Do Men Have Stronger Interview Skills than Women?

What does it take to give a strong interview? Do men in general naturally present themselves (and maybe even think of themselves) in a way that makes them seem like the better candidate – especially for higher level jobs? And does that ability – whether the skills are innate or socialized – in some way actually make them a better candidate choice for the company in the long run?

Now before you think I’ve been kidnapped and brainwashed by a secret pro-male society, let me explain where these questions about gender-based interview skills are coming from, what they may mean for the way we interview, and how they may even influence the way we handle our careers.

First let me backtrack to what started me thinking about all this. I was listening to NPR’s On the Media. They were talking about NPR – of all places – and their own weak showing when it comes to using female sources and commentators.  As part of their decision to take a hard look at themselves, they asked “blogger, professor and man Clay Shirky” to offer his own theory as to “Why so few women?” (unspoken words: at this supposedly politically correct organization.)

Here’s what he came up with: A Rant About Women

Basically, he suggests women for the most part don’t have the risk-taking behaviors that help men get ahead in the business world. In his words: “Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.” Now even though he framed this (or tried his best to) in a way that didn’t blame women, rest assured he got plenty of flack from people who thought he was full of crap. Definitely worth reading both his article and the comments.  I leave it up to you to decide how much truth, if any, there is in his words.

But I will say that again and again throughout my career I’ve seen women (although there are certainly exceptions in any gender) less willing than men to be bold and take real chances when it came to things like self-promotion and suggesting they could take on things they’ve never done before. Books like Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office speak to these points.  (More on this at another time.)

So What About Gender in Interviews Already?

Glad you asked. The one thing that really stood out for me was Shirky’s opening paragraphs:

“So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.”

The student is a male. And from there Shirky goes off on his self-described rant.

So this got me wondering about the way women interview and go about their job searches. Are most women aware just how much of today’s Job Search 2.0 necessitates boldness and willingness to promote oneself in a way that may feel uncomfortable for many of them? Networking and branding are THE way now. And job search actions that really get you to new places most often take daring and leaps of faith.

And yet, as Shirky also mentions, there seem to be very real societal expectations (read that as limits) of just how bold and self-promoting a woman can be before she goes “too far” and, heaven forbid, gets labeled one of those rhyming words also used for female dogs or magical people.

Speaking of Women and Job Search 2.0…

I was coaching a young woman who, although she is doing well in her current job and was even recently promoted, is miserable and desperately wants to move on.  So she asked me for some creative job search tips to help her stand out from the competition.

Yet as we discussed possible approaches, she kept seeing all the roadblocks, but not the ways around them. Even though she’s extremely capable and has been recognized many times for her business skills, she agonized over almost everything – how would she be viewed by people she’s asking for help (as if it’s wrong to want to get ahead or give people a chance to help – they can always say “no”); what if her boss found out and how would she be viewed by her company after all they’ve done for her (as if her hard work hasn’t done a lot for them); how could she find time when she still has to do a good job where she is (in a job she hates mind you), etc.

Why wasn’t she applying her strong problem-solving skills to solving her own problem? Why was she stuck in safe mode – looking at job boards “whenever she could spare the time” and worrying about what others thought – but not stepping up to a higher and bolder level of job search where the jobs really are now? I couldn’t help thinking maybe – just maybe – Shirky has something worth thinking about after all.

Brings to mind a quote I saw today on Twitter:

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ~ Seneca

Since I have no absolute answers, I leave you with some questions:

How far in the direction of boldness can a woman go to advance her own career before her efforts turn into a negative?

Do most men really find self-promotion and daring to go where no man (or woman) has gone easier than most women do?

Does the male hunter-adventurer find things like networking and job search more in tune with his nature?

When it comes to careers and job search, do women worry too much about pleasing and making everything ok?

Are women so afraid to “bother” people they can’t self-promote or network as successfully as men?

Just how much does gender really have to do with the way you interview and search for jobs?

I’d love your thoughts.


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. A few thoughts on this excellent post, Ronnie Ann. And yes, I’m a guy—a proud dad of two great daughters and very much a feminist [one woman friend says I’m a bigger feminist than she is]. First, a couple of generalities that I’ve seen play out often enough to not write it off as stereotypes. As parents, mothers tend to be the ones kids turn to for comforting and safety; dads are the ones who usually are there for the big adventures—learning to ride a bike, jumping into the deep end of the pool, first roller coaster rides… Do we bring these same roles to the work place? In school, boys tend to compete in group projects, wanting to make sure their ideas are heard and win, while girls tend to work together for the common good of the group and a successful outcome overall. [And personally, I’m with the girls on this one.] Does this instinct deter women from promoting their own personal growth in favor of the company? And finally, you hinted at the B word. Tina Fey said of herself and Amy Poehler, “Of course, we’re [B words]—that’s how you get things done.” It’s really a shame that when women are strong, competitive and decisive in the workplace—in other words, when they behave like successful men—this label is applied. Again, great post, Ronnie Ann!

  2. You raise some very interesting points, Ronnie!

    As you say, there are always exceptions, but I believe women do tend to downplay their accomplishments, and worry too much about pleasing (or offending) others — and that can definitely put them at a disadvantage when competing against men for jobs.

    On the other hand, I think women are more likely than men to seek out information (such as that provided on your blog) that can help them to do better during their job searches.

    We (people trying to help job seekers) should be more aware of these gender-driven differences and consider adjusting our advice accordingly.

    Great article!

  3. Karenatasha says:

    Interesting. But there are a few points not made here–points that were made by the media in the wake of our economic collapse: namely that the so-called “risk-taking behavior” that make men stand out probably led to the banking disaster. Not all risk-taking is a good thing. That said, yes it probably is true that many (though certainly not all) women find it hard to promote themselves well.

  4. Karenatasha says:

    Whoops–that would be “risk-taking behavior” that makes men stand out….
    I hate typos!

  5. I attended a career development workshop for women about finding your natural talent. There are people with different talent, such ad achiever, maximizer, coordinator, etc. However, out of 100+ highly educated and capable women, none of them has “self-assurance” as their natural talent. Is this just us (women) or does the society form us in this way?

  6. Thank you for your interesting posts. Just talking about women in finance, I woud notice that most of them are more aggressive than men generally, perhaps because they feel more insecure with their presence in a world dominated by men. However, they are the worst at hiring / supporting / working with other women, because of a misplaced “princess complex” – they like the uniqueness of their position and they are not going to put that on the line by supporting another woman. Most of these women also add that they find it so much easier to work with men as opposed to women, perhaps stressing on their “special” qualities.

    As a woman with previous finance experience and doing extensive networking right now as I am job hunting, I have found women actively trying to put a stop to my involvement with others. All the help that I got was from men, who sometimes are more open minded about gender issues (or they’ve been scared by the diversity theories of HR departments).

    Not sure it ties in with your excellent article, Ronnie, however I find it sad that it is precisely women who are on board of large banks and finance organisations do as much as they can to prohibit other women from joining. And these women are more aggressive and determined than most men, in interviewing, networking and working.

    It’s such a pity that ultimately they are so insecure as to not be able to work well with other women.

  7. I have written a couple of articles on this issue as I think that women do lack a lot of confidence. And I don’t say that lightly because anytime you talk about observations you risk being accused of stereotyping. However when I coach females on interview skills, they sometimes give me too much of a back story about why something didn’t work, instead of focussing on what did. They are honest, but can shoot themselves in the feet sometimes. I also think that men will see 80% of a job they can do and go for it, whereas women I have seen will think that they need to have done it all, to apply. I tend to remind them that they don’t apply this same rule to other things they have tried. Some of this lack of confidence comes from how hard women are on themselves, and I am afraid to say, on other women.

  8. Jenny Ridings says:

    Another interesting article Ronnie Ann. I think men are more willing to ask for what they want, and asking for the job is the best way to land it (just like asking for a raise is the best way to get it).

  9. Thank you for all your great comments! I enjoyed reading them even more than writing the article. 😉

    Just a few more thoughts:

    Terry: So true about the B word. Loved Tina Fey’s take on it. Also want to add you are one of the most supportive and caring men I know and raised (with your amazing wife’s help of course) two strong, talented, independent daughters who feel good about who they are. We should all be so lucky.

    Bonnie: Thank you so much. Yes…it’s not that we don’t have as much or more to offer…but there are differences for sure, both coming from women job seekers and those in a position to hire. Being aware is always a good way to approach these things.

    Karenatasha: Great point about risk-taking behavior. It’s a two-edged sword. Maybe even three edges. 😉

    out: I think society has a lot to do with it. But the good news is at any time, once we become aware, we can start to take actions – within the context of who we are and how we want to live our lives of course – to strengthen our career chances.

    Adriana: Having been in the world of finance myself, I have to say I’ve seen what you’re talking about. It would be great if women acted as mentors and advocates for more women – although I can report from people I know now and my own career that there are indeed women willing to step forward to help others. More please!

    Karalyn: Thank you so much for this comment. I love what you said, especially “when I coach females on interview skills, they sometimes give me too much of a back story about why something didn’t work, instead of focusing on what did.” Whatever your gender, this is an MO that will work against you. A great exercise is to spend focused time (writing this out helps) remembering all the good stuff you’ve accomplished and all you have to contribute. And then repeat often.

    Jenny: Absolutely. If I could give only one tip about how to get a raise, it would be to ask for it. 😉

    Thanks again everyone. Terrific discussion.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  10. Another interesting article Ronnie Ann. I think men are more willing to ask for what they want, and asking for the job is the best way to land it (just like asking for a raise is the best way to get it).

  11. Thanks Steve. Well said. I agree 100%.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

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