Working as a matchmaker: make people's dreams come true

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The Independent Online

St Valentine's Day may have been and gone, but for professional matchmakers the search for true love is a day-to-day concern. And while there are plenty of cowboy dating agencies out there, a reputable company can offer a job that is immensely varied and rewarding.

"I didn't set out to be a matchmaker but I find myself endlessly fascinated by who walks in the door and their take on the world and on love," says Kate Kennedy, senior consultant and matchmaker at Drawing Down the Moon. "This is a hugely complex job and for me it is a totally unexpected career."

Drawing Down the Moon is one of the most established dating agencies, and unlike online dating sites it provides personalised introductions. Kennedy's normal day runs from 12noon-8pm, during which she interviews six potential members who hope to be put on the agency books. She assesses their suitability, emotional stability, relationship history and whether or not their outlook is realistic.

She spends an hour with each prospective member and often gets a sense of which other member they will get on with. If someone doesn't come to mind, then she goes through the photos and profiles on file, as well as holding mini conferences with colleagues.

Kennedy has been with Drawing Down the Moon for 13 years. The former actress with a "background in psychotherapy" started on the administration side, but quickly began interviewing potential members herself. "I'm curious, I suppose. People fascinate me. I'm a good judge of character and quite perceptive."

If you're interested in becoming a matchmaker - or even in starting your own agency - then Kennedy's boss, Mary Balfour, has plenty of advice. Her background is as a photographer and a model; she then studied sociology at university and worked in adult education for 12 years. But fed up with the cuts and job losses of the 1980s, she asked herself what to do next. "'One day,' I told my stepdaughter, 'I think I'll start a dating agency, that sounds rather fun.'" So in 1986 she bought Drawing Down the Moon, where she pictured herself reclining on a chaise longue, drinking coffee and gossiping about men. But it turned out to be "damn hard work," she says.

Her business and management experience was essential, particularly her budgeting skills and knowledge of spreadsheets. Balfour says that agency directors need a flair for publicity and for public speaking, as well as strong computer skills. While she won't discuss salaries, she compares professional matchmakers with a PA working at a multinational company, who could expect £30,000 or more.

But it's not an easy business to start. "A lot of dating companies fold, usually in the first six months," says Heather Heber Percy, chair of the Association of British Introduction Agencies ( www.abia.org.uk). This is because of unrealistic expectations about what the business involves. She recommends a background in business (perhaps recruitment) and counselling.

Apart from her voluntary work at the Association, Heber Percy has run her own dating agency for the past 22 years. She looks for staff with counselling qualifications - "because you are dealing with people's emotions at the highest level" - and those with a university degree in a "helpful" subject such as management. A major requirement is discretion, for no agency wants to employ a matchmaker who discusses clients outside the office.

Balfour says she looks for maturity in an employee as well as warmth and the ability to "put people at their ease in seconds. That they have a missionary zeal goes without saying - they have to want a happy ending."

Matchmakers also need skills of persuasion. Some members sabotage their dating chances by agreeing to meet only one out of 20 potential dates. In other cases, a member may ring and say: "I had a wonderful time last night, they had to throw us out of the restaurant, but the thing is, I didn't fancy him." What a matchmaker has to do is to "enthuse" people to get past that first date and persuade them to try again.

Kennedy says that while some members do disappear off the radar, others send wedding invitations and baby pictures. "You never get bored in this job. It can be disappointing, but it can also be thrilling."

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