Going to prom is a rite of passage for many teens. All the build up - from buying the flash dress or smart suit, to finding a date, and getting a quirky or classy means of transport to deliver you to the ball - can be the perfect distraction from the day to day bleugh of high school studies. The party itself is another thing entirely, and not all prom nights quite go to plan.
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What you don’t realise when you’re a teen is that this scenario is going to come right back to you when you start to look for a new job. Before you know it you have a mean case of workplace déjà vu, as you relive your teenaged prom experiences through your adult job search.
For a start, there’s the everyday bleugh. As a teen you think that school graduation means the end of having to do anything you don’t want to. Then you get a job. The everyday grind still goes on, and the distraction of seeking a new (and of course better) job - just like the distraction of prom prep - can be the perfect distraction from staring at your cubicle walls. Of course, job searching can be a real drain, and things don’t always work out quite the way you expect (again, does this sound just a little bit like your prom experience?), but ultimately you will probably look back with fondness on the experience, years into the future.
A job search and a school prom might not seem connected, but the more you look, more you see that they are. So, be prepared with these ideas, and take the lessons from your prom into your job search right from the start.
1. You Have to Kiss a Few Frogs
Did you find your sweetheart right away? Or were your teenage years a bit more of a fumble in the dark (metaphorically - and at times literally)? For most of us, finding the perfect date for the prom would not have been an easy task. You have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.
And there lies one good lesson for job search. Just as figuring out who to invite to prom might be enough to leave even the strongest of characters rocking gently in a corner, finding the right role for you might be a long and, at times, disheartening process. There’s not really any way round this other than maintaining a sense of humour about the whole thing, and bearing in mind the apocryphal advice - there are plenty more fish in the sea.
2. Be Open Minded
Having said all that, at the sussing out stage, you’re in with a far better chance of finding a great prom date if you’re quite open minded. Don’t even think about ruling out that guy because he’s in jeans and a hoodie all the time (he might just be the next Zuckerberg). Of course you have standards, but make them about the things that really matter - not the details.
When you’re initially looking for jobs you would do well to remember this lesson too. Ruling things out because they’re not exactly right is a recipe for job search hell. In truth there is no such thing as a dream job (any more than there is a dream date). You’re looking for a good fit job, not a perfect one, so make sure you have a good idea of what actually matters to you in your career, and be prepared to be a bit flexible around the edges to make the best of things.
3. First Impressions Count
Ah, the prom red carpet entrance. Turning up in your civvies in a battered banger of a car might not cut it if you’re among ball dresses, black ties, and limos arriving at the prom.
The pictures you get taken at prom will be ones you hold onto. No matter how shoddy you felt you looked at the time, they will be a constant reminder of your youth and beauty. That first impression lasts.
Of course, the same goes for job searching. Don’t underestimate how little time you have to make an impression - or how long that impression will remain. Just like your prom photos (you know they’re there somewhere, tucked into a book or in a drawer), that image will be filed away for reference for a very long time by your interviewers!
4. Remember What They Looked Like in The Harsh Light of Day
The lights dim and the slow dances commence. And across the dance floor weaves a character you barely know, but who all of a sudden looks particularly appealing. Maybe it is because of the dim lights, maybe it is because the punch was liberally spiked, maybe it is because dancing with someone is infinitely better than dancing with no one right now - but all of a sudden the face in front of you holds more appeal than you thought possible.
Did you still feel the same way next day? Back in school uniform and with fluorescent lights and a thick head?
Job hunting is the same. It can be tempting to get swept up in the moment and perhaps make some rash decisions about what, who and where will be in your best career interests in the longer term. Be careful, take some time to reflect objectively and never feel pushed into making important career decisions too quick.
5. You Will Forget The Bad Bits in Time
How did your prom experience feel at the time? Fantastic fairytale, or frustratingly flat? Either way, I bet your overriding memory of the night now is rose tinted. It’s a survival skill for most of us to exercise some selective memory on the events of our teens and only hang onto the pink and fluffy bits that serve to remind us of where we came from.
The same thing happens with your job search. It will be hugely frustrating at times. It will drive you up the wall and cause you to question your thought processes, confidence and even your ability to string together a coherent sentence under pressure. But at the end of it you will find the right job, and all the hard work will suddenly feel like a distant memory. Let go of the crappy bits and remember the important lessons, to make sure the experience powers your career, rather than suffocating it.
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Even for fairytale heroines, going to the ball is not an easy thing. Making it to your prom is a milestone - an end and a beginning, just like your job searches will be over the course of your working career.
In real life we don’t have a fairy godmother to turn to when the going gets tough. There are ups and downs, and lessons to be learned along the way - both from the prom and on into your later working career. Learn and grow, enjoy what you can, and every job search experience will be better than the last.