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.
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a medical device consulting firm, providing end to end engineering and compliance services. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years and has been recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.