[Co-written by Lenina Mortimer and Dawid Wiacek]
It’s Thursday evening and the after-work crowd has filled the bar downtown. You’re ready to mingle but you’re feeling nervous... You know it because the glass of Chablis you’re holding is slipping out of your sweaty palms. You place the glass on the bar top feeling self-conscious and you wipe your hands on the back of your pants. Oh no. Did the attractive guy (or gal) standing in front of me notice? We make eye contact. S/he holds out a hand and says, “hi, nice to meet you.” Your pulse quickens and wonder, “what do I say?”
Question: is this a first date… or a networking mixer?
Let’s be honest. First dates can be awkward, and conversations at networking events can be equally strained. If you cringe at the idea of having to network your way to a new job and find it hard to keep conversation flowing on a date—keep reading.
Some people are born with the gift of gab. Must be nice! For the rest of us, life experience and practice are necessary in order to make sure that our love life – and careers – bloom. Below are a few tips on how to boost your chances of success in both arenas.
Network and date the same way – authentically.
One of the sexiest, most attractive qualities in a human being is authenticity. When you see someone -- whether at the club or in the conference room -- who has deep convictions and acts in a way that is consistent with those convictions, that is more impressive than someone who changes their beliefs at the drop of a hat.
Don’t compromise your personality, interests or values just to impress a potential date or prospective employer. Just be you. Don’t hide your unique spirit, your drive, your strange experiences… be confident in what you’ve done, what you’ve seen, where you’ve been, and who you’ve become through this moment in your life.
You might be worried that the other person, be it a date or networking contact, might not like your real self, and while that’s a natural fear, you shouldn’t hold on to it. If you become someone else at a networking event or a first date, and you stretch the truth or flat-out lie to the other person (e.g. you say that you, too, love country music, when you really don’t; or you brag about your Excel skills even though you suck at spreadsheets) you’ll run the risk of having to keep up the ruse longer than you care for, and of course you’ll risk being found out. Or else you’ll feel like a phony and you’ll resent the other person, not to mention yourself.
Instead, focus on what you love and what you do best. Pursue activities that make you happy. Don’t take a person out on a date to a fancy restaurant when you’re really a dive bar kind of dude(tte). Likewise, don’t attend just networking events. Consider going to activity- or hobby-based group outings (Meetup.com is a great resource). Those types of events are sometimes even more effective ways to network, because you’ll be yourself, you’ll be happier, and therefore you’ll be more confident and attractive to others.
Push yourself a little bit. Just a little bit.
Now, this might seem like it contradicts the point above staying true to yourself, and so what? The idea here is to move outside your comfort zone from time to time. If you’ve been going to the same three bars all year, or using the same 2 online dating apps and not meeting any quality dates, it’s time to shift strategies. Likewise, if you’ve been applying to countless jobs and not hearing back, or you’ve been interviewing tons but having no luck in landing the job, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions, or actually just the one: what can I be doing better?
When dating, push yourself to meet people who expand your horizons and challenge you, even if slightly, as opposed to those who simply validate all of your beliefs and world views. In short, spice up your life! Have a date in some atypical location, like a picnic in the park, to show that you have personality. In terms of the job search, try to re-strategize your approach: if you’re applying to every and any job under the sun, refocus to a more specific niche target industry; or, if you’re already doing that, consider trying a different line of work, perhaps something that you’ve been passionate about but afraid to pursue. Also, if you’ve simply been applying passively but not leveraging your network, start amping up your LinkedIn and “real life” connections. Get out there. Meet new people. Sometimes you need to shake things up to achieve different results.
Dress to impress.
Not much to say here except that first impressions count tremendously, both in terms of a first date, as well as during networking and interview situations. Dress aspirationally for the job you want, or the person you want to become. Just think how readily you judge others based on how well they’re put together. You can bet that most people are doing the same back at you.
Master the art of small talk, then dig deeper.
Small talk allows you to break the ice and make the other person comfortable sticking around for more, and this applies across the board, whether we’re talking first date, networking, or interview scenario.
But don’t just keep the conversation at the shallow surface. Show your depth of knowledge in a given field, or your passion around a particular hobby. You’re an amazing speller? You make your own rhubarb jam each summer? You won a dance competition in college? Be honest and show yourself to the person who’s listening. Make yourself memorable with a compelling story. This is particularly true when crafting your elevator pitch, that 15-60 second speech that summarizes who you are as professional or a human being.
If you don’t have a compelling elevator pitch to use for networking or interview events, or you don’t have any interesting opening lines during a first date, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Don’t be desperate. It’s unattractive.
Whether you’re begging your network for a job, or trying to score a kiss with your new date, try to keep your cool. Sure, you can show a healthy amount of interest, but if you’re crazy about said person/job, it’s advisable to play a little hard-to-get. You have to stand strong in your confidence knowing that the other person/job will not complete you. That you are (hopefully) a healthy, actualized human being, and you’re looking for another human being (or a challenging job position) that will complement you well. Being desperate is a turn off. Ask any recruiter.
Join a group.
One of the best ways to meet people authentically is by doing what you love in a group setting. For example, join a running club. This is less intimidating than one-on-one dates or networking interactions. It also maximizes the number of people you meet and, let’s face it, dating or the job search can be a numbers game. Don’t give up because the first one didn’t work out for you. Keep going.
If you attend a networking mixer, approach it like a first date, using some of the tips outlined above.
Do more listening than talking, and the person will love you!
Most successful dates or interviews are ones where the “more desperate date” or the job candidate ask really good questions, and get the other person talking. Ironically, having the other person talk is a way to be more memorable – they’ll walk away with a positive feeling about you, not just because you cared enough to ask great questions, but also because you genuinely listened (or at least pretended to listen). However, don’t let the person talk 100% of the time.
Plenty of Starbucks conversations (awkward dates to failed business deals) happen when one party monopolizes the conversation. You need to showcase your own passions and communication skills. If the other person is naturally more loquacious (SAT word!), interject with a well-placed comment, or pose incisive follow-up questions, and listen actively with your entire face and body. Show genuine interest by listening. If you tend to drone on and on about yourself and you wonder why no one texts you back for a second date (or a second interview), you need to reevaluate your listening skills. One more thing: don’t be distracted by your phone or other people in the room. Make that one person feel special. It works wonders.
A few final not-so-common common-sense tips:
Don’t drink too much. If you have a drinking problem (and on some level, you know it) please seek help.
Don’t bad-mouth your ex or former employer. It may make for a funny story, but it can bite you in the rear, and you risk coming across as immature, unprofessional or ungrateful.
Take things slow(ly). Give with no expectation of anything in return. Confidence and forethought are sexy.
Your bio matters. Whether on LinkedIn or Tinder, be concise and memorable. Tell a compelling story, sans grammatical mistakes. Have a friend (or a professional) edit your bio for optimal impact. Don’t be boring. Use photos that are recent (not 10 years old). Selfies on LinkedIn are a big fat no-no.
Follow up. Even if the date, networking contact or interview didn’t pan out exactly as you had hoped, be courteous and send a thank you note, using whatever medium is appropriate (i.e., don’t text the company). That failed date might end up becoming an amazing friend or business partner, or can help you meet other prospective dates or employers. You never know.
If you’re struggling to find a compatible mate or a fulfilling job, please know that there are professionals out there (including us) who are not only certified but thoroughly passionate about helping you meet your dating or career goals.
We wish you luck!
Lenina Mortimer is a certified dating and love coach and an award-winning journalist. She nurtures love and she teaches ambitious women how to do the same. http://www.leninamortimer.com/
Dawid Wiacek is a certified career coach, resume/LinkedIn writer, and brand strategist. He helps individuals find more fulfilling, better-paying jobs; and helps businesses stand out in print and online. http://www.davidthefixer.com/