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Are Women Too Timid When They Job Search?

A career leadership coach has the answer and some advice


Have you applied for a job you weren’t “technically” qualified for? Many women haven’t.
 
Are they depriving themselves from jobs they could actually get? Maybe so.
 
In her recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post, “Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified,” women’s leadership coach Tara Sophia Mohr cited this compelling statistic from a Hewlett Packard internal report:
 
Men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.
 
Many experts attribute the difference to women’s lack of confidence in their abilities (and men’s more cavalier approach to a prescribed job description as well as their greater sense of swagger about their capabilities).
 
Why Women Really Don't Apply for Jobs

But Mohr — who I just interviewed about this — was skeptical that the the decision to apply for a job is due to confidence.
 
As she wrote in HBR, thinking back on the times in her life when she chose not to apply for a leadership job at a nonprofit because she didn’t meet all the qualifications, “faith in myself wasn’t exactly the issue.” And, she added, “I suspected I wasn’t alone.”
 
So Mohr, author of the forthcoming Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, surveyed over 1,000 men and women, mostly U.S. professionals, and asked them: “If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?”
 
The results confirmed her suspicion that the impediment to applying for jobs (for women and for men) wasn’t a lack of confidence. In fact, only a tiny percentage of both sexes said “I didn’t think I could do the job well” was why they didn’t offer themselves up as a candidate.
 
(MORE: What Works for Women at Work Today)
 
At the top of the list for men and women: “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”

2 Gender Differences for Job Applicants

That said, Mohr found two compelling gender differences.
 
For women, not wanting to face failure was a big reason they didn’t apply. Almost one in four surveyed said their top reason for not going after the job was: “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail.” Only 13 percent of men said this.
 
My own informal survey of a handful of male friends in their 40s and 50s confirmed this male bravado.
 
“If I really thought I could do the job and wanted it, why would I quibble over semantics?” one asked me. “I look at the ‘required’ qualifications on any job posting as suggestions or a guideline and I know if I can get in the door for an interview, I can sell my ability to do the job without having every box checked.”
 
The other big gender difference Mohr found: In a job hunt, women are more likely than men to play by the rules. While 15 percent of women said the main reason they didn’t apply was because “I was following the guidelines,” only 8 percent of men said so.
 
(MORE: 3 Ways Women Can Get Paid More at Work)
 
When to Apply If You Lack a 'Requirement'

Mohr told me she believes women should apply for jobs even if they don’t have all the qualifications — sometimes.
 
“If the job is something they feel excited about, they should,” she said. “Sometimes, listed qualifications are truly required. But often, they reflect more of ‘wish list’ or reflect the teams’ initial thinking on desired qualifications. By the end of the interviewing process, that thinking may have evolved.”
 
But, I countered, wouldn’t their resumés get trashed due to what's missing? There are ways to work around this possibility, according to Mohr.
 
“Take whatever opportunities you have — the cover letter, a short phone call or the interview itself — to explain why your work experience is relevant to the job," she told me.
 
Mohr cited a female client with a strong marketing background who applied for a fundraising job that asked for at least 10 years development experience (which she didn’t have). In her cover letter, she explained that the core skills for development work — relationship building, communications and sales skills — are the same ones she had honed. She got the job.
 
And given Mohr’s strong stance that confidence wasn’t the root of the job-application problem, I couldn’t help but ask for her thoughts on Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's recent bestseller: The Confidence Code: The Science And Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know.
 
“I agree with them that women’s self-doubt is a problem, but I disagree that confidence is the antidote,” she replied emphatically.
 
(MORE: The No. 1 Way Women Can Succeed More at Work)
 
My Favorite Tip From Her Book

I got a sneak peak at Mohr’s Playing Big and wanted to share my favorite tip from it which can help you decide whether to apply for a job: Find your “inner mentor” and learn how to listen to her instead of to your inner critic.
 
The inner mentor, says Mohr, is an imagined version of your future self, an older, wiser you. She is your North Star. This is your antidote to the internal chatter that tells a woman she’s not good enough. Your inner mentor lets you listen to the voice of calm and wisdom.
 
My own advice for women (and men) who don't have the prescribed qualifications on job postings they're interested in: Pay attention.
 
Is there one particular certification that all the postings seem to be asking for that you don’t have in your wheelhouse? If so, take a class to get up to speed. This is frequently a technology issue, and easy to solve with a little effort.
 
And when you see an employer’s posting with one or more qualifications you lack, try to find someone who works there who you can talk with candidly — maybe one of your LinkedIn contacts. You’ll want to ask whether the “requirements” are really required. If the answer is “no,” and you want the job, go for it.

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