What does it take to give a strong interview? Do men in general naturally present themselves (and maybe even think of themselves) in a way that makes them seem like the better candidate – especially for higher level jobs? And does that ability – whether the skills are innate or socialized – in some way actually make them a better candidate choice for the company in the long run?
Now before you think I’ve been kidnapped and brainwashed by a secret pro-male society, let me explain where these questions about gender-based interview skills are coming from, what they may mean for the way we interview, and how they may even influence the way we handle our careers.
First let me backtrack to what started me thinking about all this. I was listening to NPR’s On the Media. They were talking about NPR – of all places – and their own weak showing when it comes to using female sources and commentators. As part of their decision to take a hard look at themselves, they asked “blogger, professor and man Clay Shirky” to offer his own theory as to “Why so few women?” (unspoken words: at this supposedly politically correct organization.)
Here’s what he came up with: A Rant About Women
Basically, he suggests women for the most part don’t have the risk-taking behaviors that help men get ahead in the business world. In his words: “Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.” Now even though he framed this (or tried his best to) in a way that didn’t blame women, rest assured he got plenty of flack from people who thought he was full of crap. Definitely worth reading both his article and the comments. I leave it up to you to decide how much truth, if any, there is in his words.
But I will say that again and again throughout my career I’ve seen women (although there are certainly exceptions in any gender) less willing than men to be bold and take real chances when it came to things like self-promotion and suggesting they could take on things they’ve never done before. Books like Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office speak to these points. (More on this at another time.)
So What About Gender in Interviews Already?
Glad you asked. The one thing that really stood out for me was Shirky’s opening paragraphs:
“So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.
So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.”
The student is a male. And from there Shirky goes off on his self-described rant.
So this got me wondering about the way women interview and go about their job searches. Are most women aware just how much of today’s Job Search 2.0 necessitates boldness and willingness to promote oneself in a way that may feel uncomfortable for many of them? Networking and branding are THE way now. And job search actions that really get you to new places most often take daring and leaps of faith.
And yet, as Shirky also mentions, there seem to be very real societal expectations (read that as limits) of just how bold and self-promoting a woman can be before she goes “too far” and, heaven forbid, gets labeled one of those rhyming words also used for female dogs or magical people.
Speaking of Women and Job Search 2.0…
I was coaching a young woman who, although she is doing well in her current job and was even recently promoted, is miserable and desperately wants to move on. So she asked me for some creative job search tips to help her stand out from the competition.
Yet as we discussed possible approaches, she kept seeing all the roadblocks, but not the ways around them. Even though she’s extremely capable and has been recognized many times for her business skills, she agonized over almost everything – how would she be viewed by people she’s asking for help (as if it’s wrong to want to get ahead or give people a chance to help – they can always say “no”); what if her boss found out and how would she be viewed by her company after all they’ve done for her (as if her hard work hasn’t done a lot for them); how could she find time when she still has to do a good job where she is (in a job she hates mind you), etc.
Why wasn’t she applying her strong problem-solving skills to solving her own problem? Why was she stuck in safe mode – looking at job boards “whenever she could spare the time” and worrying about what others thought – but not stepping up to a higher and bolder level of job search where the jobs really are now? I couldn’t help thinking maybe – just maybe – Shirky has something worth thinking about after all.
Brings to mind a quote I saw today on Twitter:
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ~ Seneca
Since I have no absolute answers, I leave you with some questions:
How far in the direction of boldness can a woman go to advance her own career before her efforts turn into a negative?
Do most men really find self-promotion and daring to go where no man (or woman) has gone easier than most women do?
Does the male hunter-adventurer find things like networking and job search more in tune with his nature?
When it comes to careers and job search, do women worry too much about pleasing and making everything ok?
Are women so afraid to “bother” people they can’t self-promote or network as successfully as men?
Just how much does gender really have to do with the way you interview and search for jobs?
I’d love your thoughts.