflection and still believe obtaining a certification is right for you and your profession seek out 2-3 professionals in your industry and specialty which have at least 20+ years in the business. Learn from them. Ask them what it takes to get to their level? What do they wish they had done differently? When they are hiring new employees, what are the key things they look for in the A+ candidate. Once you get done with your little industry Q&A you’ll have a better appreciation for what’s actually needed and what’s more of a nice to have.
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.
Travis also serves as Chairman, Board of Directors for DeviceAlliance, the only Southern California based medical device non-profit professionals organization and member of the University of California Irvine's Division of Continuing Education Advisory Board for Medical Product Development. He holds a business management degree from California State University Long Beach and is a graduate of the Southern California Entrepreneur Academy.