How women can improve interview performance

by Oct 11, 2018

Women, these tips will help us improve interview performance

In order to move the gender balance needle in the workplace, first we need to improve interview performance to overcome gender bias so we can get those jobs. 

With all research indicating that women experience high levels of gender bias in interviews, one of the main challenges for women is to walk a tightrope to get their message across in a positive way but not in a way that will be held against them. Really. It’s incredible. Ideally interview systems should be over hauled but until that point comes, women can take charge of their own destinies.

Research also shows that women self-deselect for jobs if they don’t match all the qualifications at the application stage. It’s important that they don’t carry on doing this in the interview process. Frequently they shoot themselves in the foot with negative thinking that they don’t feel they are at the level required to succeed.

Here are our top tips on what women can generally work on to improve interview performance to avoid an interview flop.

#1 Strong non-verbal communication

All the usual tips here are a must. Stand and sit tall, breathe deeply, firm handshake, good eye contact and firm handshake. Monitor any ticks or habits you might have like hair flicking, touching your earlobe. None of these are particularly dramatic, but they are self-soothing habits. If repeated at critical moments, they can indicate nervousness, vulnerability and even evasiveness. It can also mean you are not wearing hyper- allergenic earrings, but the interviewer will not know that. Sadly women are judged by their appearance more harshly than men, so wear an outfit that is appropriate for the role and that suggests flair and polish.

improve interview performance

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#2 You are FABulous

It’s really important to start off strong with a succinct and impactful opening statement which clearly outlines your Unique Value Proposition. Use facts, achievements and the problems you’ve solved, with metrics to back up your pitch. Avoid using phrases such as “I only…” which minimises what you are about to say next. Rather than say “I only have 5 years’ experience” when they are looking for eight, replace it with “I have 5 years excellent experience in….” Don’t assume that quantity is more important than qualifications. If quizzed be ready to defend your position with positive success stories.

Many women feel that they have to be honest and open in the interview process. This is true, there is no value to being dishonest. But it’s also important to highlight any transferable skills that might be required by the profile. You may not fit the profile exactly but if you have any core skills, emphasise them and how quickly you can learn to adapt to meet their requirements.

improve interview performance


#3 Give metrics

Women generally struggle with highlighting their successes more than men. They feel that it is bragging and pretentious. But there is no need to say “I am really great.” That is bragging. Instead say “I earned the top sales person award for 3 successive years” or “I have exceeded KPIs year on year and was invited to speak at the sector conference because of confidence in my approach.” If you are in a non P & L role there are still ways to measure your success. If you are in HR, talk about speed to hire and increased retention rates. In marketing emphasise the success of customer engagement campaigns and response to specific advertising initiatives. Everything can be measured, somehow. And if you can’t measure it  – don’t mention it.

#4 Connect with the hiring manager

Make a point of researching the hiring manager. This is likely to be the person you report to, AKA your new boss! Check out their profiles on LinkedIn to see how they present themselves to the world and if it resonates with your own approach. If it does, reference it in your responses to create a rapport. “I notice you had a stint in Product Marketing.”  Avoid personal references unless it is clear on information in the public domain; “I saw you ran the Fun Run 20K! That’s impressive”

#5 Ask thoughtful questions

Always come prepared with a list of questions which convey a message that you are on the ball. Ask how they measure success and what support they offer to any new comers. This is especially important if the don’t hire frequently from outside. Find out what their vision for the future is and what tend to be their biggest challenges. Try and get some insight into their communication preferences and style plus their leadership philosophy.

#6 Use silence well

Interviews are not just about you talking. Listen well and make note of what isn’t said or any evasiveness around certain questions. Take in your surroundings and the people in it. Does it look busy and thriving, or are the conditions looking shabby and under funded? How do the staff interact with each other and you. Make a note of the selection process. Does it suggest any unspoken measures about the way decisions are taken. One candidate reported 5 telephone screenings before a F2F interview, which she thought was excessive. Another had 10 hours worth of interviews, basically discussing the same thing with her 7 times. A third was hired after a 15 minute chat where she felt she hadn’t learned enough about the company.

#7 Add a key differentiator

Personalising the interview with a small tit-bit of information which is private and appropriate is a good way to set you apart. “I love Belgian chocolates.” Except in Belgium where everyone loves them.

#8 Impactful Close

The line “end as you mean to go on” has meaning here. Close your interview with a statement that conveys energy, enthusiasm and commitment. No one will hire someone who looks lukewarm unless you have skills which are in a high demand on the market, in which case you can probably name your terms.

Although these tips are in many ways gender neutral, women do tend to struggle more with certain elements. Given the bias that they experience, women need some extra tips and support to improve interview performance.

Do you often struggle with interviews? Present your best self with 3Plus’ Interview coaching to land your dream job.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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