Many of us senior students are approaching the transitional time of leaving school and entering a job or career. Personally, I wanted to touch on this topic because I am going through this transition right now as I approach my graduation date in December. Additionally, as I identify as a woman through this journey of job-searching I have encountered a few interview questions and comments which caught me off guard, and when reflecting back on them wondered if I only received them due to identifying as woman. Therefore, I wanted to use this space to share some of these interactions as well as provide some helpful tips to help you prepare for these awkward questions or interactions, and furthermore for identifying as a woman in the workplace/office.
Fortunate enough to be the youngest sibling to eight amazing people, three of them are women-identified and have made great successes and great failures within the office space, as well as my mother. Thus, I have been granted a few helpful tips of my own from them as well as through my experiences in class here at JMU which allow me to provide these tips today.
First, one question I recently was asked in an interview which made me question, “did he ask me this just because I am a woman?” was the question: Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years? Now, initially this sounds like a stereotypical interview question, however, this was the first time I had heard this question over the five interviews I had been on, and it was asked by the first man-identifying person who interviewed me. Although I was baffled at first why he would ask the question, what it meant, and many other spiraling wonders, I couldn’t help but reach the conclusion that this question alludes to the question they want to ask which is, “do you plan on having any kids soon or settling down soon?” due to my identification as a woman. I even asked many men I know in my life if they have been asked this question and they said they had not been asked that recently.
Take Control of the narrative
Thus, this leads me to the tip of answering uncomfortable or sometimes even suggestive interview questions. Although you will want to initially shut it down or give them the answer you assume they want from you, do not feel like you can’t ask them to clarify the question. Not only does this show that you are paying attention, but can allow the interviewer to review their own question or re-word it. Secondly, it is good to ensure your answer involves some sort of success, to show that you are working toward a successful future and not a personal one. Telling of a personal dream or future can turn away certain employers if they are seeking someone who is goal-oriented and driven for success in a business lens rather than success through a personal lens such as having children or getting married.
Be your own cheerleader when you need it
The number one tip to handling micro-aggressions in the workplace as well as during your journey to the workplace, is to remain confident in yourself and neglecting to doubt yourself. More times than not, women feel imposter syndrome in the office than men do, due to the fact of them feeling insufficient or incomparable to their coworkers for being a woman or lack of knowledge. The best way to combat imposter syndrome is to truly be your own cheerleader, tell yourself you belong there and do not be afraid to prove it. However, it is also essential to show that you are driven and determined to develop new skills and knowledge, or improve upon the ones you have already. Because, often times the view of women entering the workplace to employers is that they have some sort of “expiration date” or stopping point to their career simply because of family reasons.
Lastly, a key tool to bring with you into the office is to fail successfully. Yes, this sounds like an oxymoron, but is vital to professional growth and quality connections. To fail successfully means to know how to successfully come back from a failure. As we have learned from pioneers like Bill Gates and Dale Carnegie about how “failure and discouragement are stepping stones to success”, there is a volume of truth in these quotes and a vital tool to all businesspeople today. Because, especially when identifying as a woman and already combatting imposter syndrome, it is important not to ignore your failures and especially not to let your failures define you. Unfortunately enough, many men in your office and even many other women or people are betting on you to fail at something and beat yourself up about it enough to give up. To take that failure, acknowledge it, and learn from it shows character, tenacity, and can open doors to quality connections and promotions because you chose to learn from your mistakes rather than allow them to define your career path.
So, to conclude, entering the business world as a fresh college graduate is already nerve-wrecking enough and identifying as a woman through the process as well can make it just that much worse. However, just remember these simple steps: control the narrative, be your own cheerleader, and fail successfully, and you will begin to feel more comfortable in yourself as a businessperson, and be on your way to a bright career. Also, if you need additional tips or help, I recommend the YouTube channel, Women of Impact, which shares videos and hosts different speakers to share advice on how to be a woman in the workplace and how to overcome challenges to expand your success.