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Kwama Sutra – Courting

This column is co-written with my esteemed colleague and sectionmate Renny McPherson. After a turbulent Hell Week, we both began to see clear connections between the job search and finding a mate at HBS.

“If she hasn’t called me back by 8 p.m., is that a bad thing?”

Beginning after President’s Day, 950 Harvard Business School students began a week-long quest to find summer employment.ÿ While two of the students are still struggling to find work, they did encounter a new theory on the job search: finding employment is a lot like finding love.ÿ ÿ

The courting process begins in the fall, when companies attack the business school campus, essentially releasing pheromones to entice students to learn more about their firms. While the events seem harmless, mostly consisting of a playful mix of free drinks, appetizers and general flirting, the end result on students is much more problematic – a bound to be disappointing crush (or two or three!).ÿ

Now, fawning over Morgan Stanley, you ponder how to proceed. Like any crush, your goal as a student is to show interest, but not too much interest.ÿ Chatting with your ideal firm, you say such things as “I really like BCG, but wouldn’t you say McKinsey is the thought leader in operations development?”

And then you decide.ÿ Dropping your resume is similar to a text message soliciting a dinner date.ÿ The company, receiving many invites, is still not sure who to become more intimate with, and thus decides to entertain numerous requests.ÿ Once the dominant member of the potential relationship, the student now becomes a victim to the whims of a fickle mate.ÿ With power now in their grasp, the companies, like any smart girl, now have the opportunity to investigate your entire package – both what you want them to know and also what your Facebook page expresses.ÿ

And then, there is a match.ÿA first (round) date.ÿ Be sure to wear your finest suit and do adequate research on the company.ÿ Some firms will start the interview looking for fit, while others focus on performance.ÿ Synergies are a must, and incompetence is not rewarded favorably.ÿ

Much like a cougar on the prowl, your desired employer knows exactly what it wants.ÿ The call after the date is immediate. You schedule a subsequent meeting for the following day – the passion is overflowing, yet you wonder if things are moving too quickly.

After speaking with friends, your confidence spikes. They will not be continuing the process with your desired mate. Maybe they were too ugly or failed to identify the correct cost-cutting measures – whatever the reason, your love intensifies – you are ready to become committed.

And the fateful day arrives. You are ready to propose. Bain is your top choice, and you want them to know it. A pulsating heart and sweat building under your arms, you enter their office. The day goes well. Impressively, you turned your biggest weakness into an endearing quality that correlates to success in the workplace. Confident, yet not aggressive, you shake everyone’s hand and begin thinking whether to have a large or small wedding.

The afternoon is a wash. You search for things to take up your time. The second season of Arrested Development streams from your computer. Yet, you can only focus on the phone.

It rings. Knowing that you have told your friends not to call, there is only one possible caller.

“It’s really not you. We loved you. It’s just right now we only have so many spots, and this was so difficult. maybe we can talk in the fall.”

Head hanging low, yet optimistic for the future, you go back online and start searching for a new connection. What will tomorrow bring? If only you knew.

March 8, 2010
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