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Why women don’t apply for jobs they’re not 100% qualified for (but should)

Despite the old adage that women’s confidence issues prevented them from pursuing upper management positions, it turns out the application process itself may be the bigger issue.

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Missed qualifications

Most of us have been here. You’re browsing a job-posting website, you find an available position that appeals to you, click on the description and begin reading. You are excited to see that you meet the first few requirements of the job, but further down you notice that there are several areas where you don’t qualify.

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According to several reports, including the commonly cited Hewlett-Packard survey discussed in this Forbes article, if you were a woman, these qualification “misses” would prevent you from throwing your hat in the ring altogether.

Where are the women?

Hewlett-Packard sought to find the answer to the lack of women in upper management positions and discovered that women were not even applying for the positions, based on the job descriptions. The women working at HP only applied for promotions when they met 100% of the qualifications listed in the job posting, as opposed to men, who would apply if they met 60%. It’s been deduced that the lack of women in upper management was due to a lack of confidence among women (or is it overconfidence in men?).

Closing the confidence gap

This survey has been used to sound the alarm to women: be more confident in your abilities, ladies! The supposed “confidence gap” is holding women back from achieving the highest success in their careers.  Or is it?

Turns out, it’s not a confidence issue

A recent study was conducted based on the findings at HP, and outlined in an article for Harvard Business Review digging deeper into the confidence gap phenomenon. Over a thousand professional men and women were surveyed and asked, “If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?”

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According to the findings, confidence or lack thereof, was actually the least common reason men and women did not apply.  Instead, the most common response, with 46.4% of men and 40.6% of women choosing it as their first reason was “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy”.

Interpretation is everything

Survey responders didn’t lack confidence in their ability or their skills, instead they were interpreting the job description as a hard and fast outline of skills and experience a qualified candidate must have.  Nearly 22% of women reported “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail” as their second most common reason for not applying, with another 15% reporting “I was following the guidelines about who should apply”.

Want more women? Fix the process

These account for nearly 78% of women applicants’ reasons for not applying for a job, indicating that the format of the description itself may be more of a factor than confidence. Businesses can use this information to write more flexible job descriptions thus attracting a more diverse audience of applicants, including, potentially, more women.

#ItsNotALackOfConfidence

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Written By

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on IndywithKids.com. With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

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