Setting Women Up for Success in the Search Process

By Diane Smith, R.N., B.S.N.

As someone with more than 15 years of executive search experience, I have seen many instances in which women hinder their own chances of landing a new position. They may fail to take advantage of mentors and other resources at their disposal, or lack the right amount of assertiveness once a search gets underway.

The suggestions that follow are those that I feel are valuable for most executives but are particularly relevant for women leaders to take note of. We are in an executive job market that still favors men over women. I believe the following advice can help to level the playing field.

Utilize your network and identify a mentor. This goes without saying for every individual at any stage in their career, but for women, it is especially important. A strong network will be useful when seeking your next role and very helpful in making key connections and contacts into a potential organization.

Mentors provide guidance and unbiased advice when considering a career move. Most professional organizations provide a mentorship program for individuals who may not be able to identify mentors on their own. Executive Maryann Bruce writes, mentors “not only aid in your professional development, navigating difficult situations, and handling tricky business relationships but can also help you build confidence in your decisions.” Confidence is key for women when searching for and negotiating a new role, and a mentor can be a key component in your success.

Develop a strong, trusting relationship with your search consultant, and lean on them for guidance and advice throughout the recruitment process. While a consultant’s first obligation is to their client, there are a number of aspects of a job search about which they can educate candidates. In my experience, for example, women tend to have wordier resumes, yet with language that is typically softer than that of their male counterparts. Search consultants review thousands of resumes, know what organizations are seeking and can provide you with a variety of helpful suggestions.

In addition, women often present more tentatively in a job search and underutilize search consultants, not taking advantage of the confidential support a consultant is able to provide. Search consultants can have safe conversations with you about your background, your candidacy, relocation and your compensation expectations as well as the fair market value expectation in terms of salary.

Do your homework. The most successful candidates are those who come prepared to the interview and demonstrate knowledge of the organization as well as the ability to succinctly present their accomplishments. Promote your successes while maintaining your humbleness. In my view, the majority of female candidates do a great job demonstrating humility. Where they tend to fall behind is demonstrating confidence. Women are less likely to apply for a “stretch role” and be assertive in doing so, so preparation is essential.

Know the market and negotiate your compensation effectively. Leverage your network and mentor in order to have a deep understanding of the compensation landscape and how to successfully negotiate an offer. Despite the progress made in recent years, women are still typically paid less than their male counterparts. Recent research has shown that there is good news in this area, that the pay equity gap is decreasing due to increased pressure and demand to hire female executives.

Bringing strong negotiation skills to the table when accepting a new position has the potential to help you get the salary you deserve. Communicate what you have to offer succinctly and with confidence. Women should not undersell themselves in any job market, especially in one as competitive as it is today.

Women have made great strides in a competitive landscape. Utilizing your network, building trusting relationships with mentors and search consultants, and exhibiting strong negotiation skills will take you further as you grow in your career.