The Career Trap, and How To Beat It
It may be hard to remember amid the setbacks of the current pandemic, but gender equality is a rising trend in leading sectors of the work market. And yet, despite an increasing number of companies keen to target female talent- and an abundance of women interested in positive careers, the effect on the market is slower than it could be.
I discussed these trends with a senior Talent Acquisition manager of a leading technology company in Europe, and we came up with some key tips to help women take advantage of the opportunities the market offers, and escape the “career trap” they often find themselves in.
Recruiters’ Perspective on the Market
Talent availability is a big challenge for leading companies; many have gone as far as restructuring their recruitment process and texts to suit the female market. Still, they struggle to recruit female talent for a few common reasons:
1. Less women apply to each available position
2. Despite the high demand, it is still difficult to find women with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees
3. The more senior the job title, the harder it is to find women with relevant experience.
These realities point to an unfortunate trap preventing women from fulfilling their potential in the current market.
A Compounded Disadvantage
Recruiters look for candidates with experience in similar positions, or who have received similar wages. Relevant higher education is of course key criteria as well.
Whether because they have been discriminated against, or because they shy away from study fields and roles that could put them on a higher level, women enter an increasingly competitive market at a significant disadvantage to begin with.
Choices made in the early years of our career, until around age 40, are critical in defining our path. This includes our choice of industry and company size, and our decision to negotiate our salaries and titles. Family planning typically occurs smack dab in the middle of this critical period, and those years of early parenthood are known to take a disproportionate toll on young mothers who jump in and out of the workforce, sometimes for years at a stretch.
Another issue is that many women still shy away from some of the most valuable fields to the market today, namely STEM subjects- whether because they consider them masculine fields, or because they didn’t invest in the required background in their high-school years.
These disadvantages are compounded along the years- the longer women spend in low paying jobs or less prestigious companies, the harder they will find it to stand out in recruitment. The further their studies are from fields relevant to the market, the harder it is to attain those rewarding jobs and salaries.
Paralyzed Into Inaction
The extra load of responsibilities and market bias should encourage us to aim higher and start earlier. But many women see this daunting reality as an impossible obstacle, leading them to forfeit ahead of the game.
Knowing they are planning to have kids in the future, some women aim for less competitive jobs in the first place- and therefore less competitive salaries. When their children are older, the fear of having stayed out of the race for too long deters them from applying ambitiously. This is of course, a self-propagating downward cycle.
So other than aim high and start early, what can we do to minimize the effects of this trap?
As they say, hindsight is 20-20, and not everyone is in a position to shift their area of studies (or ship their children off to Alaska). That doesn’t mean you should give up on making the best of those critical years of your career. If you are actively looking for a job, here are some tips to do so effectively:
1. Help the Recruiter, Help yourself
Recruiters want to bring solid candidates, sometimes their commission is even a percentage of the salary of the selected candidate. So help them sell you. Make sure to explain why you are qualified for the job and the salary you are aiming for and show them the logic of your ask.
If you don’t know how to sell you, they won’t know how to sell you, so focus on showing up with your pitch prepared and rehearsed rather than worrying about talking yourself up too much.
2. Finding the Right Fit First, Salary Negotiations Later
Though salary negotiations are a focal point of dread for many women, they are usually the end result of the process, and companies are usually only flexible within a limited range on the salary they can pay.
So it’s important to first focus your effort on building rapport and showing you are a fit for the job. Aim to have the salary discussion in the end, after you’ve gotten to know each other- the salary will be a logical follow-through to the main question of whether you are the right person for the job.
3. Be Smart About Your Salary Expectations
Once you do get to talking numbers, make sure you are doing yourself the best service. If your current pay is low or disadvantageous, don’t mention it if not asked for it and focus rather on expectations.
It is essential to know your value in the industry when you state your number. Too low may not only mean you position yourself in a lower range, but it may also imply you are unsuitable or not experienced enough for the job you’ve applied to.
Our fear of antagonising the interviewer by “asking for too much” may simply lead them to believe we are unfit for the job while showing up ready with a substantiated expectation could actually limit unnecessary back-and-forth negotiation.
4. Get Your Mindset In Lign
I often tell women not to forget that in their job search, they are interviewing the company as well. This doesn’t mean you should walk in like you own the place- it means you need to define your own expectations.
You should understand your value, and the culture that would fit you best. And you should know to say no when the offer in front of you isn’t a suitable fit.
Turning down a job that offers an unsuitable salary may feel scary when you feel you are job-searching with limited options. But the job market is bigger and more diverse than we often perceive, and our mindset should be focused on finding those jobs that are right for us. This minor setback will define the baseline for your next career steps and help you reach more accomplished goals and positions in the long run.
Got lemons? Make lemonade
I am not here to imply that the job market is an easy place for women, it definitely isn’t. Not always do we have the option to be picky. But I encourage you to see that challenge as a chance to take ownership of your career path and make conscious choices, rather than an incentive to stay out of the game. Many companies are already looking to take that journey with you!
See you next post!
Founder of Negotiatress