LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
By Stacy Homer
As a businesswoman and a recruiter, I have witnessed several mistakes that are made more often by my female counterparts than by the male ones. Does this qualify me to share advice on this topic? Yes. But more importantly, I also share these insights based on my personal missteps, as well as how I overcame them, thanks to expert guidance I once received. Trust me, we have all been there and we can all avoid them.
Not dressing the part goes beyond the usual pointers of “don’t wear too much makeup” or “don’t wear an inappropriately short skirt”. Consider instead what happens when we do not tailor our dress code to the job on the day of the interview.
One of my first interviews was for a role that involved overseeing a predominantly male workforce in an automotive division. I had a great interview and was even given a tour of the ‘shop floor’. Later, I was turned down because of my skirt suit. Firstly, wearing a skirt on the shop floor, regardless of its length, led the employees to automatically perceive me as someone whom they would like to befriend as opposed to view as a manager. Secondly, a three-piece suit was out-of-sorts for that environment. Hence, I did not appear to fit the company culture. Conversely, I have experienced the opposite, when candidates appear underdressed for interviews (such as wearing jeans) and it cost them the opportunity to fill the role. Not dressing the part not only raises questions on appearance, but about our judgment and decision-making also.
1. Do your research. What may be appropriate in one organisation or for one role, may not be appropriate for another.
2. Enquire about your panel and the work environment when contacted for the interview.
3. Visit the location beforehand, if that is an option, so that you can observe how people dress.
I am often surprised that people struggle to answer questions, such as, “Why is there a gap in your résumé from X-Y date?” or, “Why did you study IT but want to get into marketing?”
These questions are never meant to cast judgment or criticise personal life choices, but rather to understand the candidate’s thinking in making decisions. If, in the former case, the candidate took time off to be a stay-at-home mom, pursue a degree or was even released involuntarily, these should be divulged. Often, open and honest answers are usually understood and respected. I once had a candidate share with me that she had taken a year off because she unfortunately had to be treated for depression, given a significant life-change that occurred during that period. This did not affect her being offered the role.
1. Prepare for every possible question. Have someone critique your résumé, poke holes in it and do a dry run of the interview.
2. Answer truthfully. The results will always fare better than having a recruiter question your integrity or your ability to answer questions directly.
The interviewer invites you to give more insight on a specific accomplishment. You recall the scenario well and have practised for this question. You very briefly describe the experience and give little details. The interviewer is left without an appreciation of how challenging it was and how your contribution made an impact in achieving success.
Perhaps this discomfort comes from socialisation. I have witnessed parents tell their daughter not to be a “show-off” when she is sharing how high her math grades are, but the same parents listen intently when their son speaks about how many goals he scored in a recent football match. Regardless of the reason for our adult hesitation, this does not bode well for us women, when we are supposed to sell ourselves.
Failure to ask the right questions when invited to do so at the end of the interview, is another faux pas for us. Do you have a special needs child and may require time off for specialist appointments? Are you considered a high-risk patient and would require certain accommodations at work? Here is your window to learn about flexitime, special workplace arrangements etc. But we rob ourselves of this opportunity by not speaking up.
1. Find comfort in the discomfort. Speak in front of a mirror, if it means getting comfortable with hearing yourself discuss your accomplishments….repeatedly.
2. Speak up about what matters to you, e.g. flexitime, and raise pertinent issues, especially when invited to ask questions.
Women frequently offer disclaimers during their interview responses. For example, when confirming that she does have experience with leading teams, she quantifies that with “it was only a very small team”. Ladies, stop using words like “but” and “although” to downplay your success. This is self-sabotage and only serves to place doubt in the mind of the recruiter about your ability to fill the role.
Not maintaining eye contact with every panellist, during your responses, also shows a lack of confidence. Similarly, we are guilty at times of allowing our emotions to hinder how we behave and even think. Imagine becoming flustered before the virtual interview because of technology issues or getting stuck in traffic before the in-person interview. You are finally able to commence the interview but remain uncomposed, as you are unable to mentally transition from what transpired earlier. Our inability to leave things in the moment results in another missed opportunity to project confidence.
1. Winning starts in the head. Unfortunately, so does losing. Start winning in your thoughts before the interview. This mindset will aid in projecting confidence.
2. Practice self–talk. Remind yourself of all that you have to offer and why you would be the best candidate. Respond with confidence, believe that you are the best.
3. Maintain full eye contact with all interviewers.
4. Let all distractions go and focus on delivering the results when it matters most.
This seems to be the bane of our corporate existence. We are uncomfortable answering the question: “What are your salary expectations?” and sometimes give the despicable answer, ‘anything that is fair and commensurate with the job’. I have experienced two extremes with this scenario. One was for a female Sales Executive who could not give a definite answer of what she would like to earn, even weeks after being told she was the preferred candidate. It was beyond me why anyone would leave someone else to determine his/her value, especially as employers rarely pay the maximum that can be offered to a candidate. On the other hand, I had a male Logistics Executive, whose expectations were far above our salary band. Even when this was disclosed, he watched me straight-faced while politely enquiring if we could not double our offer. Professional confidence!
1. My mentor once shared this nugget with me that I hope we can all utilise. Her advice was, ‘go to a male, whose professional advice you trust. Explain the job and ask him what he would request if given the opportunity to fill the role. Whatever is his asking figure is exactly what you should request. Almost always, he will request more than what you had in mind.’
True story – my female colleague did exactly this last year when she was offered an Executive role in a male-dominated field. Her male advisor suggested that she should be requesting $10,000 more than what she was willing to accept. If this were the litmus test of how we undervalue our worth, the results were clear.
2. Research and benchmark what similar roles are paid in the industry. This too will guide your asking price.
If you have experienced any of the challenges above, I trust that you can now take some actionable steps for change. If I could have done it, so can you. I wish you all the best and look forward to possibly meeting you, on the other side of the interview table, as a confident and competent candidate.
Stacy Homer is currently the Director of Human Capital at Unicomer (Trinidad) Ltd. Her seventeen years of HR and Leadership expertise spans across Financial Services, Public Service, the Retail Industry, Regional Consultancy and Lecturing. She is also commonly featured, as an HR speaking authority, on one of the country’s leading morning shows and is a fierce advocate of progression of women, especially, in the workplace.
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