Hiring is Like Dating

(Max Thayer is a Fall 2012 alumnus of the Technical Marketing track at the Startup Institute Boston.)

At the Startup Institute, we would use dating as a metaphor for the hiring process. Initially, we meant it as a joke: “I just came from my first interview with [company]. It felt like a date.” We’d laugh, but we realized before long just how resilient this comparison is. Not only could it describe experiences we had, but we could use it to predict future events.

We compared special projects to making your date an unexpected gift; we discussed rhetoric in terms of what we like to hear on dates; I came to mentally translate “Are you hiring?” into “Are you single?”

Dating, we realized, is a robust mental model for navigating the hiring process. So, how can we use this to our advantage?

Hire Love

When we approach the job market, we often think about what skills we have: Can I blog? Can I do social media? Can I program? Can I sell?

What job skills you bring to the table are like whether you can play the guitar. It makes you attractive to some folks, certainly, but they’ll fall in love with you because of something deeper, something ineffable. You can learn to play the guitar, but you’ve spent decades cultivating who you are. Only you have that, and it is valuable.

Just like in dating, job seekers tend to examine opportunities based on the industry they occupy, and hiring managers examine us for our skills. On both sides of the equation, this is (mostly) silly, like saying, “I only date musicians.” We say things like that because that “something deeper, something ineffable” is really, really hard to figure out. But if you want to play the game, respecting how we evaluate prospects is essential.

Say you’re courting someone who, indeed, claims they only date musicians. You don’t play guitar, but you damn sure like this person. So, you borrow a buddy’s guitar, figure out how to hold it and pick it, and then learn how to play a song from some guitar tabs you found online. You may still not “play the guitar”, but you demonstrated that you will go the distance and do what it takes to make this work.

My friend David did something very similar for the Startup Institute: with minimal coding background, he took an all-nighter to build a simple app that texted Shaun, with whom he’d interviewed for the school. He showed a level of dedication that, hey, would have made me blush. (He also got into SIB, and now works for Evertrue)

I’ve found this mental model to be extremely useful when navigating the job hunt, to the point that this post only covers the tippy-top. There is much more left to be written.

What mental models do you use to navigate the job hunt, or to evaluate talent?