It happened to me. I was blindsided. I was an AVP with a track record of great accomplishments. My territory consistently performed well and exceeded budgeted gross and net income. I was able to grow the business significantly by adding new product lines and I had a reputation as a supportive and fair manager.
A re-organization in the company resulted in my position reporting to someone new; someone with whom I did not have a relationship and who had a reputation as being difficult. I kept my distance from him. He was part of the “boy’s club” that ran the company.
With the re-organization, a VP position became available. I let him know that I was interested. It was a natural step up given my experience. Many of my direct reports called him to lobby on my behalf. I truly believed that my achievement in the AVP role would land me the job, no question.
But that assumption was a big mistake! The newly appointed SVP had his own agenda for the territory and the business. Because I had no relationship with him, I didn’t know what was involved in the decision making process. What I thought was a shoe-in, ended up being a “blindside”. I did not get the promotion.
High potential women are more confident than ever. Recent studies by Catalyst show that we are getting better about letting others know of our achievements and asking for promotions. But if we continue to avoid the politics, we will continue to set ourselves up to fail.
The workplace is a political environment where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets access to scarce resources and plum assignments are made behind closed doors, doors that are often closed to women. Informal networks, sometimes referred to as the “boys club”, have the power and influence over career decisions. Because women don’t have access to these networks and don’t have access to critical information about how decisions are being made, they risk being blindsided. They simply don’t know the rules of the game.
According to research, there is still a gender gap when it comes to compensation. In 2011, women earned 17.8% less than men across different industries. Over a 40 year career, that amounts to $431,000! So a woman with the same education, same qualifications, and same experience as a man will earn almost a half a million dollars LESS over the course of her career simply because she is a woman and not a man!
The biggest part of the problem is that we don’t negotiate well for our first job. That first salary is the stepping stone for future offers and if we don’t receive fair compensation then, we begin our careers behind men with equal qualifications. Men are more confident negotiating their salaries and it works to their benefit. Typical female behavior is to say “thank you” and accept the job as offered.
How much influence do we have over our compensation?
According to Catalyst, these things work well for women:
- Making her achievements known to her manager, seeking feedback and credit as appropriate, asking for a promotion when deserved.
- Gaining access to powerful executive sponsors who “go to bat” for her behind closed doors.
- A corporate culture that encourages women to “self-promote” and fosters sponsorship in addition to mentorship.
I would add to this list:
- Understand your unique value proposition and learn how to articulate this across the organization.
- Negotiate for fair compensation and benefits with the knowledge that your value benefits the organization.
- Identify the “politics” and how decisions are made in your organization.
- Build a strategic network of people who can positively influence your career.
- Leverage these relationships. Ask for high profile assignments. Ask for promotions and new opportunities.
- Let others know your ambition.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, change your mind set about your potential.
You don’t need to know everything about a new position before you take it. You do need to build the case for how your past achievements demonstrate that you have the potential to be successful in a new position. Use this new mind set to lobby and negotiate for promotions and additional responsibilities. This is a great lesson we can learn from our male counterparts!
Hopefully most professional women now understand the importance of taking credit for their accomplishments and promoting themselves across the organization to gain visibility and credibility. There have been many studies by Catalyst and other organizations that support the necessity of promotion for career advancement for women.
Understanding your value proposition and being able to confidently articulate this to others is the first important step in promoting yourself in the workplace. The ability to self promote begins with an inner journey of self-reflection to gain an understanding of what you bring to the table and how it benefits others in the organization or the company.
The second step is the determination of how, when, where, and to whom you should promote yourself. This requires political savvy or a sensitivity to the culture and people involved as well as a strategic focus to figure out who needs to know the information about you for your advancement.
It does no good whatsoever to promote yourself in a way that turns people against you. In fact, it can do more harm than good. If the culture in your organization does not respond positively to powerful women and there are not many women with top leadership roles, you might make the assumption that your promotion needs to be subtle and personal.
Like any other relationship in or out of the workplace, it takes some time to develop trust and mutual respect. Take the time to get to know the person with whom you are communicating. What is important to them? What interests them? How does your value proposition benefit them? Can you offer some support on a project? Collaborating on a project is a great way to gain visibility and showcase your skills without blowing your own horn. What other opportunities are there in your organization?
If you have a boss who never gives you feedback, ask for it. Send weekly status updates. Request feedback to determine if you are on the right track and meeting expectations. Keep track of your accomplishments over the year to help you prepare for your performance review.
What is the culture in your organization?
How receptive is this culture to assertive women?
Do you have any female role models who have leadership positions? Look at how they communicate. What has led to their success?
As you build your own internal and external power network, build relationships and listen and watch for clues that will help you position and promote yourself in a savvy manner.
We can learn to articulate our value proposition but we also need to be mindful of how best to communicate this to others for the maximum impact.
Catalyst studies show that women are just as ambitious as men and use the same career advancement strategies but they don’t get the same pay off. “Clearly, access to the ‘hot jobs’ and to senior-level sponsors with clout to create that access can make a dramatic difference in closing the persistent gender gap.” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst.
According to a new Catalyst report, Good Intentions, Imperfect Execution? Women Get Fewer of the Hot Jobs Needed to Advance, women get fewer of the high visibility, mission-critical roles and international experiences the so-called “hot jobs” that are key to getting ahead at global companies. Unequal access to those “hot jobs” may be an underlying cause of the persistent gender gap at senior levels.
If women are equally ambitious and use the same career advancement strategies, what prevents them from the access to these “hot jobs”? It’s the glass grid.
Everyone talks about the glass ceiling and having to knock on the glass ceiling to get ahead. What’s really going on is that women have a glass grid. This is a power grid that is so hidden and buried that women don’t know it exists and because they don’t know it exists, they don’t know how to navigate it.
Think talent and hard work are enough to get ahead? The workplace is a highly politicized environment where key decisions about who gets ahead, who gets the plum assignments, who gets the scarce resources are not just decided on merit. Understanding the politics and what really happens behind how decisions are made in the workplace is essential if women are to succeed.
Women tend to have less power and less access to power than men which puts them at a disadvantage. In their book, Political Skills at Work, authors Ferris, Davidson, and Perrewe state:
Women do not see the necessity of political maneuvering. This political deficiency relegates them quickly to the losers brackets and probably explains what appears to be active and blatant gender discrimination in promotion and advancement.
The glass grid redefines the journey women have to the top. The higher up you get in an organization, the more competitive the environment. In fact, the power often shifts as women move up which results in additional challenges to navigate the grid successfully. Political skill and savvy become even more important as women ascend the corporate ladder.
You’ve been searching for a job for some time and after a frustrating few months, you finally landed an interview for an interesting job at a great company. Congratulations! But this is only the beginning of a series of interviews as the organization narrows their search for the right candidate.
In your heart of heart, you feel you are the right fit. This job was made for you and the company’s mission and values align with your own. So how do you position yourself well? How do you prepare for tough interview questions and showcase your talent and experience?
Here are some sample questions and how best to prepare for each one:
1. Please tell me about yourself.
- Be prepared to discuss what is not included in your resume about your family, hobbies, your volunteer work etc.; anything that accurately demonstrates your values and commitment. If you can align your values with the company’s, that’s great. What you do in your spare time often reflects how you approach your life and work in general.
- What do you contribute, not only to the bottom line, but to the culture, the team, the organization as a whole?
- Paint a picture for the interviewer of what it’s like to have you on the team.
2. What’s your biggest weakness?
- Identify at least one area where you need to improve.
- Choose a small (practically insignificant) weakness that leads to one of your strengths. An example, “In the past, I’ve lacked patience when projects are not completed on time. I’ve learned to direct my energy to empowering the team and giving them as many resources as necessary so we complete the projects well within the deadline.”
- Practice discussing this so you sound confident, strong, and professional.
3. Why should I hire you?
- Write down your value proposition and practice saying it.
- When discussing your resume, make sure you articulate how your value proposition benefited each organization in your work history. Be specific about how you impacted business results and outcomes.
- Write down how this company will benefit from having you in the position.
- Be prepared to discuss how you “deliver” the work. In other words, how do you achieve results?
4. Can you tell me about a recent accomplishment that you’re proud of?
- Choose a recent achievement that showcases your talent. Talk specifically about how you contributed to the success of the project or situation; how YOU made it happen. Be prepared to discuss this in detail highlighting how your role in this situation is an example of how you will bring value to this organization.
- As you answer this question, make it clear that this was not an isolated incident. Be clear yourself on how you contributed to the success and what that says about you in future work situations. Can you also refer to past situations where you utilized the same skills?
5. What has been your biggest career disappointment so far?
- Interviewers who ask this are looking to find out your resiliency and attitude. Discuss a career set back with a positive spin.
- How did you turn this around into an opportunity?
- Be careful not to be present yourself as the victim in this case. Talk about the situation without emotion and regret to show that you’ve moved on and used this as a learning opportunity
What was the toughest interview question you ever had and how did you respond?
To learn more about how to handle difficult interview questions, tune in to this week’s GPS Your Career radio on Wednesday, August 29th or download the podcast. I’m interviewing Vicky Oliver, author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions”.
Have you noticed that it is now common to use the term “personal branding” instead of self-promotion?
Personal branding and self-promotion are, in fact, the same. I have come to believe that the term self-promotion is so off-putting for women that we will do almost anything to avoid it. Hence, it’s become the” pink elephant” in the room. We know it’s there and yet we don’t want to recognize its presence, hoping that somehow it will disappear. Its very existence is, in fact, threatening, overwhelming, and often scary. We’d rather dance around it rather than deal with it.
So now we call it personal branding and hope that with a new name it will be more acceptable and something that we can embrace instead of the uncomfortable concept of promoting ourselves. But I believe in calling a spade a spade. It’s still all about promoting yourself, and self-promotion remains an important key to your success as a woman in business today.
And the evidence is in. There have been a variety of studies and research that support the need for women to talk about their accomplishments in order to advance their careers, such as the Catalyst 2011 study, The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead. Intellectually, we understand the importance of differentiating ourselves and letting others know what we bring to the table. Emotionally, we get hung up in our limiting beliefs about the need to be humble and blend in, our need to be liked, our fear of rejection.
Well, it’s time to “man-up” and dance with the pink elephant. She’s not going away and your continual avoidance of her will only contribute to your lack of career and business success.
How do you dance with the Pink Elephant?
First, you need to change your mind set about promoting yourself. There were probably many things you didn’t want to learn and did anyway, right? Self-promotion is a necessary skill. (I remember how much I hated Algebra, but I realized its importance and learned it.)
Second, take the time to understand your value and what is unique about you. This is so important that I can’t stress it enough. You probably think you know what value you offer your organization, your clients, your community, your family and friends, but I would challenge you and say that unless you’ve taken some time and done some soul searching, you probably don’t know your value.
If you don’t know your value proposition, then promoting yourself will ALWAYS be uncomfortable and difficult. You will feel phony because you haven’t made the necessary connection with your unique value.
As I’ve said before, everything changes when you understand your value. You can then talk about yourself with confidence. You will speak up in meetings, voice your opinion, and take advantage of opportunities to showcase your talent.
Dance with the pink elephant. If you climb on board, you may just end up where you’ve always wanted to go!
Are you being stingy?
…by not letting others know what you have to offer?
…by not speaking up and sharing your opinion or ideas?
Sometimes we are so focused on our “own stuff” and our fears or discomfort talking about ourselves that we forget that what we have to offer helps others. That’s right! Think about it. What you have to offer, whether it’s a product, a service, an innovative idea or new approach to a problem or simply your opinion, helps other people and improves their lives and/or careers in an important way.
Re-framing this as an offer to help is a terrific way for you to move beyond your fear and discomfort and focus on what the other person needs. It gets you beyond the “stinginess” factor.
How would your next job interview go if you used this mindset, understood what you had to offer and focused on how it could help the company?
How would your next networking event go if you used this mindset when meeting new people, finding out what they need and offering your assistance?
How would your next senior management or department meeting go if you used this mindset and offered your ideas and opinion?
For the next few weeks, I am offering you the opportunity to write and tell me specifically ONE way you help your company or clients (what value you offer), and I will feature your “commercial” in a new section of my blog/newsletter.
Please include your name, position, company (company website or personal website) and email so that other women can contact you.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
An amazing shift takes place when you connect with your unique value. It’s an incredible ah-ha moment!
When you truly understand your value, you present yourself with confidence; your body language changes; your communication changes; your relationships change and the way others perceive you changes dramatically.
For years, women have come to me for guidance on how to promote themselves. They struggle with feeling authentic and comfortable talking about their talent and accomplishments even though their resumes and experience tell a story of great success.
Why is this?
Because we struggle to fit in and be like everyone else in order to be liked. Now, as professionals, we are told that we need to differentiate ourselves and it doesn’t feel right. Somewhere along the line we get messages that we should be quiet about our talent. As a consequence, it becomes more difficult to make the connection back to what makes us truly unique.
We lose the vital connection with who we really are and our unique value proposition. We listen to everyone’s advice on who we should be, what we should do and how we should do it. This external focus distracts us from our own inner wisdom and our core essence.
What does it take to find ourselves again?
In her new book, Take the Lead, Betsy Myers says,
Leadership is a function first and foremost of self-knowledge and honest self-reflection.
How many of us take the time to figure this out?
How can we present ourselves to the world or promote ourselves authentically if we don’t do this self-reflection to find our unique value?
Understand that authentic comfortable self-promotion can’t be faked. It comes from a true understanding of who you are and what unique value you bring to the world.
Take the time to discover your value and this will be your foundation for career success and fulfillment.
I am offering you the opportunity to discover and connect with your unique value proposition so that you present yourself to your clients, your prospects, your colleagues, your friends with authenticity.
The GPS Your Career Group Coaching Program is a journey of self-discovery that will dramatically change your business and career by helping you to position yourself successfully.
This four week course starts February 15th, 8-9pm Eastern and includes four 60 minute coaching sessions, worksheets and stimulating exercises to help you do the deep dive and de-clutter to re-discover who you really are and what you have to offer your company or your clients.
No more struggles with self-promotion! No more struggles trying to get clients or be noticed at work!
The class is limited to 10 participants, so please register now.
I have a power point slide in many of my keynote presentations that states Confidence = Competence. When this slide appears, it’s always an “ah-hah” moment for many people in the audience. Isn’t it true though? When you present yourself with confidence, people assume you are competent.
Think about your own purchasing decisions. Would you be willing to purchase a product or service from someone who lacks confidence; who stumbles through their sales presentation and seems unprepared and anxious? You would no doubt hesitate unless you felt sorry for them. (Not a good reason to buy, by the way.) You hesitate in this case because you believe that when a person lacks confidence in their presentation, they may lack competence. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to understand this when selling your own products and services.
Now, I’m not saying it’s necessarily true. It’s just our perception. But the perception is important because that is what people base their decisions on.
Maybe you’re not an entrepreneur, but a woman with ambition to get ahead in her organization. You are talented and gifted and produce great results, but when it comes to presenting those results, speaking up in meetings, you fumble and stammer. Do you come across as a potential leader? Probably not!
I’m not a proponent of faking confidence. I’ve read some articles that say “fake it until you make it.” I’m against this tactic because authenticity is so important in our presentation. It is, in fact, this connection with our authentic selves and the value that we offer that is the foundation of the confidence we need in order to present ourselves as competent. This authenticity inspires trust and it’s vital for our success in business.
I do a lot of speaking now about the topic of understanding your value because I believe until we understand and connect with our unique gifts and value proposition, we will continue to lack the confidence to present ourselves as competent.
Do you understand your unique value or the value that your products and services offer?
Starting January 10th, I am be offering a four week group coaching program that will take you on a journey of self-discovery to understand your value and better position yourself to grow your business or advance your career. This four week program will be done via phone and participants will receive four hours of coaching, valuable worksheets and exercises as well as feedback from a group of like-minded professionals. Each participant will also receive mp3 recordings of every class.
Check out my website, for more information! And be one of 10 lucky women to take this journey. The group will be limited to 10 so please register now.
Women DO ask for promotions and raises but they still lag behind men in compensation and position. The latest Catalyst study, The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?, dispels the myth that women are not proactive in advancing their careers. After following 3,000 high potential MBA graduates, Catalyst found that doing all the “right things” such as being proactive, requesting high profile assignments, and asking for promotions and raises, did not significantly help women advance their careers.
Examining different career strategies, Catalyst found that the common proactive strategies that high-potential women often adopt to advance their careers did not work in their favor. Quite simply, men outpace women in both advancement and compensation. The gender gap in pay and position still exists despite women’s efforts to negotiate for better pay and placement.
Here are some of the key findings:
Women seem to be paid for proven performance—women who changed jobs two or more times post-MBA earned $53,472 less than women who rose through the ranks at their first job.
In contrast, men seem to be paid for potential—men who had moved on from their first post-MBA job earned $13,743 more than those who stayed with their first employer.
Across all career profiles, men were more likely to reach senior executive/CEO positions than women; in the most proactive category, 21% of men advanced to leadership compared with 11% of women.
What I find especially important in the study is Catalyst’s recommendation for career advancement.
The same strategies don’t work equally well for men and women. Women must adopt strategies different from their male colleagues’ to advance their careers. When women were proactive in making their achievements known, they advanced further, increased their compensation growth, and were more satisfied with their careers. They also advanced further when they proactively networked with influential others. (my underline)
So let me ask you, how well do you think you communicate your achievements?
Have you identified your web of influence (your power network) and do you consistently communicate with this network to keep them apprised of your accomplishments?
Learning how to effectively articulate your achievements is not about bragging. It’s about YOU connecting with the VALUE you bring to your organization. It’s about how your value benefits the organization; how YOU impact the bottom line.
Once you are able to do this well to your internal and external network, people will better understand what you have to offer. As the Catalyst study suggests, this is paramount to advancing your career in today’s workplace environment.
If you would like improve your ability to do this well, I will be offering a full day workshop, GPS Your Career Day, in Boston in the beginning of December (exact date and location TBD), AND a four week coaching group, GPS Your Career Group, starting in January.
Email me if you would like more information.