You may have heard studies that say men typically apply for roles even when they only meet 60% of the requirements, whereas women only apply if they feel they can tick off 100%. Despite some questions over the validity of this original statistic, the general situation that it alludes to has been regularly backed up by more recent data such as LinkedIn surveys demonstrating that women are more likely to screen themselves out of a role before they even apply.
We would like to hope that, faced with the question "should I apply?", most of our members would listen to and encourage each other to go after what we really want. In the process, we will likely tackle one or all of a few common complaints... so at Confidence Collaborative we've noted some counterpoints and tips to consider about each of these real or perceived 'hurdles' to taking action when we see a role we'd like to apply for...
* I'd like to apply, but is there any point?! They probably have someone already in mind!
We would all like to think that working hard and having the right qualifications will mean being offered the role we deserve. However, the very fact this question is being asked shows that we know the world is not quite the meritocracy we'd like it to be. Deep down, we understand the importance of relationships in business, alongside having the right experience and skills for the role.
It may well be true that the hirers do 'have someone in mind'... but this is not the same as the role allocation being a 'done deal'! Hiring decisions are generally made on a combination of dynamic factors. Getting yourself in the running might just open the hirer's mind to other possibilities, even if they did start out with a preferred candidate. You also have no idea how well, or badly, this 'preferred candidate' will perform at interview.
Acknowledging that relationships do matter, you might consider any ways you can turn this around to your advantage. For example, can you find any connections or common ground with the hiring manager to make building a relationship easier? Is there perhaps someone you know already working at the department or organisation with whom you could speak and find out more? Is there anyone you can ask who would even endorse or refer you? Women are 26% less likely to ask for referrals than women, but hiring managers are only human and do like to have additional evidence that they can trust a new person coming into the team. Try to find ways to make a human connection where possible.
* I haven't got all the experience!
Whilst there is evidence of bias in hiring approaches for men vs women (eg see recent A.R.U research and this LinkedIn article) with men more likely to be hired for 'potential' and women more likely to be hired for 'experience', instead of downplaying the experience you do have, one option is to proudly document it and be explicit about your ambitions to grow in the role. That way, rather than highlighting and reinforcing a 'gap' to the hirer, what will come across in your application will be your drive and enthusiasm for the position!
* I don't have all the qualifications!
Do you have clarity on whether the requested qualifications are mandatory requirements for the role? Often job adverts will highlight a few key preferred qualifications and only detailed internal job descriptions will differentiate between 'must-have' and 'nice-to-have' qualifications. If unclear, follow up with the hirer to check suitability.
Do you have a similar/equivalent or higher qualification than the one asked for? If so, tell the hiring organisation about these instead. Ideal candidate profiles are drawn up not as a straitjacket but as a guide, and most organisations will consider a broad range of potentially suitable candidates.
If it is confirmed that only the specific qualifications will do, but you are still really keen to do the job, would be willing to study for them? Then say so! Make a plan for the most practical way for you to plug the gap and ask the hirer if they would be supportive of an application on the basis of further studies.
* I don't have time and energy to even apply!
It is not a bad thing that we are selective about what to apply for - most recruiters would caution against a scattergun approach to applying for roles anyway, recommending a more tailored submission. And as the LinkedIn data suggests, this selective approach pays off well in response outcomes. So, how can we work with the reality of the situation and make our time for applications count?
- Read the advert over again a few times, identifying the key requirements for the role and making sure that your CV or application form specifically highlights evidence that matches the qualities and experience being requested.
- Reach out to the hiring organisation for clarifications if anything is unclear before submitting.
- Create an easy to adapt up to date template CV and record of achievements and experiences that can form the basis of multiple application forms with just a few short tweaks.
- Consider what it is specifically about the new role that appeals to you? Pinpoint those key characteristics and use this as a shortlist to help avoid wasted time by disregarding any future roles that do not meet this standard.
* What if I fail? That will just be awkward and embarrassing! I have to work with these people afterwards!
Why shouldn't others know about your ambition for more or other challenges?! Decisions will not always go the way we wish, but we can always learn from these experiences, gather feedback and then use it to hone our approach next time around. Letting others around you know what you're looking for can help them to see you in a new light, and may also lead to being told of other similar roles that arise.
The good news to remember is that LinkedIn data also suggests that despite bias in who gets invited to interview, women do have a high likelihood of success when they do go on and apply, and Forbes writer Nancy Clark also recently highlighted a new book by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman -The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know reminding us about Zachary Estes' research...
"Estes’s work illustrates a key point: the natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, we perform just as well as men do."
So, what are you waiting for! Make those connections - and apply!
Maggie and Joanne
PS - If you are a recruiting manager yourself, make sure you check out this useful tool to help reduce gender biased terms in your next job ad.