Why business is like...

Online dating. The three certainties of online dating are exclamation marks, emoticons and, inevitably, economy with the truth.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

You can assume that when someone says they have an ‘average' physique, they'll be a person of size. Anyone claiming to be ‘sensitive' is almost certainly a bunny-boiler kept on the rails by industrial quantities of Prozac.

It's the same in recruitment. Corporate culture is compulsorily upbeat. You have to sell your existing talents in the best possible light. A candidate who says they have a ‘gsoh' is probably a witless practical joker with the Mission Impossible theme as their mobile ringtone and a ‘You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps' sticker on their desk. But, as with online dating, optimistic misrepresentation is part of the ritual. You never expect your date or applicant to be quite as brilliant as the CV suggests.

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Like the first date, the job interview unfolds according to a formula that reveals little of the applicant's personality and potential. There's simply too much to lose to risk the cold truth. First, the company describes the role on offer as ‘of strategic importance to the future of the business' and in this plumage display the candidate responds with their perfectly suited credentials and an expression of passion for the role. Yet both parties know that if either spots a better option, they'll grab it.

But the analogy goes only so far. When looking for love online, you can specify your precise desires. If you want a 29-year-old, smoking, ambidexterous, blonde circus performer from Sverdlovsk, you can request one. But interviewers who mention race, age or even tobacco habits in the recruitment process will be looking at an expensive and highly embarrassing discrimination case.

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