recruiter I met at career expo asked me on a date — what do I do?

A reader writes:

A Big 5 recruiter I met at a career expo asked me out on a date.

We met at a career expo in New York. I was looking for a job and networking, he was there as a speaker. He approached me 3 times throughout the daylong conference, once to say hello, the next to say we should talk more, and then the third to tell me I was beautiful, that I made a memorable impression, and asked if he could take me out to lunch. I was caught way off guard, was in super networking mode and said “sure,” not wanting to say no because I didn’t want to eliminate the possibility of a business/networking meeting.

I’m feeling it was inappropriate and that he took advantage. Bottom line though is that he works at a Big 5 consulting firm and I need a job.

I’m not even sure what question to ask here because I have so many. I guess the most important would be:

1) How do I approach him via email to say that I would like to meet to discuss potential opportunities at his firm? Do I pretend as if he never asked me out? What if he brings it up? How do I address it?

Or should I be asking 2) Should I email him to meet and discuss professional opportunities?

or 3) I’m feeling it was highly inappropriate for him to be representing his company in such a way. Should I write the company a letter?

Disclaimer: It’s possible there’s more to this story than what’s here, but I can only answer it based on the details presented. But I have a feeling it’s going to be controversial.

In my opinion, from what you’ve said, it sounds like this guy wasn’t approaching you as a professional in a networking way, but rather was simply asking you out on a date — like any other guy who might approach you in the course of your day who you don’t work with. He just happened to meet you at a career expo.

He doesn’t seem to have mixed his messages at all, such as combining romantic interest with business overtures or insinuations of professional help. It sounds like he was pretty clearly making a social overture only.

Now, is a career expo the wisest place to do this? No, because most people there are in a business mindset — which, as your experience clearly demonstrates, can lead to confusion and crossed signals. He can think you clearly understand he’s asking you on a date, and you can think that because of the venue in which it occurred, there’s a networking possibility.

But aside from not choosing his venue very cautiously, the fact remains that this guy wasn’t approaching you for professional reasons and he didn’t pretend to be. Assuming that he approached you for a date and just a date — not a business meeting — you should handle him like you’d handle any other guy who approached you for a date. If you’re interested in getting to know him socially, go. If you’re not, decline.

You should not go out with him just in the hopes that you can spin his romantic interest into a professional opening for you, because that’s kind of gross and unfair. However, you could be straightforward with him about the nature of your interest — in other words, tell him candidly that you’re not interested in a date but that you’re really interested in his firm and would love to talk to him about business. (Of course, be aware that he may tell you he’s fine with that when he really just intends to try to persuade you to change the nature of your interest.)

But without that conversation to get aligned on terms, you would be naive to accept his invitation in the hopes of keeping it strictly business, because that’s not the invitation he has extended you. If you want to try to network with him, you can invite him to do so. But the invitation he’s issued isn’t for networking.

And no, you should not report him to his employer. Unless he was mixing business with a come-on, this is none of his employer’s business, and it doesn’t sound like he was. He’s not a coworker or your manager, he wasn’t interviewing you, he wasn’t approaching you about business, and it doesn’t sound like he exploited his job to influence you. He’s just a guy coming on to a woman, like a million other guys every day.

What do others think? I’m bracing for someone to say that because he was a speaker at a career expo, he was obligated to be in “all business” mode, but in my experience, those events often have a substantial social component to them.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you for addressing my questions. I definitely needed another point of view. You made some reasonable points, which I will highlight at the end of this comment.

    First, I would like to add some facts to enlighten the situation. (I didn't want to make my initial email too long).

    1. The 2nd time he approached me was in the room where he was going to speak, while waiting for his time to start. He was going around the room saying hello to people and when we spoke, I asked him about some pointers on some business ideas and that's when he said, "we should definitely talk more."

    2. The contact information he gave me (I didn't give him my contact info) were 2 business cards. One was of his BIG 5 employer and the other was his side consulting business.

    3. He offered to take me out to lunch. I wasn't going to accept his lunch as a "date" and then spring it on him at the lunch that I'm only interested in a professional dynamic. That's why I asked how and what I should email him when making the contact.

    I'm highlighting 2 important points you made

    1) in relation to each other, he was in a "romantic overture" mode and I was in a networking/ professional mode

    2) getting aligned on terms

    From your response, I'm wondering if you're saying I should simply write a professional email and not address the "lunch" date. i.e. just say I'd appreciate the chance to discuss potential opportunities at his company.

    Specific phrases and any other/additional thoughts welcome… actually, they would really help.

    I appreciate your responses. Thank you.

  2. Kerry*

    I totally agree with AAM. I met my husband at work, and I dated lots of other guys I met at work. In fact, most everyone I dated was someone I met at work. Past a certain age, that's pretty much how it works for a lot of people.

    I also think that giving contact info via business card is pretty much how adults exchange contact info. I mean, I don't know anyone who has special non-business cards just for people they want to date. That would be weird.

    If you have a dating interest in this guy, go out with him. It sounds like you don't, though, so I think I would call (not email) and say something like:

    Listen, I want to clear something up, even though it's a little awkward. When you asked me to lunch, I wasn't sure if it was a social thing or a business thing. I'm definitely interested in working for your company, but I'm not dating right now, and I wanted to make sure I knew what sort of lunch this was. I suck at this stuff, and this is horribly awkward, but I just didn't want to make you uncomfortable or have it be weird or anything."

    If you think this will be too hard to do live, you could call when he's likely not there and leave him a voice mail (a chicken thing to do, to be sure…but that's probably what I'd do, because I DID suck at this stuff). I wouldn't email, just because I think some things are better done via voice…but that's just my preference.

  3. Chris M*

    AAM: I completely agree with your advice.

    Anonymous who wrote to AAM: I think you are now trying to avoid the consequences of saying yes to a clear invitation to a personal lunch, by ignoring the exchange and writing to this person with a purely business intention.

    You are interested in the person only as a business contact, and it is fine, but I think that you have misled him to believe that you would also be open to getting to know him in a personal level.

    I think it's only fair that you clarify, saying something like this in your email:

    "Mr. X, I really enjoyed your speech, and look forward talking more about the business ideas X and Y you mentioned briefly as we spoke. I'm concerned though that I may have given you the wrong impression by accepting an invitation for lunch, if your intention wasn't to discuss these professional topics at the time you said we should talk more.

    I wouldn't want to waste your time, so I wanted to confirm whether you would be available to discuss potential opportunities at your firm, either at your office or over coffee blah blah blah."

    Basically, you would be acknowledging that you were caught off guard as you mentioned in your question, and clarifying the situation. I think this is much more professional than ignoring the situation and pretending you never accepted an invitation for lunch from someone who said you were beautiful and he would like to take you to lunch.

    As AAM pointed out, it doesn't sound like he exploited his job to influence you.w

  4. Chris M*

    Hah, sorry Kerry, I didn't read your comment until after I had posted mine.

    Looks like we share a similar view. It's my preference to use email just not to interrupt people at the wrong moment, but like you I think it's a personal choice.

  5. Anonymous*

    I agree that putting things in writing is a very good way of clarifying the situation and having something to back up each party. However, keep in mind that some employers do take candidates out for lunch and so do some networking folks. In fact, this becomes one of the newest trends. It's all in the tone of voice, body language, etc. There's no way to predict where it would all take, depending on the guy's personality. Hopefully, his e-mail would be more straight forward than his other approach.

  6. Julie O'Malley*

    He said you were beautiful. He was asking for a date.

    I love Kerry's suggestion, but even if you clarify that you only wanted to network, and he agrees to lunch on those terms, I can't see it going anywhere business-wise.

    If you had asked someone on a lunch date, and they said (in effect) "Yes to lunch, but no to the date," you'd probably just want to run away from the awkwardness, not spend time networking with your crush.

    I might just blow it off and find a different contact at his company.

  7. Sphaeron*

    Since the name doesn't help much: this is a male perspective.

    FWIW, my take…

    – The man asked you out on a date and nothing more. Men you just met rarely tell you you're beautiful and hope that you won't construe that as romantic interest.

    – I'll refute my own previous point and say that there are always exceptions. If he is the sort of guy that operates in a business manner that includes telling women they are beautiful, then run away regardless. (That's not someone you should want to engage in business or romance with.)

    – I don't see his asking you out as inappropriate for the reasons given by AAM and Kerry.

    – The venue could have been better, yes, but he may have been smitten with you and just didn't want to regret missing the opportunity. If he's like many guys these days, he had to work up the nerve to ask–which would also explain why he wasn't even more direct or clear about his intentions.

    – Or he casually asks out every pretty girl he sees. If you think you might be interested in a date (which I gather isn't the case anyway) figure that out sooner than later.

    – Definitely take it as a compliment!

    – If you're not interested in a date, you can just not call. He'll get it.

    – If you want to reach out but only to pursue business, I like Kerry's approach. Unfortunately, however, I might not expect much of a response.

  8. Anonymous*

    if he's not using his "pull" as a BIG 5er, why not just give the biz card re: his side business, which is more personal?

  9. Zig*

    Even though he didn't do anything wildly inappropriate like pull his pants down and yell, I don't think its acceptable to do at a business function. Not because it reflects poorly on his employer, but merely because I would assume the majority of people there are in business mode. Looking to hit on people? Take it to the hotel bar, son.

    I probably would have done the same thing as you. I have HORRIBLE stair case wit and am really dense if someone is hitting on me, so I probably would have said "ok" and then on the way home thought "waaaait, was that a date?!" and then felt really awkward.

    It just seems like he is using his position at a large company to "impress" lovely ladies such as yourself.

    I don't know, if I am networking, I'm networking…not looking for a date.

  10. jmkenrick*

    I'm glad someone asked this question because this is something that I've wondered about.

    Once you're no longer in college where it's pretty obvious exactly what relationship everyone has with each other, I wonder how people handle the waters getting murky.

    This situation sounds like a perfect example. It sounds to me like the questioner was asked on a date, which is fine. It also sounds like the questioner is more interested in career advancement than dating this guy, also fine.

    Even if she/he had realized it was a date request after the initial invitation, I feel like this puts her/him at a disadvantage for talking to him about career opportunities.

    I'm sure most people are nice and wouldn't take advantage of their position, but I imagine it's hard to want to help someone who just turned you down. Plus, as AAM pointed out in her answer:

    "… tell him candidly that you're not interested in a date but that you're really interested in his firm and would love to talk to him about business. (Of course, be aware that he may tell you he's fine with that when he really just intends to try to persuade you to change the nature of your interest.)"

    Even though the question doesn't make it sound like this man was being creepy or taking advantage, I would still be uncomfortable if someone at work told me I was beautiful. I would be still more uncomfortable if I told them I was only interested in a professional relationship and they tried to talk me out of it.

    Negociating this kind of situation seems tricky. I wish the original poster lots of luck.

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