|Career Basics for Women
By Constance Gray
Assistant Circuit Executive
U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
[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
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
2. Short-term vs. Long-term
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
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
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
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
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
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
- How flexible and committed am I willing to be to get this
- 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
- How will this impact my performance? My life outside of
- 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?
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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