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Applying to jobs is hard enough, but women have the odds stacked against them. Today we're going to look at some of the psychology behind why women apply for fewer jobs than men - and how you can overcome the 'gender-confidence gap'!


What's the gender-confidence gap?


A number of studies have shown that there is a difference in how much men and women back themselves when applying to jobs - men tend to be a lot more confident than women.


This took off back in 2014, when a fascinating statistic from Hewlett-Packard went viral. According to a study they conducted:


“Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements.”

This raised a lot of questions - the biggest of all being why there seemed to be such a big difference between how confident men and women were in the first place. It all comes down to social conditioning - how the environment we're raised in affects our psychological development.


Tara Sophia Mohr at the Harvard Business Review wrote an article in response to this statistic, looking closely at the reasons people had for not applying for jobs. Tara believed that the difference in approaches came down to a difference in understanding or interpreting what the hiring process was - that you could only get the job if you met the “required qualifications” exactly.


In short, the people who applied saw the application process as flexible, and were willing to emphasise how their experiences could help them adapt to suit the role. Tara described it as ‘taking a creative approach to framing one’s expertise’ - you might know this attitude better as 'fake it til you make it'!


Other studies, including one looking at users' behavioural data by LinkedIn, have reached similar conclusions: LinkedIn found that women apply to fewer jobs than men, and are less likely to ask for references or referrals than their male competitors. Luckily, LinkedIn’s article adds an encouraging twist to the tale: women are more likely to be hired when they do apply.


So, should I fake it til I make it with my job applications?

No! Try and be yourself.


The phrase 'fake it til you make it' has two good points:


  1. It rhymes

  2. It's said a lot, so people assume it's good advice


Unfortunately, 'It helps you get a job' isn't on that list.


Nancy Clarke reported that men are typically conditioned to attribute failure to external factors, whereas women attribute failure to internal factors. If you try and fake it, you’re fundamentally not being true to yourself - and studies have shown that people pick up on this. It can have short term and long term effects, and the same study found that being inauthentic can make you anxious and reduce how well you perform at something.


As difficult as it can be, being comfortable with yourself will boost how you are perceived in a job interview, and may even come across in a written application!


Then what should I do?


One way to build confidence in your ability to apply for a job is to be selective when sending out applications, instead of hitting ‘quick-apply’ and sending generic applications to companies you’ve not researched.


If you take this approach, try taking some time to find out what the role will entail, and it might suit you. For example, you might want to contact someone in the team you’re applying to and ask what opportunities they have for new joiners’ development.


Once you’re comfortable that you understand the role and you’re sure you want to apply, write a cover letter that sets out your motivations for applying, and what value you’d bring to the team. If you can refer to specific things you know about the team - maybe they’re trying a new way of working that you understand, or they’re opening a new location somewhere you know well - that will help you stand out.


This process might feel like a step backwards if you’re used to sending out loads of applications then switch to sending one every couple of days, but it will build your confidence, and make you a stronger applicant as you work through your roles.


Keep applying, and ask for help where you can


We won’t pretend that writing job applications is easy. Being rejected at the “personality test” stage of an online application (and then being told not to take it personally) is particularly painful - and submitting an application that never gets acknowledged is really frustrating. But, by taking the step of applying, you don’t risk falling at that statistically-proven first stumbling block: the application itself!


Remember, there are loads of great resources available for people at every stage of their job hunt - from careers advisers and mentors, to books and podcasts. We recently spoke to Alexa Shoen, whose company Entry Level Boss is a fantastic resource - check out our podcast for some of Alexa’s great advice, airing on 02 April 2020. We also love Ask A Manager, who responds to questions about applying for jobs and going to interviews, among other things!


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