Women & Interviews

Ms. Xecutive Holds Forth
By Anonymous

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
Ask The Headhunter

[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 this).

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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