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Recruiting: The Ultimate Junior High Dance

Updated: May 25, 2023

"Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying 'Make me feel important.'”

~ Mary Kay Ash

Anyone who grew up in a small town knows how exciting it was when you a new kid arrived at school.

For me, it was a basketball player named Zac* (with a C which made him even cooler) at the beginning of 7th grade.

His last name was next to mine alphabetically, so our lockers were side by side.

Of course, I took every opportunity to chat as we swapped out books between classes.

I quickly realized that he was just as handsome and funny as I’d first thought.

But… he was totally “out of my league.”

He paired up with the most popular girl in our grade, and they started “going” together.

Then at the 7th grade dance, the DJ announced that we would be doing a “snowball dance.” This is where one couple starts the dance, and then each person from the original couple goes out to get a new partner, then another and then another.

In theory, the entire room should be on the dance floor by the end of Madonna’s “Crazy For You” (or something else as fantastically cheesy).

But we all know that 7th grade doesn’t really work that way.

Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what the DJ was thinking imposing that kind of social experiment on us. But what could you do? So, I stood on the edges waiting to be asked to dance. Hoping not to be asked last or worse, forgotten entirely. I hope that I muttered something under my breath about women’s empowerment and being my own person.

Zac and his girlfriend were chosen as the starting couple while the entire 7th grade watched them dance. Then, the DJ told them each to pick a new partner. Zac walked around the gym. He was taking a while to pick his next partner. He was looking for someone specific.

He strained his eyes and then said “Colleen! There you are!” and pulled me out onto the dance floor.

The crowd parted, I suddenly had on a ballgown. A spotlight with stars shone down on us as we danced a perfectly choreographed Waltz...okay, not really.

But this was my Pretty in Pink moment. The whole grade then watched us dance for a few short minutes before we picked another partner. After the dance, we didn’t date (I wasn’t allowed anyway) or fall in love (I wasn’t allowed to do that either) but we remained “locker friends” for the next 5 years until graduation.

We remain great Facebook acquaintances today (Hi Zac).

Looking back, I don’t know why Zac chose me. It could be because I was one of his first friends. Or maybe he was impressed with the amount of hairspray in my “big-bangs” that evening. Or maybe he was raised to reach out and include someone who might not have otherwise been chosen. Or maybe I was so consumed by junior high insecurities, I didn’t realize that I really was his 2nd favorite girl.

I don’t know.

But it’s been 28 years since that moment, and I still remember how exciting it felt to be “chosen.”


Nothing in business should ever be as emotionally charged as a junior high dance. But even long after junior high dances are over, we still love the feeling of being “the chosen one.” And at our core, aren’t we still those kids?

Human emotions don’t grow up — we just get better at managing them.

We still want to find our tribe. We want to be included especially when it comes to our careers since they tend to be a huge part of our identity.

When it comes to talent acquisition, do we make great candidates feel giddy about their next opportunity? Or welcomed?

Or are we leaving them on the sidelines, egotistically assuming (or hoping) they’ll just magically appear?


In my HR world, there are two types of candidates: active and passive.

Those who are actively searching and applying to your recruiting efforts as “active” candidates. Those waiting to approached are “passive.”

Passive candidates are those who might be ready to switch jobs but aren’t making it a priority or effort.

That’s what was so uncomfortable about this Junior High Dance experience (well, that and puberty): we were told to remain passive while someone “chose” us, instead of just...dancing.

In the recruiting world, some speculate as to whether it’s better to hire an active or passive candidate.

I would argue a complete job search should include a mixture of both.


It means that you left no stone unturned to find the next best fit.


I recently read an article from Tim Sackett that the ASA did a study that found three in four (77%) of candidates prefer human interaction when searching for a job.

SEARCHING FOR JOBS – read that again. They want human interaction at the beginning of their search.

I think that probably resonates with all of us — and I think we're snubbing plenty of quality candidates by asking them to jump through hundreds of hoops (online app, follow-up questionnaire) before we will even grace them with a conversation.

Sometimes I even wonder if we need a resume if we have a fully filled out LinkedIn Profile and a nice solid heart-to-heart (aka telephone interview).

In this tight economy, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the “Candidate Experience,” which is mostly endorsed by tech companies leveraging the fact that millennials want things quicker, faster, and "techy"-er.

While that certainly plays into it, at the end of the day, candidates are going to pick the job that “feels” right. As Mary Kay simply puts in the quote above, we all want to feel important.

I have certainly found this to be true.

We can streamline the heck out of the process but at the end of the day, I end up talking to candidates more about the “vibe” or “culture” than any other factor when choosing their next career. The welcoming message should be a song sung through the entire process to leave them feeling…well, like the “chosen one.”

Often the candidates who haven’t applied (and arguably aren’t the most “hungry” for the next opportunity) become the most enthusiastic candidates, because we found them and reminded them how important and talented they are.

They weren’t the “wallflowers” sitting on the sidelines; they were noticed and asked to dance.

*name has been changed to protect the innocent

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