Marketing-Yourself-Jobs-First-Dates-smWhen it comes to the definition of “marketing,” people much smarter than me have written textbooks and taught classes on the subject. At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated concept, I would define marketing as “creating or communicating value through very deliberate messaging.

While we usually think of marketing as it pertains to a company or product, the way individuals market themselves can have a huge impact on how they are perceived by others, especially when it comes to first impressions like the ones we make on first dates and job interviews.

Now, I am not suggesting at all that you should misrepresent yourself either professionally or romantically. Best case scenario, lying to a potential employer or mate will leave you dating or working for someone who would much rather be dating or working with someone else. No, what I’m suggesting is that we could all be more intentional about the way we present ourselves.

When it comes to personal marketing, the details you omit are often more important than the ones you include.

Think of it as a whittling project. While we might all be majestic tree branches in our own right, for the sake of effective first impressions, we need to whittle ourselves down to the most important facets.

How do we decide which pieces of ourselves make the cut?

Know Your Audience.

This Internet thing, it’s pretty cool. Any company worth working for is going to have some level of Web presence. Likewise, anyone with whom you might want to share a date is almost certain to have some presence on social media. Whatever the task at hand must be, the goal should be the same: market research.

Researching a potential employer or romantic prospect works a couple of ways. First, it can outright remove them from consideration. If you’re an outspoken animal rights activist, and your date Wednesday night is really psyched about the Dalmatian-skin coat she’s been crafting on Pinterest, be aware that your love story will likely not be portrayed by Leo and Kate. If your professional goal is to improve the health and wellness of your community, you probably don’t need to be interviewing for jobs at a company dedicated to developing a more deliciously lethal cigarette.

Another benefit to researching your audience, is that it allows you to begin forming a picture of the kind of person for whom they might be looking. Knowing what a date or interviewer is looking for, helps you to decide which pieces of yourself to highlight and which to save for future interactions.

So you’re going on a date with an outdoor enthusiast looking for someone with whom he/she can share life’s adventure? Be sure to listen to their camping stories with interest and amusement. Feel free to share your own, assuming you have some real ones, but maybe don’t mention your dominator status in the arena of online gaming, even if said game is set primarily outdoors.

If you see that a job description puts a lot of weight on employees who are self-starters, you better come to that interview with examples from your professional, personal, or academic life of moments when you discovered an issue and took initiative to address it. Think back to moments when you used problem-solving skills to improve a process or service. If you can, plot out those stories in an outline or practice telling them to yourself in the mirror, to friends and family, or to anyone with whom you are not currently on a first date.

Bonus: A Suggested Omission

Don’t mention your exes, personal or professional. While it’s entirely possible that the person sitting across the candlelit table from you might, very well, be the future love of your life, it is much more likely that they are one of the other 3,522,999,999 people on earth… and they know it. Anything you say about the people you used to date or work for, they can picture you saying about them some day.

If pressed to talk about people from your past, be positive. If you’ve worked for characters like some of my former employers, “be positive” might sound a lot like “lie,” but it doesn’t have to. Recognize that every relationship you have ever had, positive or disastrous, has lead you to the space you currently occupy. Try something like this for size:

“I will always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me. I know I am leaving a much better employee than I was when I started.”

Of course, that would be a pretty weird thing to say about your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.