What Tinder can teach you about recruiting

Business school is not just a great place to get a practical education or switch careers; it’s also a great place to make lifelong friends and, just maybe, meet your future spouse. But if you’re single and looking to mingle in 2016, making it known online is almost a prerequisite. Tinder is only the most recent and most conspicuous platform for doing so, but research conducted with nearly 20,000 newly married American couples between 2005-2012 (before anyone knew what it meant to “swipe right”) found that more than one-third of those marriages began online, those marriages were slightly less likely to break up, and couples that met online reported slightly higher marital satisfaction. Given that online dating platforms were still in their infancy when this study began, those numbers are astonishing and paint a pretty clear picture: online dating works.

There is a different type of matchmaking industry that has not been as quick to embrace the advantages of online networks. Corporate recruiters and job seekers around the world have thus far failed to follow the lead of their online dating counterparts, and continue to rely on the same sort of recruiting methods that were used half a century ago. In 1966, heavy investments of time and money into on-campus recruiting made sense, but times have changed. Dating has kept up. Is it time for recruiting to do the same?

In this article, I’ll explain how technology has become so integral to modern dating, and why modern job candidates should be using the internet to find a job interview the same way they can use it now to find a date. There are more than a few similarities between recruiting and dating, and one of the biggest is the power of technology to make them both less stressful and more effective.


The internet has revolutionized dating – and it’s all about the numbers

For centuries before the advent of computer networking, finding a person to spend your life with worked in more or less the same way: eligible bachelors and bachelorettes hoped that they would be able to discover a satisfactory partner through their personal network of friends or family or (less often) through a chance encounter at a social outing. In either case, prior to the arrival of personal computing and online dating, people looking for love were forced to choose between the few eligible candidates within close physical proximity.

This is no longer the case. Dating websites and apps, along with the ease of global communication through email, chat, and cell phones, have made it possible for single folks in the United States to browse and explore hundreds of thousands or even millions of profiles belonging to potential mates from anywhere on earth at any time. And with this exponential increase in access, online daters can now also prescreen admirers to determine those that are worth the time investment, and can use messaging software to more quickly contact more people. In MBA terms, this means far greater operational efficiency – but we’ll let someone else


Dating websites haven’t replaced in-person dating – they’ve made it better

One of the more common – and misplaced – criticisms of online dating is that digital engagement is a poor substitute for meeting someone in person. This is often true, but it misses a larger point about what makes online dating so attractive. Sites like OKCupid and apps like Tinder aren’t substitutes for in-person dates – they’re tools to make those in-person dates more plentiful, more enjoyable, and ultimately more successful.

In other words, the end game of dating has not changed, but rather the process of finding a date has changed (and improved) dramatically with the rising popularity of dating sites. Savvy online daters use these sites to expand and enrich their dating experiences, and as a result they have more dates with better matches and spend less time finding those dates. This is especially true for those individuals with nontraditional tastes, but the numbers make it clear that the benefits dating cut across groups and demographics.

Of course, these online platforms and their large networks are only valuable if they’re able to help users find needles in the haystack. And in this regard, it’s clear that online dating platforms are quite good – and getting better all the time. This illustrates another big advantage of using technology to facilitate relationship-building: the technology itself can be continuously tweaked and updated to improve the user experience and optimize results. The algorithms used by eHarmony and Match.com are great examples of how technology can facilitate matches and get better at doing so over time. It turns out that even in matters of love, humans are predictable enough that data-driven solutions can identify promising matches with impressive results: eHarmony claims that it’s responsible for 5% of all US marriages each year.

What does online dating have to do with finding a job?

All of this advancement in dating tech is great for the single people of the world, but what does it have to do with the decidedly less romantic process of finding a job (or making a new hire)? To understand that, it helps to look at the ways that our relationship with our employers resembles our relationship with our significant others.

Time is one particularly important metric here. If you’re like the average American, you spend more than a third of every day – 8.9 hours – focused on work and job-related activities (investment bankers might find this number unusually low). In fact, work takes up more than half of the average American’s waking hours, and most Americans spend more time in the office than they do sleeping. These stats – from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – should not be a big surprise to most people, but they underline an important idea about work and finding a job that is often lost during the recruiting process: no matter whom you happen to work for, you will probably spend just as much time (if not more) with your employer as you do with your spouse.

Given this state of affairs, it makes sense that both our jobs and our romantic relationships have enormous effects on our happiness and quality of life. And while we obviously look for different things in our life partners and our employers, in both cases the success of the relationship depends largely on abstract or nebulous factors like cultural fit (in the case of hiring) or personality type (in the case of dating). And the difficulty of measuring these factors leads to costly mistakes in both the professional and romantic arenas: although divorce has been on the decline recently, it is still the fate of 1 in 3 marriages; and the sheer economic cost of worker dissatisfaction is estimated at over half a trillion dollars every year.


What MBA recruiting looks like now

Here’s how MBA recruiting works for most on-campus recruiters: select a few target schools based on reputation (or because it’s their CEO’s alma mater) and pour money into in-person events and sponsorships hoping they’ll outcompete the hundreds of other companies doing the same thing. They are figuratively (and sometimes literally) like the person offering to buy drinks for the whole bar – except that there are so many other people doing the same thing that everyone else can’t even keep track of all of the offers.

Students, for their part, don’t have enough time to interact in person with more than a tiny fraction of these companies, which they also often target on the basis of reputation or accessibility, for lack of access to better information or criteria. The inefficiencies of this market were unavoidable half a century ago, when available technologies offered no economies of scale or expanded access. Just as with dating 50 years ago, the emphasis on in-person first impressions made sense; there weren’t really a lot of other options.

Having said that, in-person recruiting still a great way for employers to judge that all-important cultural fit. However, the way it stands now they have little to no information on the candidate pool before they physically get to campus, like they’re going on blind dates with hundreds of newly arrived MBA students. Frankly, there’s a reason people don’t really go on blind dates anymore: there’s not much reason to walk into a date unawares with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a thousand other online profiles offering insight and information that’s helpful in determining whether you’d like to spend several hours with a stranger. Regardless, hundreds of employers do the equivalent every year when they dedicate huge amounts of money and man hours into recruiting at a few target schools – before they know a single thing about the student body.


The online dating approach to recruiting

Although there are plenty of substantive differences between dating and recruiting, there is also plenty for recruiters and job seekers to learn from the efficiencies that online technology has brought to the dating marketplace over the last two decades. Below you’ll find a list of best practices from the online dating world that job seekers can adapt for their talent search processes.

1) Play the numbers game

The logic here is pretty straightforward: the more people you meet, the more people you’ll meet that you’re interested in. For instance, one of the many appeals of Tinder in particular lies in its ability to let users quickly and effectively view and filter a large pool of relevant candidates, and to let users be viewed in the same way by others. Whereas single people 20 years ago might have been lucky to encounter one or two people a week that romantically interested them, today’s singles are able to find dozens each day and to engage with the best matches of this group almost instantaneously. And again the end result of this process is not simply more web-based communication; it’s more real-life dates and in-person interactions that more often lead to second dates and even eventually to marriage.

For MBAs, playing the numbers game means finding ways to easily and effectively get your personal brand in front of more recruiters. There are lots of traditional ways to do that – company briefings, career conferences, resume books – but newer platforms like LinkedIn (or RelishMBA) let you do it at scale both passively (through your inclusion in recruiter searches) and actively (through digital engagement with companies and recruiters). Ideally, just as with dating sites, these platforms offer significantly expanded access and exposure with a minimum investment of time.

2) Present your best self

In an open marketplace like dating (or recruiting), it’s impossible to overstate the importance of first impressions. When there are thousands of eligible candidates looking for a match, searchers understandably look for any reason to narrow their focus – which means bad first impressions are usually final impressions. But unlike the real world, online dating provides an opportunity to present a coherent and full picture of yourself that’s easily accessible to people whenever and wherever they’re looking. That means you can curate that image to make the best possible first impression, and appeal directly to what you know about your audience (the same way that consumer products companies manage their billion-dollar brands).

This sort of curation can have both good and bad sides. There’s nothing worse for an online dater than being tricked into a date by a misleading or dishonest profile; it’s a waste of time for everyone involved and eliminates any chance of a real relationship, even if the two parties could have been a good match without the deception. Those inclined towards dishonesty are not only doing a disservice to themselves – they’re also missing one of the biggest advantages of online dating. Their huge scale and the commensurately immense efficiency of their matchmaking processes make it possible for people of all shapes and personality types, no matter how strange or unorthodox, to find their special someone without the need for misrepresentation.

In any case, it’s important to remember that being your best self means still being yourself. But digital profiles are increasingly the way in which we make our first impressions, and having a carefully considered and authentic message to present through that profile is a huge advantage in a crowded and competitive marketplace. When people are going to find you online anyway, you might as well make sure to put your best foot forward there.

3) Form a hypothesis, then test it

The scenario depicted above of the online dating trickster is a rare one, but many first dates are never followed by second dates for less dramatic reasons. By the time most students are entering their MBA programs, they’ve likely been on at least a few failed dates themselves. They are the inevitable side effect of the dating process, but they’re not necessarily a sign of failure: dates happen in order to test an initial hypothesis that two people would enjoy spending time together, and a bad date is simply a negative response to that test. This thinking doesn’t quite capture the awkwardness of going out with someone you don’t quite click with, but it’s useful in illustrating another way that online dating optimizes the dating market: it automatically creates a huge amount of hypothetical matches and lets users more effectively choose how to spend their (increasingly scarce and precious) time. When you’re not spending as much of your social time trying to find a date (forming hypotheses), you can spend more of it actually going on dates (testing hypotheses).

In this way, using technology to source and filter candidates is a more reasonable (and scientific) way to approach matchmaking. Unfortunately, MBA recruiting still depends so heavily on in-person interactions for sourcing and filtering that there is less time for in-person engagement. With a few hours or even minutes of online research and engagement, and some serious thought about what you’re looking for and what firms might offer it, you can develop a thoughtful list of hypothetical recruiting matches, and ensure that your facetime with recruiters in the fall and spring is more targeted, more substantive, and more successful.

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