|Ms. Xecutive Holds Forth
[This article was written by a senior
executive woman in the financial industry who has requested anonymity.]
I have been very fortunate in that over my 18 year career, I have only worked at two
different companies (both large) and have had maybe five interviews for internal jobs and
five or so for jobs outside of the company I was working for at the time. Looking back on
the positions I have gone after, I can't say I was aware of it at the time, but I never
made my gender an issue, either in the interview or in the job itself. Whether you are
male or female must be irrelevant first and foremost in your own mind; this will come
across in the interview and in how you conduct yourself in your job. I don't mean that you
should act un-feminine or "make-up" a personality that is not you. Rather, you
should be yourself, focus on your accomplishments and what you can contribute and then
show your employer, through your actions, how terrific you really are.
Regardless of your gender, I think you need to do some soul searching and focus your
job-hunting efforts on the industry and type of job you really want to work in.
Calling All Jobs
For example, when I decided to leave my first big employer ( a non-profit)
for a job in the "profit-making" world, I interviewed with companies that ranged
from pharmaceuticals to consumer products to financial services hoping that someone would
make me an offer so I could get out of non-profit. I fared well enough to get called back
to a second interview, but then my performance in the interview would slide and I would
get a rejection letter. It dawned on me that I wasn't getting an offer because I was not
enthused about the companies I was interviewing with, didn't know much about their
business strategy or competitive problems, and I couldn't really say what I was going to
contribute. I basically expected them to recognize my potential and to hire me because I
had it. What a joke -- and it would be even more of a joke in today's tighter job market.
There's Only One Right Fit
Then I found the job and the company I really wanted: a major financial
services company, with a training program, in an industry that was not all that different
from where I had come (i.e., a sales and marketing organization, which is essentially what
fundraising in the non-profit world is all about). This time, I made sure I was prepared,
that I could transition my prior experience with what this job would require, and that my
enthusiasm and determination to be hired was evident and unwavering.
It took three sets of all-day interviews, but I was relentless and got the job. Nine years
later I am still with the same company and yes, it is very male dominated, but I have
adapted to the environment without compromising my sense of self, my beliefs, etc.. I have
been promoted several times and make more money than I ever would have made in my previous
job (but probably less than what some of my male counterparts make -- I'm working on
Unleash Your Power
This sounds simplistic, but if you expect to succeed and be respected by your
supervisor and colleagues in any job, you must work hard, be prepared to go the extra mile
(which may include making sacrifices in your personal life and only you can decide how far
you are willing to go on this), be flexible, show results, toot your own horn when you
have done something positive (no one else is going to toot it for you), have a sense of
humor and yes, learn how to be one of the boys. It will allow you to spend your day
focusing on your work (rather than moaning and groaning to some other female about how
unfair things are) and you will have a lot more fun.
In my opinion, women have to learn how to work with men (and not worry about whether this
is reciprocal) which is best done by treating men (and women) in the workplace as human
beings. We are all adults and if you treat people fairly, with reason and respect, you
will get it back. If you are a producer (i.e., your contribution is without question), you
shouldn't have any problem. And if a man makes a remark that you find inappropriate for
whatever reason, I have found that a great way to shut him up is to give it right back to
him. If you are witty enough to think of a rapid-fire response, with a twinkle in your
eye, use it. Verbal one ups-manship works wonders, and earns their respect if delivered in
the right way.
Walk The Line
Finally, don't be afraid to discuss your personal life if asked about it in
an interview or in a job, provided you have something to say on the matter. I am married,
with a young child and one on the way, and I want my employer and co-workers to know that
this side of my life is extremely important to me and represents a balance that I happen
to think is healthy. But I do not dwell on my personal life or what I did on the weekends
or vacations. I don't go into details and spend half the morning chatting with a co-worker
about my son's or my husband's latest accomplishments. I don't discuss stereotypical
activities for women such as shopping, dating woes (if I were single), rock concerts and
parties I went to (if I were single), raucous weekends at my beach house (if I were
single), diaper rash, gardening, housework, laundry, problems with household help (if I
were lucky enough to have any), etc. I do not gossip or waste time, but people know I have
a personal life that seems to work pretty well and contributes to my happiness and good
mood on the job.
Women who are financially well-off either because they have earned it, married it, or
inherited it should not flaunt it because your potential employer will think you do not
need the job. Expensive (and flashy) jewelry, Gucci briefcases, a fur coat and an
expensive car, in my opinion should not come out until you are well ensconced in your
position, if at all. This is a general statement; obviously, in some professions it is
completely appropriate, but "subtle" is the general rule of thumb, especially on
an interview. Lay off on the short skirts (even if you do have the legs -- and not that
many women do), the heavy makeup, the long nails, and the big hair. It directs attention
to you as a female, which in most jobs should be an irrelevant factor. By projecting an
inappropriate persona, you have made it a factor.
The interview is not a try-out for "Bye Bye Birdie". Remember that song, "I
Enjoy Being a Girl"? Forget about it. But don't neuter yourself either by wearing a
bland, conservative men's-looking business suit that happens to have been made with a
skirt (that is probably too long).
Do The Job
In conclusion, remember to focus on those skills and personality traits of
yours that the interviewer is looking for and needs to solve his (or her) problem. He or
she wants to fill the job and be done with the interviewing process. Nobody enjoys
interviewing people. It's artificial and takes up precious time. (I personally hate
interviewing people, unless it's over a meal that someone else is paying for; at least I
can get something to eat.) So, solve the interviewer's problem (and yours) by
understanding his or her needs and demonstrating how you will meet them.
Ms. Xecutive may be contacted through The Headhunter, who will forward any email to her.
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