How many times have you seen a job listing, read through the description with a burbling excitement, and then hit the required qualifications with a sinking disappointment? You don’t have seven years of this, or that certification, or proficiency in this software. Close that tab, and fast. Why bother applying?
I’ve been there more times than I can remember. And I’m not alone. A recent Hewlett Packard study on internal hiring practices, reported in Forbes, found that women only apply for jobs when they are 100 percent qualified. Men, on the other hand, tend to apply when they are only 60 perfect qualified. Current common wisdom is that women lack confidence, that they need to have more faith in themselves, like men.
But “buck up” isn’t good enough advice. It’s not even good advice. Tara Mohr, an author and women’s leadership expert, didn’t think it passed the smell test, either, so she conducted a Harvard Business Review survey of more than 1,000 American business professionals to see why they really declined to apply for a job when they weren’t 100 percent qualified.
Here are Mohr’s key findings on why women truly aren’t applying for these jobs. Upshot? It’s not about confidence. It’s about understanding the game that’s being played when you send out your resume — and playing it to your advantage.
Why we don’t apply, for real
Far and away, most women surveyed pass up openings because they didn’t want to waste their time or money on a job they’re not fully qualified for. They take that subheading “Required Qualifications” literally, assuming that it’s a closed gate, an absolute rule. In a related vein, women didn’t want to risk failure by trying for a job just beyond their qualifications.
As Mohr writes, “these barriers...have to do with believing that the job qualifications are real requirements, and seeing the hiring process as more by-the-book and true to the on paper guidelines than it really is.”
There’s the rub. The job listing doesn’t rule the hiring process. And yet women are acting as if it does, to their competitive disadvantage. Mohr susses out three main reasons for their kind of obedience, namely:
Bias against women in some work environments
Socialization that rewards girls and women for following rules
Women have historically needed certifications and qualifications just to get a foot in the door
So how do people get hired?
The real game here, says Mohr, is the hiring process. It isn’t as meritocratic and orderly as we might like to believe; other people, particularly men, are going for jobs even when their qualifications don’t perfectly match the description, and they’re getting the jobs.
So you don’t have to settle for “buck up!” First, think of the the job listing and requirements as more of a suggestion, not the rule. Second, while believing in yourself certainly helps, but the key to landing the gig is about cultivating relationships, networking, learning how to handle failure, and knowing how to pitch yourself. These skills are more powerful than a tidy resume. Those are tangible, actionable skills, and they are well within your grasp.
Read more about Mohr’s research at Harvard Business Review.