Say yes, panic later: why not feeling quite ready for that next job is exactly the time to go for it

job interview, recruitment, diversity

Often quoted internal research by HP states men apply for a job when they meet only 60 per cent of the qualifications, whereas women apply only if they meet 100 per cent of them.

If that is the case this clearly disadvantages women and equally it frustrates recruiters and managers alike.  And women are consequently exhorted to be more confident.

Yet this isn’t the full story. We need to understand what is really going on here for the advice to women to be relevant and useful. Research by Tara Sophia Mohr of over 1,000 largely American professional men and women, asked ‘If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?’. Lack of confidence was the least common of all the responses amongst both men and women. In fact, ‘I didn’t think I could do the job well’ was not particularly important.

The interesting gender differences explaining why women chose not to apply for jobs where they didn’t meet all the qualifications included fear of failure and following the rules:

  • Fear of Failure

Twenty two percent of the women vs 13 per cent of the men didn’t apply for fear of failing to get the job. “I didn’t want to put myself out there if I am likely to fail”.

  • Following the Rules

The other big gender difference was 15 percent of the women vs 8 percent of the men didn’t apply because “I was following the guidelines about who should apply”.

What may be holding many women back from applying for jobs they are not fully qualified for compared to the men is not a mistaken perception about themselves but a mistaken perception about the hiring process itself. The reality is that not everyone is playing the same game. We know girls are strongly socialised to follow the rules but in our careers that can come at a cost. If others are giving it a shot, then why not you?

How to approach jobs you’re not fully qualified for

The advice to women to throw their hat in the ring is not simply about confidence-building but the need to reframe how you are thinking about what you are doing.  So how do you approach applying for jobs you’re not yet fully qualified for? Here are the 3 things you need to do this.

You’re not breaking the rules

When you want to apply for a job but don’t believe you are fully qualified remind yourself you don’t need to be. Others are applying who don’t have all the qualifications, employers don’t expect to see every box ticked. They do want to see someone willing to stretch and learn. You’re not breaking the rules, you are playing by them.

Experience isn’t everything

Data shows that women tend to over rely on their technical expertise for longer as they move into leadership roles. That can be a dangerous and disadvantaging thing to do in a world where the amount of information in science alone doubles every nine months.

Remind yourself that in a world changing as fast as it is, experience can be a drag on your career, a disadvantage in fact. A large workplace study conducted by the European Union in 2007 showed that the ability to mobilize the skills and competencies of the people around us has a bigger impact on our performance than the amount of experience we have.

Liz Wiseman in her book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work reinforces the upside of inexperience. Sometimes not knowing is more valuable than knowing. She proves that a learner’s advantage kicks in and we can be at our best when we are underqualified.

It’s all great learning

If you worry that by applying for a role you don’t have all the qualifications for you won’t be successful and will feel like a failure, just see it as a learning opportunity. Getting practice at CV writing for a particular role is incredibly important, as is interviewing practice. Always ask for feedback and keep a learning notebook/journal to note what you have learned from the experience.

Why daunting is a good thing

Sometimes women don’t apply for jobs because they’re afraid they will get the job. Being less than 100% qualified brings a natural anxiety about how you will perform in that new role. Yet going for jobs where you feel safe and capable is not likely to be the career boost you are looking for.  New jobs worth their salt should be daunting, if you are waiting for it to feel like ‘a natural move’ or a ‘comfortable fit’ you are missing an opportunity. Go for jobs that are a real stretch where you can use all those ‘rookie smarts’. And remember there is significant data showing as the challenge level of jobs goes up so does our satisfaction.

Here are the two things that will make a new job work

Build your Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck termed the notion of the growth mindset where “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point”. And those who have a growth mindset are at a huge advantage because they understand they don’t know some things, YET.

Today’s career advantage has at its’ heart learning. Being at the top of your game is not the advantage it was and in fact it can work against you if it means you are at the bottom of your learning curve. Learning is your true superpower.

In addition, Wiseman notes that women are 12% more likely to learn from people above and below and around them and this is a great advantage in a new or evolving role.

So work on that growth mindset. Embrace being the newcomer. Go into your new role with humility and a learning orientation and ask for help and information. Remember that plenty of others are successfully applying for jobs they are not qualified for. YET!

Make your Discomfort your Friend

Your discomfort zone is a friend in your career, embrace that friend, learn to live with her with gratitude. Get your comfort from your friends and colleagues who believe in you, from the difference you know you are making. Wrap yourself in the comfort of knowing you are good at learning, and that is your source of competitive advantage. This is the real skill that will serve you well in your brilliant career.

So next time you wonder whether you are sufficiently qualified to apply for that job remind yourself:

  • If it feels like a bit of a stretch that means I should go for it
  • Others are applying who are less qualified than me so I had better get in there
  • It’s good learning and my growth mindset is at work so I will gain from this experience even if I don’t get the job
  • I have great ‘rookie smarts’ I can always rely on
  • I have so many people in my life who are vested in my success I owe it to them and myself to throw my hat in the ring

So, say “Yes!”…panic later.

About the author

Penny de Valk is an internationally experienced Chief Executive and qualified coach who helps women build powerful professional lives.  Visit her blog for great advice on how to be your best leadership self.

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