It’s time to address the interview traps women face

Interviews need to be well designed and structured with diverse panelists. We have to consider the potential for double standards and double binds to prevent the interview traps women will face.


Hiring processes are inherently flawed. Interviews still remain the primary way of assessing people even though we know that there is a high risk of making the wrong decision. It is imperative that everyone involved in the hiring procedure; particularly the interviewing element, recognizes the impact their perceptions and beliefs have on the potential success of women. If we want more women to move into leadership roles then it’s important that those involved in bringing on new talent recognise gender skill and presentation differences rather than trying to evaluate them against masculine standards. It’s important that we address what can be specific interview traps for women.

interview traps for women

3 interview traps for women

  1. There is a misguided assumption that the benchmarks against which we measure successful candidates are the best ones. They tend to be masculine values which we still believe are superior, even though there is much evidence to say they are not.
  2. Our organisations mistakenly value style over substance. We recognise and are drawn to those who exhibit confidence, charm and charisma.
  3. We reward performance and prioritize speaking over listening and fail to explore EQ and other skills in the depth that we should.

Organisational culture

The benchmarks we use for assessment of potential candidates tend to reflect company culture which in most cases is male coded. Those involved in selection procedures generally have had no unconscious bias training and are unaware of what behaviours are non-inclusive. They are usually part of the “insider group” and make decisions on the basis of cultural fit which is riddled with outdated notions around preconceived stereotypes. We base our assessments on previous experience and achievements and tend not to focus on what people can learn.

We have an embedded disconnect, essentially male chauvinism (conscious and unconscious), with the characteristics we value in our leaders. We are committed to the ideas that these are the qualities and competences  which drive business success. Despite the fact that women outperform men in all leadership dimensions, leadership is still thought of in male terms:

  • Women lead in a transformational way; men tend to lead in an autocratic way
  • They are more objective in their evaluations, therefore fairer
  • Women are better communicators
  • They make better mentors and nurture talent more effectively.

Download this eBook now to improve gender balance in your organisation. 12 key steps to attract, recruit and retain female talent

Over emphasis on charisma, charm and confidence

Charisma, charm and confidence have high value in our assessment systems especially in short-term interactions such as interviews.  They are traits associated with strong leadership. Tomas Chamorrow-Premuzik covers this in his bookWhy do so many incompetent men become leaders?”

He suggests that neither confidence or charm are related to competence and actually mask some “dark side” traits particularly narcissism, encouraging so-called “charismatic leaders” to become false role models. Humility, integrity, people skills and altruism over frequently overlooked. When we assess candidates, we place a higher value on male-coded style rather than focusing on the substance of their achievements.

Despite all the confidence building training for women there is no proof that it is an indication of capability, rather just a way of playing into bias. An additional downside is that if women are confident they are exposed to the backlash of being perceived to be “aggressive” or “difficult.”

Our preference for performance

We are seduced by candidates who dazzle. They are people who might interview well, because they are have confidence and charisma, or who have had lots of practise or even coaching in interviewing. The best candidates are not always the best performers and particularly in a short interview some may never settle in. Introverts may need more time to respond so questions and interviewers need to be more penetrating when they are more modest in discussing their achievements. It means that those who are confident and charismatic also need to be quizzed in a greater depth to examine areas of potential exaggeration. Very often we can be blinded by personality and forget to dig deeper for substance.

As processes become automated and video interviews are more frequent ,they also tend to favour the performer type personality.

3Plus can make sure you are as prepared as possible, with Interview Coaching to help you land your dream job.

The fixes

Interviews need to be well designed and structured with diverse panelists. We have to consider the potential for double standards and double binds.  Some hiring managers claim they want diversity, but are less enthusiastic if any differences mean they have to change their behaviour or their assumptions will be challenged.

Some are open to the idea that they have to rethink the traditionally masculine picture of a leader. Consider gender and other diversity differences before setting up your hiring process – even including a future direct report to get age diversity. Be clear in the leadership profile that the hiring process will look at a range of leadership characteristics and competences, including those elusive complex skills of humility and integrity.  Those involved also need to integrate into the job profile the importance of valuing difference as a key skill and look for ways all candidates can demonstrate that.

Until we overhaul our recruitment and hiring systems the interview traps for women will remain and mitigate against even top female candidates.

If you want to hire the best female talent  – contact 3Plus now!


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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