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Beat the Boys Club I Lessons From Three of the World's Top Headhunters

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Most workplaces are still male-dominated. But did you know that men often outperform women in job interviews? And are also perceived outperforming on the job?

In the first instalment of a special two-part feature, Woman-On-Top.com Editor-In-Chief Polly Stewart speaks exclusively to three of the world's top executive search professionals on how you can beat the boys' club and get ahead.

Malcolm Thorp of Thorp & Partners has successfully sought out and recruited many of the technology sector’s top talent for over 25 years. He is all too aware of the industry’s reputation as being male-oriented due to the lack of women pursuing science and engineering qualifications - and technology historically being seen as 'geeky'. He pro-actively seeks to identify female candidates to short list in every search he does.

Get ahead in the recruitment process...

"I am a big fan of women getting ahead. Search is very rigorous with sophisticated processes, but there are all sorts of routes to market to identify candidates. I always instruct my researchers to go the extra mile to find capable women. I also use my personal network to ask for recommendations - no, not on the golf course – I play tennis anyway! However, these efforts don’t generate many female candidates compared with men on a shortlist. It would imply there is not a plethora of talented women out there, which is clearly not the case – look at HP as but one example.

"Women and men have different styles in the interview and assessment process. A woman is inherently less of an embellisher or exaggerator than a man. My experience is that women believe they need to achieve 120% in a role, before they are ready to step up to the next level. Men will do 70%, then say they are ready to do more: they are great self-publicists.

"In an interview a man will typically say, 'As sales director, I brought in a £300 million outsource deal with XYZ PLC.' You will find out he might have opened the door, but didn't handle the main negotiations, but claims full credit as the contract winner. A woman doing the same job will tell you, 'I was part of a really good team, it was a good deal...' and you have to dig their success out of them. Do not hide your light under a bushel - gild the lily."

Get ahead on the job...

"Men often 'command and control' via management silos and autocratic behaviour, whereas women tend to encourage, be more collegiate and can often be better all-round managers. Women wait to be noticed and because of that they are quite often overlooked because a male colleague will steal a march on them.

"Learn how to play the man's game, while also showing your different style of leadership. Make sure you demonstrate your capabilities and achievements."

Ms Lim Chye Lian is the Managing Director & Founder of Executive Talent International, a leading boutique executive search firm in Asia.

Unlike the UK, the USA and some other countries, there is no discriminatory law in Singapore with regard to the non-hiring of women. Singapore is arguably one of the few countries in the world where there are equal opportunities for women represented by a high percentage of women in the workplace. The government is proactive and takes the lead in the appointment of female non-executive board members.

Get ahead in the recruitment process...

"At Executive Talent International, our placements are predominantly senior executives and board members. The roles are filled majority by male candidates due to the composition of the available pool of candidates.

"There is no obvious prejudice to hire or not hire women. However, consequent to the prerequisites of certain roles, for example, a significant amount of travel, a woman can put herself out of contention if she is perceived to be concerned by the extent of such travel.

"There could be a preconception that if a woman is married and has young children, she will be constrained by her ability to travel freely. An employer could quickly disqualify her in the early stages of the selection process.

"I advise women to tackle the stereotyping head-on. They have to work harder even at the application phase to purposefully highlight their ability to fully perform the expectation of the job. For example, if travel is not an issue, indicate your experience with your travel load and the related accomplishments: 'My work involves frequent travel in the Asia-Pacific region.' or,'I was based in Shanghai for one month to finalise an integration project.'

"Be aware that the questions such as 'How much travel is involved?', 'Can I sometimes work from home if one of my children is sick?' can send the wrong signal that you have a problem committing to a full time business role.

"Think about the questions you might ask and how they might be interpreted. Use your achievements to get across the message that you serious about your career, for examples, ambition to grow in your career, commitment to achieve established business goals. Achievements are your ammunition to overcome the biases that employers might still have."

Get ahead on the job...

"You can create the wow factor.

"Women generally have a good blend of hard skills and soft skills. The latter includes building a cohesive team, listening, promoting inclusiveness and adopting a collaborative approach. Women tend to undersell their soft skill abilities because they see them as a spontaneous extension of their style and not as a positive differentiating asset which men may not naturally possess. If you can successfully capitalise on your hard and soft skills, they can be a powerful combination."

Clark Waterfall is Managing Director of BSG Team Ventures. The retained executive search firm has offices in Boston, San Francisco and London, and specializes in recruiting leaders for rapidly changing environments in private equity, PE portfolio firms and start-ups, the public sector and not-for-profit.

The recruitment process...

"I'm not interviewing younger women of 21-30 because they are typically not yet at executive level, so I can't speak to the next generation of future women leaders. However, the British are quite self-effacing. It's more appropriate to knock oneself before knocking another. This is not the case in the USA. Therefore, if the candidate takes a traditional British approach to interviewing, and the company or hiring authority is American, they may likely misunderstand this cultural convention and come away from the interview with a sense that you have a lower level of self-confidence, or you have fewer accomplishments than you actually have.

"Similar to the British, American women executives also often take a more self-effacing approach to their accomplishments. They are also much more comfortable talking about their weaknesses and failures. As a search executive, if not understanding this, I could often get a sense that a woman I just interviewed did nothing on her own, or is very insecure, and it's all team, team, team, I got lucky, right place right time.

"It’s really important for the executive being interviewed to balance a sense of humility, with a sense of confidence and ability to articulate specific wins and accomplishments that - while no doubt taking a team to complete - were led by this executive. It’s funny that if you ask a male executive in an interview, 'What are your weaknesses?' they often can’t think of one, or come up with one that is actually a strength, for example, 'I probably work too many hours….' However, if you ask a woman executive that question, you get thoughtful responses that often comprise a list of weaknesses or areas for improvement. If you compared side-by-side without a filter, you could easily misconclude that the male executive was less flawed.

Get ahead on the job...

"If we take women who are leaders now, at executive level CEO, CXO etc, if we frame out statistically relevant sample sets of 35-55 year-olds and 55-65 year-olds, it's really interesting. The group of older women tend to be very hard in their work interactions, in their approach. Ironically, they more often mirror stereotypical male leadership traits they have developed to fight their way up predominately male-dominated leadership structures from the 1980s to today.

"But in the 35-55 group, they have a really interesting balance of male and female leadership styles. I would call it 'yin and yang'. Many of these women have their own intuitive and empathetic leadership styles, and they can transition between that and the hard male style. They have a strong sense of self awareness.

"Dan Goldman writes a lot about key to great leadership is self-awareness, knowing how others see you. Women are often far better at this than men. That's a unique strength women have."

"Female executives should build on this innate strength in empathic ability, and continue to leverage it building a strong situational leadership style."

To be continued.

Reproduced from www.Woman-on-Top.com the UK's first magazine for career-minded working women.

"Re-published with kind permission from Woman-on-Top."


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