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October 9, 2017

Why I will treat that job interview like a first date

Four months ago, I left a career to find my next professional endeavour that would value purpose over paycheck. While preparing for the first job interview, I recalled a situation from over 15 years ago: At a first date, the man pulled out a piece of paper and asked me to write down my life goals by order of importance. He did the same and compared the outcome. Our relationship became one of the longest I’ve ever had.
Today, I imagine a situation in which the recruiter would do that at my upcoming interview. To me, it makes sense to take a look at job hunting through the lens of dating because the two have at least three things in common:
  • We are not always looking for a long-term commitment, sometimes we only search an interim adventure.
  • The match should not only look good on paper; ultimately, it must feel right.
  • If we find the perfect match and ‘get involved’, we become a better version of ourselves.
In the following, I use the analogy of dating to share three thoughts about the perfect employee-employer match that helps us improve retention by creating meaningful relationships.

Define the game you want to play

Whether we are looking for an adventure or a relationship, we aspire different outcomes from the first date and adjust our behaviour accordingly. By seeking either a short or a long-term connection, we determine the game we want to play. When we look for an adventure, we can call the first date a ‘finite game’ [1]. We win by getting the adventure we aimed for, and the game ends.

“The purpose of the interview is to get the offer”

John Lees cited in: HBR 04/2017

Instead, when we search for a relationship, we are willing to enter an ‘infinite game’ where the goal is not winning, but remaining in the game. In this case, our perspective shifts into the future and the purpose of the first date is to explore whether we could be the perfect match for each other. This mind shift will alter the way we ask questions and impact topics we are curious to explore on the occasion of the first date.

Adjust the perspective

I realised recently that most of our first conversations point to the past: What have you done? Where are you coming from? Speaking about our past might give us a sense of comfort as we can easily shine with stories we have rehearsed on multiple occasions. In contrast, leading the conversation towards the future brings us into new spheres that we can barely control, despite the fact that conversations about the future could become so much more insightful.

“[…] it makes sense for some companies to consider looking beyond simply what a candidate has done in past jobs and instead focusing on their potential to learn and grow in the future.”

Lauren Dixon

While past experiences may explain how we became the person we are today, they won’t necessarily help to figure out who we will be in the future. If we are looking for the person to share our life with, we want to know on which path we are walking, what will keep us on or move us away from that track, and how willing we are to follow each other on new paths.

Look beyond

The person I consider sharing my future with will be someone I can fully trust. And we grow trust when our core values, such as honesty, loyalty and transparency are reciprocated. For instance, if a friend stands up for me in a situation where my position is controversial, our bond strengthens by her showing loyalty. Still, finding a common understanding of what the core values mean to each of us becomes complicated once we look beyond the labels we put on words: If my partner informs me that he meets an old friend, would I expect him to specify that this friend is, in fact, his ex? And if he wouldn’t, does he lack transparency? Loyalty? Honesty?
To grow trusting relationships, we want clarity about what we agree upon. Then, we can determine what we are willing to accept and to what extent we are ready to compromise. I fooled myself many times believing that I would be able to either accept, change myself or change the other in order to make a relationship work. I caught myself ‘faking it’ for the sake of pleasing but in the end, nobody changed, nobody was accepting and the relationship didn’t work.

“Candidates who don’t have a full understanding of what your company is like may be shocked after they begin work. If the candidates’ expectations differ from reality, there’s a good chance they’ll start looking for different opportunities.”

Val Matta

Given that we all relish authenticity, why are we still faking it?
Sometimes I instinctively fake it out of fear of rejection for who I really am. Although I want to be liked for who I am, when I am rejected, it hurts for a lifetime. The truth is that we are rarely dismissed for who we are. Mostly, we get rejected for whom we are not. And we cannot be everyone. For example, either I am someone who accepts an open relationship, or I am not, but I cannot be both. Finally, rejection has nothing to do with our identity or the flaws we’ve exposed but only indicates that in this special constellation, we are not the perfect match. Hence, unless we can fake it for the duration of the relationship, not being authentic from date one only defers the disappointment.

The nutshell to take home

Once we acknowledge our aim to engage in a serious relationship, with our employer or our partner, finding the perfect match becomes the objective. Finding this match requires a switch in perspective beyond past experiences that we engraved in our CV and towards shared visions, dreams and goals.

“Love doesn’t mean gazing at each other, but looking, together, in the same direction.”

Antoine de St-Exupéry

I suggest that if we aim for longer retention, we must dare to be authentic regarding who we are and what we aim for. In turn, we all are responsible for creating an environment in which we feel sufficiently safe to do that. The result will be a lasting win-win.

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[1] With the concept of ‘finite game’ I refer to the highly inspiring work of James Carse: “Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play.”