During interviews, women tend to play down the proficiency at skills they have, and they make a big point of what they may lack. How can someone circumvent that?

Note: This question was asked on a proposal for a new site "Women in Technology". Some voters thought this would be more appropriate at this site, and I wanted to put this to the test. However please treat this as a real question.

e-sushi, the original writer of this question, writes:For reference purposes, the question proposed at Area51 arose after reading this article, specifically the section: “How men and women interview differently”.

  • Could you be more specific? Is this from the woman's perspective or the recruiter's or hiring manager's perspective? Are there certain skills in particular that get downplayed? Nothing personal, but do you have any research that allows you to generalize women into saying that they tend to downplay their skills? – panoptical Apr 8 '14 at 13:33
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    Hey DJ, I think that this question could use an edit to scope the question a bit better. Right now it comes across as a general statement about some people and doesn't define the actual specific problem that needs to be solved, or what sort of solution would be appropriate given that situation. If you can clarify, it can be reopened, but given the comment thread I'm closing it for now so it can be improved. Thanks in advance! – jmac Apr 8 '14 at 23:15
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    It may be helpful to start a meta question instead DJ. While the current question is off-topic, it would be off-topic just about anywhere on SE because it is so vague and unspecific. If it were better scoped, it could be a good question here, but it depends on the details (which is something that can be discussed on meta). – jmac Apr 9 '14 at 2:23
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    In what sense is this a gender-specific issue? Is there reason to believe that the proposed solutions wouldn't apply to any less-than-confident interviewee, regardless of gender? – user7444 Apr 9 '14 at 14:49
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    I think an on-topic question could be asked about this. It should summarize the linked research (rather than just making an over-general assertion about men vs women), and then ask from a particular perspective how to overcome it. "I'm a woman and that happens to me all the time -- what do I do?" or "I'm a hiring manager and I see this; how do I evaluate candidates with this problem" or the like would be more answerable than this is. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '14 at 18:08

Prepare yourself for the interview and be aware that you need to avoid being negative. Recognize the problem and practice. You have to admit you have a problem before you can fix it.

As far as how to go about it, I'm going to "start with the end in mind" recommendation and not necessarily what is most important.

  1. Prepare salary/benefits demands and negotiation - Nothing indicates you believe you are worthy than asking for compensation. It forces you to focus on convincing the employer why they should pay you this much. Do your homework on salaries in your area. Knowledge is power and leads to confidence. Be willing to decline an offer. Prepare counter-offers, but stand firm. Don't give reasons not to pay you (Doesn't that sound a little silly?).
  2. Get excited about the job - Why do you want this job and how can you convey how much you want it to the employer? You'll be more confident when you go for something you "really" want. This will make you less likely to be negative.
  3. Prepare for the interview. - You've covered your broader qualifications in #1 & #2. It's time to work out the details. Sell yourself. Identify your strengths and work on turning weaknesses into a positive by indicating you are aware of them and make an effort to compensate when needed.
  4. Proof everything and look for negatives - No self-deprecation. Needing to drop you kids off at school and needing to arrive to work a little later, is nothing to be ashamed of nor should you think of it as a negative for the company. You're the best candidate, it's not big deal, you'll more than make up for it in other areas. Find the reasons to be confident, so you won't feel like you're bragging or being pushy. Don't feel the need to provide too much information.

The interview isn't a fight, so don't be afraid to smile a little bit as you sit straight-up and confidently tell them why you should get the job. Stick to the responses you practiced, so you are less likely to continue providing more and more information which may lead to stating a negative or lessor quality. Interviewers are busy taking notes and preparing for the next question. There will be some pauses in the conversation. Don't feel like you have to carry the load and keep talking.

Another Technique Imagine you are applying for a position, but they ask you in the interview if you are willing to take a much lesser role. How would you respond? If your first thought is "yes", you need more work.

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    You're assuming the question is asked by a woman who wants to improve her interviewing skills. I think you missed the point here. – lorenzog Apr 8 '14 at 15:41
  • @iorenzog - Anyone who deemphasizes their skills runs the risk of not getting the job they want. This is an exercise to over-come it. If your current boss or one of your coworkers asks if you are up to a certain task/have enough capability, isn't that sort of an interview? – user8365 Apr 8 '14 at 16:17

As the question per se covers several complex topics, I highly recommend doing some preliminary reading on the topic. For example, you are describing a symptom that emerges during interviews, but are clearly ignoring what could be the causes that need addressing. By 'causes' I mean industry, role, location, cultural and religious influences, and so on.

In particular, going through the original question:

During interviews, women tend to play down the proficiency at skills they have,

First of all, "women tend to play down" does not mean anything and is too vague. What do you mean exactly? Have you witnessed this? Could you quantify it?

There are studies that show how this is due to external factors such as expectations set by (male) interviewers, cognitive bias, social pressure and parenthood. Have you considered what could be causing it?

Nevertheless, there are actually too many studies to be summarised in a quick answer here. There are actually academic disciplines (gender studies) that address this and other problem; a quick search on google scholar will give you an idea.


[...] and they make a big point of what they may lack. How can someone circumvent that?

'circumvent' has a double meaning erring on the negative. It is not clear what you ask here: are you a woman looking for advice (in which case this might not be the right place to ask)? Are you a male interviewer? A female interviewer?

Lastly, if you want a quick overview of the current situation on women and technology that barely scratch the surface, I recommend the following articles to read:

Both link are part of a larger series on women in technology that will help you phrase your question in a clearer way.

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    Sorry, this problem is a little more complicated, so I don't think just recommending a couple of links without more explanation on why they answer the question is needed. – user8365 Apr 8 '14 at 14:13
  • I disagree. First of all the question is not specific, showing that not much research has been done. Secondly, I posted the link and you replied within 3 minutes. Given the length of the articles I doubt you had even the time to read a few paragraphs from one of them. Please take a look at the links before judging my answer. – lorenzog Apr 8 '14 at 14:20
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    This answer borders on link only and as such may attract down votes. It would help if you'd edit your answer -- perhaps summarize the articles so if the links ever fail the answer would still be useful. – Dan Pichelman Apr 8 '14 at 14:33
  • "Getting started" and "providing some insights" does not answer the question being asked. – enderland Apr 8 '14 at 15:20
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    I still don't see any part of your answer (I quickly skimmed over your links) covering the topic of de-emphasizing/down-playing in interviews. Only comments on and dissection of the question text. – CMW Apr 8 '14 at 15:49

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