career, professional crush, networking, mentor, communication, role model, successful professionals
CAREER / 14 December 2016
Crushes: Not Just for Dating
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Lindsey Day

I once had a friend say to me, “I have all sorts of crushes these days. Man crushes, lady crushes, career crushes…”


Think dating was over when you tied the knot?  WRONG. 


As an adult, searching for new relationships, romantic, friendship and professional, can feel a whole lot like dating.  


When we meet someone we want to get to know in any capacity, it can evoke the same crush-like flustering side-effects we thought we outgrew as teenagers such as blushing, stomach butterflies and foot-in-mouth syndrome.  


Although the movie “I Love You, Man” introduced America to the beauty of bromances, there is much less of a discussion about career crushes.


So what exactly do you mean by career crush?

Some of you might be wondering, “Are crushes even appropriate in the workplace?  Isn’t this the kind of thing I could get fired for?”  While others might be mistakenly associating my use of the word crush to refer to a physical attraction or sexual orientation.  


Crushes are defined as “an intense, but usually short-lived infatuation.”  


Therefore, I’m defining career crushes as “an infatuation based on professional skills and accomplishments.” 


Career crushes tend to result from becoming exposed to someone who’s work and career we admire. The success and skill level of said individual can often make us feel nervous and intimidated.  


Rest assured, as a Career Coach, I can assure you that just like puberty, these feelings are completely normal.


Career crushes are essentially potential role models and mentors who represent where we want to take our life and career. 


They may be individuals who have more experience than us or they can be peers and colleagues.  They can even be inexperienced professionals who demonstrate a skill or quality that we value.


Having professional role models, can help us raise the bar for ourselves, reach for higher goals and achievements and validate that we are on a meaningful and relevant career path.  


We might also develop career crushes on individuals whom we never have the opportunity to meet such as industry thought leaders or high-level executives at your company.  


Here are a few individuals I have career crushes on who I have never formally met: Michael Gerber, Judd Apatow, Adam Grant, Krista Tippett, Ira Glass, Reid Hoffman, The Beatles (all four of them) and Elizabeth Gilbert.


In instances such as these, we may never move out of the infatuation phase and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  These professionals are international thought leaders, best-selling authors, business leaders and A-list artists.  I can be influenced by them without knowing them personally. 


(PS- In the event anyone reading this personally knows anyone listed above, feel free to give them my number, but be sure and play it cool.  Let them know that I like them, but I don’t “like, like” them, you know?)


While it’s a good sign if you are career crushing on a regular basis, the real question is if you are able to move past the infatuation phase and develop a meaningful professional relationship.


So I have a career crush, what now?


In romantic relationships, there’s a general protocol to transition from crush to relationship consisting of dates, “getting to know you” questions and symbolic gestures that indicate our intentions and level of interest.  


Though antiquated at times, this dating template provides many singles with flashlight and basic road map to navigate the daunting process of expressing our interest in another person, getting to know them and progressing a relationship.


In professional relationships, we often rely more on chance than they would in romantic or friendship relationships. 


While many people, especially those who paired up before the rise of online dating, are horrified with today’s world of blind dates, Tinder and Match.com, the same individuals may sign up for a mentorship program where they are blindly matched with a mentor.  


These programs often have dismal results as they put a relationship status on two individuals before they’ve even had a first date.  Furthermore, they often transfer the responsibility and success of the relationship on the individual charged with mentor matching.


In the dating world, things are actually much clearer.  Single or not, we all understand that Match.com does not do weddings.  While they may advertise “more weddings than any other dating site,” Match.com is ultimately in the introduction business.  


Their carefully crafted algorithms match individuals based on the values and criteria members define as important.  These algorithms are generally far more complex than the matching that takes place in mentor match programs.  


Once the match is made, it’s up to the member to initiate conversation, start dating and decide where the relationship goes.  


Why then, do we primarily rely on chance and set-ups when it comes to building our professional network, especially considering the average person has multiple jobs over the course of their career?


Whether your single or not, take a second and ask yourself the following questions about your network:


The dating mindset

Single or not, applying some basic dating principles to the process of networking can help us develop a more meaningful professional network.  Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:


Play the Field

There is no such thing as “out of your league.” Don’t let your perceived professional status limit you from reaching out to successful professionals who inspire you.  


Success is measured by our own internal definitions.  Regardless of their level or influence or salary, successful professionals are still human.  They crave genuine relationships just like the rest of us and many enjoy giving back to motivated professionals who are just starting out.  


Be Genuine

Hearing that someone notices and appreciates our work will always have a powerful impact.  Share your admiration and gratitude with your potential mentor with specific examples of their work and impact; however, do not, under any circumstances, use these strategies to flatter or manipulate others.  


Most successful professionals have been around the block.  They will be able to tell if you are using their relationship for your own personal gain.  Although it might give you a leg up in the short-run, eventually it will come back to bite you when others realize your intentions are anything less than genuine.  


You are going to kiss a few frogs

“I thought you were cute until you said something…”


Crushes are a short-lived infatuation.  Sometimes, we become so captivated by the success of this individual that it never occurs to us that we might not have much in common beyond our professional viewpoints.


When you reach out to your career crushes acknowledge the inevitable: 

  1. Not everyone is going to respond to you;

  2. Some professionals are going to disappoint you; and

  3. The long-term success of many relationships can come down to chemistry


Have an open mind when speaking with professional role models.  Sometimes you will meet for a few coffee dates and then go your separate ways.  Other relationships will evolve into long-term collaborations and mentorships.


The “dating” process can be long and sometimes awkward, but, if you let it, it can also be fun and enlightening.


Don’t push the define the relationship talk

“Will you be my mentor?” has become the professional equivalent to writing a note to your 6th grade crush and having your BFF hand it to them before 5th period.


Mentorship can be a big commitment that intimidates both new and experienced professionals. Asking a successful professional to make this commitment without getting to know you can through the relationship off track before it even starts.  


Approach your professional role models (either in-person or via email) by making specific, genuine observations about their work or by asking small, easy to answer questions.  In your initial outreach, shoot for a question that can be answered in 5-minutes or less.


Give it time

How long do I wait until I call?


Most successful professionals are successful because they have worked hard.  This might mean they are slow to respond to email, especially to individuals they haven’t met before.


When you reach out to a professional role model, give them a week to respond.  If one week happens, don’t hesitate to send them a follow-up and check-in.  This lets them know that you are serious about your interest in getting to know them without being too pushy.  


Lindsey Day is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer and career coach.  She is specifically known for her expertise in networking, LinkedIn and recruitment.  Lindsey has been a featured contributor on Forbes.com and is an inaugural member of the Forbes Coaches Council.  To date, she has coached thousands of clients and given hundreds of talks throughout the country.  Her clients range from new professionals, small businesses and non-profits to large corporations, major universities and C-Suite executives.  For more information on Lindsey, go to www.lindseyday.com