What We Learned About Recruitment From Speed Dating (Part 1)

by Erin Chatten and Brittany White

Have you ever had one friend who you always seem to find yourself in the strangest of situations with?

Welcome to our friendship. We are Brittany and Erin, and we work together at Phired Up. Brittany is a sorority trainer and Erin is the Director of Research. We are in our twenties, living alone in Indianapolis. We work together, play together, and get to experience #adulting together.

Here’s a glimpse into our most recent shenanigans…

One night the two of us were talking about dating. Brittany is single. Erin threw out the idea that it may be fun to date FOR Brittany, and to vet guys for her. With the dating scene being what it is now, we talked about how hard it is to meet people “the old fashioned way”. As millennials, we are a part of the technological dating generation. We find love on Tinder, Match, Facebook, Bumble, etc. Online dating is safe, well accepted, and the preferred method of meeting new people today.  Brittany even wrote a blog on dating and related it back to what we do at Phired Up. Dating can be a lot like recruitment. In both instances, we are just looking for people to do life with that have similar values to us and are fun to be around. We search for partners like we search for members – with a checklist in mind – trying to determine the best “fit”.

In this conversation about dating and recruitment, the topic of speed dating came up. We felt like speed dating was the only thing remotely similar to our (sometimes strange) formal recruitment process in the sorority world. We talked about how we didn’t think we could build strong foundational relationships with people just through technology, and how those relationships were stronger when meeting someone face to face. We were curious if we always needed to meet face to face to solidify these relationships. Secretly, we both thought that it might be interesting to play the Potential New Member role again to remind ourselves what that felt like, and thought speed dating as a woman may be a bit like that.

We decided we should go to see if our notions about formal recruitment and dating in person were as similar as we thought, and signed up to attend a speed dating event on a whim. Throughout the process, we met a lot of really great people and had some unexpected experiences at the same time.

In the beginning of every human interaction there is always a first impression. We all know that first impressions are important – eye contact, body language, handshake, tone of voice, and smile. We know it takes five seconds to make a first impression and we only have about one minute to alter that impression.

Of the 12-17 men that were at the speed dating event, there are only a handful of first impressions that stood out to us. We found that we were able to remember people from the event based on our conversations with them, or by getting to know their story, but very few by their first impression.

First impressions can teach us about an individual. The individual who sat down next to us without saying a word taught us that they were shy and as uncomfortable in the setting as we were. The individual greeting us with a warm smile at sign in was confident and made us feel like their guests. The one with the hearty laugh that taught us how to participate in the event became our safety net when everything felt unnatural. Each of these first impressions were a crucial part of the relationship we developed with these individuals the rest of the night.

Let’s be honest, speed dating first impressions are probably always awkward. At the speed dating event we attended there was a forced activity to encourage mingling. This made the first impressions feel forced and unnatural. It didn’t seem like people were trying to make introductions so we each felt like we had to. Maybe it felt forced because it was a required part of the activity we were engaging in. Either way, the first impression is a necessary and unavoidable part of both speed dating and life.

In the sorority recruitment world, those first impressions can be strange, too. We create first impressions in a number of ways, from picking up a PNM at the door without touching her to greeting her with an enormous smile as we sing and chant our favorite sorority song. It’s awkward and unnatural because the only time we make this type of first impression is in the recruitment setting. Is that because the first impression itself is awkward, or because the recruitment setting in general (forced activities, chanting, and assigned conversation partners) is awkward?

Maybe the reason it’s hard to recruit women on our campuses is that we are afraid. We are afraid to make the first move and get to know strangers. We are afraid that by approaching someone we are going to come across as desperate or weird or invasive, when that person never wanted us to be his or her friend in the first place. In all actuality, it’s the first impressions in recruitment that can come across as even more strange. We cloud the first impression with the most unnatural array of activities that we would never do on any normal day.

Had we walked into speed dating and had people sing to us while escorting us to our seats, we probably would have left. How many women are doing the same thing after their first night in recruitment? We have to get used to making the first move in a room to get to know the other people and create a more natural introduction.

First impressions matter just as much in speed dating as they do in recruitment. Our first impression is our launching point in which to build a relationship.

If we are being totally honest here, we would much rather meet someone in person for the first time rather than try to get to know them via technology. That was our favorite thing about doing speed dating – meeting humans in person.

We have both utilized “swipe” apps and online dating as means to meet people to potentially date. We were interested to see how the variations between conversations we have over technology would play out in our face to face conversations with the folks we met at speed dating.

When utilizing technologically driven forms, people can be more daring with their questions. It’s a lot easier to ask things that we would never ask in person because of our ability to hide behind the screen, and never have to interact with the person we are communicating with. We don’t have to see their reaction to our question. It’s almost like we maintain some sense of humanity when we are in person that we lose through technology. When there is a person in front of us, we are more apt to be curious about the person rather than an unknown figure behind a screen.

There is something impactful about those in-person conversations. In speed dating, you don’t get to escape (unless you want to come across as a jerk). You don’t get to stare at someone’s photo to determine if you are attracted to them or not, if they take too many mirror pics, or if they do a lot of fun and adventurous things with their life. When you get in person, you have to ask. You have to be curious. You don’t get to read someone’s bio to tell if they are super witty or have their life in order. You don’t have time to over analyze. You have to ask questions. You have to be curious in order to inquire about their most endearing qualities.

Often times, we feel like recruitment is more and more unnerving for chapter members and for PNMs because there is something more intense about the face-to-face interaction. We wondered: if we could know what our (future) sisters said about us during selection, would we want to know? Our immediate answer has consistently been no. Probably for the same reason that we don’t want to know why someone chose to swipe left or right. When we utilize technology, we don’t have to address those uncertainties. But in speed dating, it’s right there in front of you. There is no escaping. You can’t sit and stare at someone’s photo before you have to engage in conversation. You can’t instantly swipe right in real life.

We couldn’t fit this entire experience into one blog. So we’ve written a blog series to attempt to paint the picture of our adventure in speed dating, while also being insightful and valuable in terms of learning about our own organizations. Check back soon for our next blog and some more lessons from our speed dating adventure!