Breaking into today's job market is no easy task: there is a huge pool of extremely educated and highly-qualified job applicants competing for a finite number of jobs, and this ratio gets more and more out of whack with every passing commencement season. Millennials everywhere have loaded their resumés with internships, fellowships, and awards in the hopes of gaining that extra edge when applying for jobs. And we all seem to live and die by one word: networking.
Everyone knows that the secret to hacking today's job market is to network, and network as though your life depends on it. This is even more critical when you are a young woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry like government, law, medicine, or business.
I, too, share the millennial tendency to cling to networking like a life preserver in a sea of unemployment. As a result, I eagerly accepted a lunch invitation from someone who worked in government. This was an incredible professional opportunity: I would get face time with a guy that was pretty hard to reach and get to ask him all of my questions about working in government. Despite the popular stereotype that political men tend towards the womanizing, and sex is an omnipresent currency in political circles (House of Cards, anyone?), every man I had worked for treated me professionally and respectfully and stood out as valuable mentors.
But then this lunch happened, and it is why I bring to you, female millennials, a list of ways to know that the networking opportunity that you showed up to in business-professional attire with a resume and business cards in your bag is actually a date. Inevitably, with someone at least ten years your senior. Icky.
You know it's an accidental date if:
1. He texts, calls, or emails you extensively about your weekend plans:
Really, all you should be discussing before you actually meet is where and when you are meeting. Topics such as where and with whom you'll be partying this weekend are irrelevant at best.
2. He invites you out for drinks before you officially meet:
Professionals do not invite job-seekers significantly younger than them that they do not know out for a drink to "talk career strategy."
3. He keeps staring creepily at you during your meeting:
This is a no-brainer.
4. Finding out that you are an undergraduate does not faze him:
It's easy to maybe give this guy the benefit of the doubt — maybe he thought you were older than you were. But then, when you reiterate to him that you're an undergraduate, he doesn't tone down his creepiness. Or apologize for all of the drinks for which he invited you out.
5. He takes an unusual interest in your social life:
This is really out-of-place in most professional discussions, unless, of course, you're networking with club promoters. Then I guess it would be relevant. Maybe.
6. He reveals his plan to ask you on an ACTUAL date:
Any mention of a party/bar/pub crawl to which he’d like to take you is a giant red flag. Again, professionals do not invite random college students they literally just met to come drink with them.
7. Not even the fact that you are under 21 and live with your parents dissuades him:
He still insists on trying to drink with you even after you have told him that you are not only underage, but also live in the suburbs with your parents and younger brother.
8. He in any way comments on your attractiveness:
I give the following dialogue as an example:
Him: Wow, so, you’re working in the Senate but want to do international relations. You're just like Hillary Clinton!
You (in a tizzy because you were just compared to Hillary FREAKIN’ Clinton!): That's very generous of you, I do consider her to be a huge influence and role model.
Him: Well, you’re much prettier than her.
First of all, this is a flat out lie. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a beautiful human being and no one can top her. Second of all, EW! Such flat-out objectification! There is literally no situation of which I can conceive where this statement is appropriate in a professional context, and if you can think of one, please comment on this article. IMMEDIATELY look for a graceful exit, thusly:
9. He literally says that "he should have taken you out sooner" or "would like to take you out again":
Business associates do not "take each other out." When is the last time your boss said to you "Man, I’d love to take you out for that lunch meeting on Thursday. What does 1 o'clock look like for you?"
10. If he contacts you after the meeting to express his disappointment at not being able to spend more time together:
Truly professional contacts do not want to "spend time" with you or "hang out," nor are they emotionally invested in you leaving the area to go back to school / your job.
As you can imagine, finding yourself on an accidental date can be a traumatizing experience. However, don't let your accidental date poison your view of the industry in which you want to work. Millennials are contributing in an incredibly exciting way to today's workforce, upending traditions and providing a source of innovation everywhere from the entry level to top leadership. You owe it to yourself to follow your passions and contribute meaningfully to this dynamism, no matter how some misguided thirty- or forty-something treats you.