A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Dan Ariely, author and Duke University Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, at his book launch. In the book, he mentioned the challenges that people face finding love on online dating sites. It got me thinking about the parallels between the struggles finding work and finding love, and the fact that we have still not succeeded in creating particularly effective systems to connect job seekers and job openings (or people to one another). AI is smart, but not smart enough to figure out what makes people “click” with each other.
While there are qualified job seekers and suitable jobs out there, somehow it is exceedingly difficult to connect the two; the question is what works?
Based on my experience as an employment expert, I have concluded that there are real parallels between what works for finding work and love. To test this theory, I decided to research “how to find love”, which yielded a lovely, common-sense Wikihow post that demonstrates my theory pretty well. It recommends 10 steps to help “find love”, most of which can be neatly applied to job search. It divides the 10 steps into 3 main parts:
- Know Yourself
- Reach Out
- Make Moves
Employment counsellors also typically advise job seekers to:
- Know their strengths, weaknesses and assets, and share them in resumes, LinkedIn, and in information and job interviews.
- Reach out to network contacts and potential employers.
- Make moves to meet in person with potential employers and network contacts.
PART ONE: KNOW YOURSELF
1. “Understand what you have to offer.”
Consider what you bring to a relationship:
- Your best qualities — what are your strengths or unique assets?
- Your interests — what areas of work do you specialize in?
- your weaknesses — what would you like to improve in yourself as an employee? What parts of your job make you feel uncomfortable?
For job seekers, this is excellent advice: identify your assets, professional interests and weaknesses; understand them and be willing to discuss them openly (obviously, only as they relate to your ability to do the job).
2. “Build confidence”
Identify your strengths, and practice being able to talk about them confidently.
“Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, a hilarious crowd pleaser or a very kind friend, be confident about what you have to offer”.
Know what you have and own it. Confidence comes from understanding what makes you a strong candidate, and being able to back that up with examples from your experience.
3. “Know what you are looking for.”
All relationships benefit from clarity of purpose. Do you know what you are looking for in a job? Have you thought through and evaluated your priorities?
Write down what you consider most important characteristics for your next job, such as salary, status, keeping busy, social connections, a chance to build your career, or learning new skills. Try to not being too specific or too superficial in your preferences; if you are too selective, you might narrow your options too much and miss out on opportunities which you might regret later.
It may also be helpful to write down a list of definite “NOs.” What won’t you compromise on?
PART TWO: REACH OUT
4. “Meet people.”
“One of the best ways to do this is to start by making friends. It is always said that making friends is the surest way to finding love, and that’s because it’s true; it’s a great way to build a mutual relationship based on caring and trust.”
The same can be said for job search – make sure to reach out to people. Avoid hiding behind your computer screen. You are mostly likely to find work (especially work that meets your unique needs and skills) through networking. Networking starts with meeting people.
Don’t be quick to reject an opportunity based on superficial criteria – love at first sight is a rare and often unsustainable thing. Look beyond your notion of what your ideal employer might be like – avoid restricting yourself based on superficial criteria such as location, travel time, company size, brand, job title. Think about your long-term goals; consider whether this opportunity might move you in the right direction.
Expect success to take time. Commit resources, effort and time to finding the right opportunity. Be patient.
To find love, “accept invitations to parties, sporting events, and concerts. If you aren’t much of a joiner, ask a few people out for lunch or coffee. The point is to create a lot of situations that give you the chance to get to know people – and it’s hard to do that from home”. This applies to job search just as well: stretch yourself beyond you natural tendency for independence and self-sufficiency – reach out. Go to workshops and conferences, volunteer and do what it takes to meet new people.
5. “Present yourself as someone who is available.”
Let people know that you are looking for work. Send out resumes to those who might know someone. Mention it to friends and former colleagues. (Careful not to overdo it though – no one wants a desperate person.)
Make sure you have an easy-to-find online presence. Sites such as LinkedIn provide good opportunities to showcase your skills. Be aware of how you appear to others, online (Google yourself!) a in terms of professional dress (no perfume – this is job search, after all.)
When meeting with network contacts, practice active listening. Be attentive, make yet contact and ask curious questions. Thank people afterwards for the meeting and stay in touch. When you meet them next, or reach out again, try to follow up by recalling something he or she said and mentioning it at the beginning of the conversation. Show people you are paying attention.
Be honest and genuine. Your ability to talk about your strengths and weaknesses with confidence is, as the article suggests “an act of courage, and that’s attractive”.
6. “Try dating services.”
I suppose we could describe LinkedIn, networking meetups, recruiting sites as “dating services” for job seekers and employers. Even volunteering in a place where you can meeting potential colleagues and employers might be a great place to find employment “love”. As the article states: “you might find it easier to get to know people in places that facilitate conversation.”
PART 3: MAKE MOVES
7. “Ask people on dates”
Reach out to people who might be able to help or support you, and take up any opportunity to meet face to face and have a conversation by phone. Informational interviews can be very beneficial for both you and a potential employer.
No need to make it complicated or formal. Take your contact out to coffee or meet them at their office and bring a cup (call/text before and ask: “I’m bringing coffee – what would you like?”). The format of the meeting doesn’t matter — just focus on having a good conversation and learning something new. Making a good impression is most important.
8. “Don’t be too pushy”
Remember that personal connections are stressful for both sides. The person you’re meeting might be concerned about your expectations from them, as well. Keep in mind that not everyone is in a position to refer you to a job, and keep expectations low key and relaxed.
9. “Be vulnerable.”
Talking about yourself in a genuine and self-critical way makes you more trustworthy and confident sounding. You do not have to be perfect to be interesting — employers want an employee who is open to criticism and learning.
10. “Know when to drop it and move on.”
Sometimes you are just not a good fit with a job. Sometimes a network contact just won’t want to meet. Know when to give up and move on to better opportunities. Do not let a negative experience put you off. Learn from any mistakes you might have made, dust yourself off and try again.
Staying motivated through the process can be difficult. An article in the Journal of Management quotes researchers who suggest that the most important thing a job seeker can do to find work is to stay motivated and focused — advice which could just as easily apply to those seeking love:
“Just keeping motivated. You know, that’s a tough one when day in and day out, doors are slamming in your face because, you know, you’re not the only person applying for a particular job or you’re not the only person reaching out to somebody. And, I think, trying to keep a smile on your face and staying motivated that it will happen when it’s meant to happen. That’s the ticket. I think that’s the toughest thing when you’ve been out of work for a long period of time.
What other rocks have you not turned over? And if you turned over every rock that you can and reached out to god knows how many people (…), and you’re not getting anywhere and the train is not moving down the tracks, it is very tough to put one foot in front of the other and say, okay, tomorrow’s going to be a better day. That sounds just so old-fashioned or cliched but it’s true.”
Whether looking for love or trying to find work, human nature requires that we do certain things in order to be successful: we need to be self-aware, clear about our goals, and to plan and implement steps to reach out and to meet others face to face.
Most importantly, acknowledge that the process of meeting goals (whether it’s love or work) will most probably take more time, energy and motivation than we would like. And then, just keep going.