Women & Interviews

Career Basics for Women
By Constance Gray
Assistant Circuit Executive
U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Women & Interviews
Chat Transcript
Beyond The Trick Question
A Lawyer's Adventures
Career Basics For Women
Career Matchmaking
Ms. Xecutive Holds Forth
Ain't No Personnel Jockey
Recruiter's Point of View
Brassy, Foolish Dames
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[A seasoned, professional mentor who has guided many graduates of her alma mater, Simmons College, through the maze of job change and professional growth, Connie Gray talks about issues women should consider -- and behaviors they should watch out for -- when interviewing.]

1. Gender Differences in Communication
Have women adapted sufficiently from their characteristic feminine style to close the gap with men in conversation? Women tend to share information and feelings; men report facts so they can move forward to decisions and results. How does this affect interviewing conversations? Do women come in prepared to solve the problem cases they may be given in the interview, or will they discuss the case empathetically without proffering any concrete resolutions?

2. Short-term vs. Long-term Career Thinking
While men are building the foundation of their career during their 20s and early 30s, what have women been doing? Just working -- with no thought of the future and where they might be or where they want to go? Or, are they thinking long-term and planning their career direction and what they want their next job to be? Are they just working hard, passively accepting what comes their way, hoping they are lucky, or are they hard-working, committed, proactive, and goal-oriented -- taking charge of their career path?

3. Passivity and Luck vs. Career Planning and Achievements
Men will take credit for any success remotely related to their work for an organization. Women, on the other hand, are reluctant to take credit for their accomplishments. They often feel that self-pride interferes with the development of relationships. Because they often attribute their achievements to others or to luck, -- "It just happened." -- women may not relate what they have done in the past and what they have learned about their abilities and strengths with the demands of a new situation.

Passive reflection on past experience often leads women to discount their strengths and competencies and obscures their ability to predict mastery in the future in new situations. This tendency serves to further reinforce their insecurity and anxiety and manifests itself in chronic questions such as:

  • "How do I become more self-confident?"
  • "How can I improve my self-esteem?"
  • "How can I seem more aggressive so people don't walk all over me?"

Marcia Clark, the Prosecuting Attorney in the O.J. Simpson trial, said these self-doubts have been a chronic problem for her in the past, and she encourages women to look within and trust themselves by reviewing their past accomplishments and the many times they were right.

A lack of self-esteem often seems related to women's tendency to concentrate on the day-to-day aspects of the job -- the details-- with no viable concept of progress or commitment to advancement over the long-term.

What does this imply about how women present themselves in an interview?

4. Organizational Environment and Building Visibility Within the System
Men are generally more apt than women to figure out the politics of the system and learn how to play the game to get themselves noticed, to win the support of key people -- bosses and subordinates -- and to take some risks to get the attention needed to move along to the "next level" or into a particular job.

All the competence in the world will not be sufficient if the individual does not recognize, think about, and discuss her needs to advance or survive in the organization (or the consequences of not taking certain proactive steps). Women traditionally have avoided the politics of the office and relied on the formal systems for guidelines. However, formal systems aren't necessarily what makes the organizational wheel go round!

In the book, The Managerial Woman, by Anne Jardim and Margaret Hennig, co-founding deans of the Simmons College Graduate School of Management in Boston, the story is told of a young woman who has been given a challenging opportunity to take over development of career counseling, career planning, management training and internship programs for women in the organization. She had been sufficiently successful to get the attention of the executive vice-president, who was clearly committed to making the programs succeed. He asked her to write the draft of a presidential policy statement that would explain the nature of the program's success. He needed the draft in 3 - 4 days so he could discuss it with the president over the weekend.

Her reaction to the assignment deadline was astonishment. She explained she couldn't do it because of other pressing deadlines. When the VP suggested an earlier delivery date, she again complained she had too much to do. Finally, exasperated, the VP said he didn't care how or when she did it, but he wanted it on his desk by Friday.

The woman was upset and left the meeting feeling that the organization did not care about her priorities. When asked later if she understood what was really being offered to her, it became apparent that she "didn't get it".

In effect, the VP was telling her that her work was deserving of presidential approval and what she had achieved would become company policy. Over the course of time, it would mean that her temporary project and position would be solidified in the eyes of management. The fact that she might be called in to discuss the draft with the president would give her visibility and recognition within the company.

When confronted with this viewpoint, the woman was embarrassed and admitted, "I never saw it!"

The woman was so focused on one concept of "career" -- management of her work load -- that another concept -- advancement and growth in status and influence -- slipped right by her. This latter concept seems to be much more "owned" by men than by women. This discrepancy in perception has far-reaching implications for a woman's career and job opportunities if she does not understand it.

5. Cooperation vs. Competition
Men traditionally compete to gain attention for their ideas and bring visibility to themselves. Therefore, they are willing to fight hard for their viewpoints, whereas women are more likely to look for areas of agreement and cooperation so they can be collaborative.

To what extent is this gender difference a problem for a woman in interviews with groups where she may be the only female in the room? If she fights hard for her solution or idea, is she viewed as confrontational or is she viewed as a true believer in what she recommends to solve the problem? Is she comfortable in this different role of "sticking up" for what she wants or believes in?

6. Self-Initiative vs. Formal Organizational Structures
Women have a tendency to rely more on the formal structure and the relationships, roles, policies, and systems of an organization. When this structure and the roles, relationships, etc. do not play out as expected, the woman who has relied on it often feels hopeless, disappointed, and immobilized.

Instead, she needs to accept the fact that the "informal system" -- the one that really makes things happen -- is not an aberration or an exception, but rather a powerful force that she needs to understand and use in order to be successful at her work.

This informal system comprises relationships and information sharing, ties of loyalty and dependence, favors granted and favors owed, mutual considerations and benefits, protection and support -- the dynamics that ultimately make organizations work. Men invariably take this system into account and use it to advance their position and their projects to gain visibility and recognition.

Does this traditional over-reliance on the more formal structures suggest that a woman will be more concerned about her title and role, and about policies and rules, than she is about getting the job done through the unwritten, unstructured pathways and relationships?

7. Questions Women Need to Think About before A Job Interview

  • Why this organization?
  • Why this particular position?
  • How does it fit into my short-term career plan? My long-term plan?
  • How flexible and committed am I willing to be to get this position?
  • Do I understand the job that needs to be done? Can I talk about it directly and succinctly to anyone who may interview me?
  • Do I know what problems the organization and my manager(s) need to solve?
  • What may I have to learn to do this job? Is this achievable?
  • How will this impact my performance? My life outside of the job?
  • Can I do the job the way the company wants it done? What resources will I have available to me? Can I do it without extra resources?
  • What can I say in the interview that proves I can do the job? Can I show how I will solve some of my manager's problems during the interview? How will I do this?

Constance Gray is the Assistant Circuit Executive for Personnel, Training and Public Programs for the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. An active member of the Simmons College Alumnae Association, Connie has helped Simmons develop some of the most progressive professional development programs for undergraduate women in the country. She holds a BS in Public Administration from Simmons College and a MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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