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All I Needed to Know About the Job Search I Learned From Sorority Rush

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I just got off the phone with my daughter Juliana, a college sophmore, and we spent much of the conversation discussing sorority rush.  Juliana joined a sorority last fall, so this year, she will go through rush on the “other side” of the selection process; meeting and voting on new members during an intense four-day selection marathon.  It is the business world equivalent of moving up from new recruit to the interviewer seat.

Discussing rush with Juliana brought back memories of my own sorority experience at UNC/Chapel Hill. Talk about a fish out of water!  I was a Jewish girl from Long Island who didn’t know the first thing about sororities, amidst a sea of beautiful blondes from Raleigh who were groomed for rush since the day they were born.  I might have projected confidence, but I can clearly remember feeling totally out of my league as I stumbled my way from house to house, cheerfully making small talk while balancing sweet tea in one hand and a slice of lemon pie in the other.

Amazingly, despite my total and utter lack of savvy about the sorority world. I somehow managed to navigate my way through the rush process and secured a bid from my first-choice house.  Even now, I still remember the thrill of opening my bid invitation, running over to the Kappa house and meeting my new sisters during our bid-day celebration.

Of course, it is always nice to be wanted, but if you’re on the short end of the stick, it is a whole different experience.  Just like the job search.  In fact, as Juliana and I exchanged rush stories, both the good and the bad, it struck me that there are some strong parallels between going through sorority rush and looking for a job.

And so, in honor of Juliana’s rush week at GW (shout-out to the Chi Omega house) here are my thoughts on lessons learned from sorority rush.  Hope you get to enjoy it with a glass of sweet tea and lemon pie!

1) You’ve got 30 seconds to make a great first impression: Sorority rush is a lot like speed dating; you need to impress as many people as you can in a very short period of time.  That means little things count.  A  firm handshake, great outfit and memorable introduction help you quickly establish yourself as a person who others want to get to know.  The same is true in the job search.  Interviewers will size you up quickly, so  everything about your first impression (resume, outfit, handshake, etc.) needs to project confidence, warmth and professionalism.

2) Know your USP (unique selling proposition):  I still have memories of arriving at my first rush party and feeling like a spinning top as I swirled around the room meeting one girl after the next.  I quickly realized that I needed to come up with a conversation starter that would help people remember me after I left the party.  Lucky for me, being “Nancy from New York”, in a crowd that was almost exclusively from North Carolina, made me stand out in a positive way.  Distinguishing yourself from the competition is critical to success during the job search as well.  Figure out how you can make a difference (in my case potential road trips to NYC were an enticing proposition) and then share what makes you unique and desirable in a carefully crafted introductory pitch.

3) You will be rejected for reasons you can’t control: As anyone who has ever sat through sorority rush selection meetings know, girls get cut for a myriad of reasons, most of which having nothing to do with anything they said or did during the rush process.  There might be too many finance majors in the house — or too many girls from one part of the state — or a need for more sisters with strong philanthropy experience.  Job search candidates also get cut for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications.  You can do everything right during the interview and still not get an offer.  It is arbitrary and it is lousy, but it helps to remember that rejection leaves the door open for better opportunities down the road.

4) An “inside” supporter is invaluable:  One of the things I learned after going through rush was that I had two strong supporters inside the house who made sure I was introduced to “key” members of the sorority at the rush parties. At the time, I was totally oblivious to this subtle lobbying effort, but once I was on the other side of the selection system, I quickly learned how important it was to have a strong supporter to help guide rushees through the parties.  Having a strong advocate inside your targeted company is equally important during the job search.  According to a recent survey by Crispin and Mehler, referrals from employees accounted for over 25% of the new hires made in 2010.  The impact of someone who can introduce you to key contacts and personally vouch for your many fine characteristics is invaluable.

5) Trust your gut instincts to make tough decisions: During the early stages of rush, I had difficulty deciding which houses I liked the most; everyone seemed equally friendly and interesting.  Over time, I began to hone in on two houses, and by the last night of rush, I knew (corny as it sounds) Kappa was the right place for me.  To some extent, my decision was based on the facts.  I liked that Kappa had the largest percentage of out-of-state students and had the highest GPA on campus.  But at the end of the day, my choice was based more on emotion than logic; I felt most comfortable when I was at the Kappa house.  Finding a satisfying job works much the same way.  Start off the selection process by concentrating on the facts, but always check in with your gut for a “Does this feel good?” reality check before you make your final decision.

P.S. Can’t figure out which one is me in the photo?  Second girl from the right!

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