As March 8 approaches, I’d like to celebrate International Women’s Day by sharing some vital interview tips for women in a sexist world–even though I don’t really want to believe that two decades into the Twenty-first Century we still need such a thing.
Also, the last thing I want to do is get job seekers obsessing about gender bias in hiring. But of course it does exist. I think this quote from Avivah Wittenberg-Cox in Harvard Business Review says it best:
“The corporate world is led by men confident that they are identifying talent objectively and effectively. The reality … is that decision-making about talent is rife with unconscious assumptions and personal biases.”
Who do I hope will obsess about bias? Business leaders, human resources, policy makers.
Now, about your job search: prepare and overcome!
As a career coach, I’ve noticed that most job seekers face some kind of challenge: maybe you’re not a white male, or you’re over a certain age, or you have a disability or an unconventional work history. Most of us don’t precisely match what some employers have in mind. Whatever your issue is, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
To speed you on your way, I offer these five interview tips.
1: Be clear and confident in selling your skills and strengths.
Know what you’ve got to offer and speak up about it. What makes you stand out from the competition? Identify your key selling points and make sure you communicate these differentiators throughout the interview, from your first answer through your follow-up messages.
Take credit where it’s due: say “I.” In the office it may be great to talk about everything in terms of “we,” but in interviews you need to point out what you contributed. Don’t shy away from phrases like “I had the idea” or “I led the effort.” Remember, they won’t be hiring the whole team, just you.
As women, we may find this feels unnatural. That’s why we need to practice.
2: Practice confident body language.
Many people assume that a confident person knows what they’re doing, that confidence=competence. It’s not really true, and unfortunately this fallacy has a disproportionate effect on women, since we’re often less confident–or less obviously so–than men.
To convey confidence, start with a firm handshake, especially when shaking hands with men.
Tone of voice is another area where we may signal a lack of confidence. Too many of us have an unconscious habit of trying to disarm others or make them like us by talking in a girlish tone. I catch myself doing this once in a while and I just drop it! There are better ways to get rapport, such as an occasional sincere smile.
Another bad habit is to habitually end our statements on a rising pitch, as if we’re asking a question. If you’re afflicted with this “uptalk” habit, practice giving your sentences a level or downward inflection, indicating that you’re sure about what you’re saying.
How do we overcome habits we’ve developed over many years? Again, it will take practice.
3: Know how to handle inappropriate/illegal questions.
Questions such as “Are you married?” or “Do you have children (or plan on having children)?” are illegal, but that doesn’t mean nobody asks them anymore. Confronting the interviewer about the fact that a question is illegal, sexist, etc. is likely to cost you the job. And if the illegal question raises a red flag in your mind about the employer, it should! But you may want to first focus on succeeding in the interview–after all, you’re there already–and later think about whether you’re still interested.
One excellent approach to an inappropriate question is simply to address the employer’s underlying concern. For example, if you’re asked whether you have children, you might say something like this: “I think you may be concerned about my availability to meet the challenges of a role as demanding as this one. Actually, I am fully committed to getting the job done and exceeding goals.” Then back up your statement by pointing out your past achievements, and the interview is back on track.
4: Get the money. First, answer salary-related questions in a way that leaves you room to negotiate later. When asked about your salary expectations, counter by asking what range they have budgeted, then reply that the range “sounds like a reasonable ballpark” and that you’re confident a fair compensation package can be agreed upon.
Promise yourself this: that when they make you an offer, you will not immediately say “yes.” Instead, you’ll say something like “Thank you, that’s a very exciting offer. I’d like to think about it overnight. Is there some time tomorrow when we could discuss the details?”
If the offer is less than ideal, go ahead and negotiate for what you’re worth. While it may be true that women, more than men, are sometimes perceived negatively for negotiating, with care and preparation that risk can be minimized. Be brave, stretch yourself and take care of your financial well-being.
Note: You can subscribe to this blog and download a negotiation template that will help you plan your negotiation meeting. If you’re already a subscriber and don’t have it, contact me.)
Five: Know what you’re getting into. When you research the company before your interviews, look for evidence of how the company treats women. On the company website or in annual reports, do you see women in leadership roles? Do an internet search on the company name followed by the word “women” and see what comes up. Have conversations with people familiar to the company. Have a sense of what you’re getting into—or walking away from.
Let’s be the change we want to see.
Often, our best chance to combat gender bias is in our own careers, starting with the job interview. And landing a great job may well put us in a better position to help other women do the same.