Because everyone should dig their job

How do I convey assertiveness during a job interview?

By Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

I am looking for some pointers on job interviews.  I have been told by two interviewers that I don't seem assertive or aggressive enough.  I do possess those strengths, as I am currently a vice president in a very demanding job.

What are some ways an age 50+ woman can convey aggression and assertiveness during a job interview? I appreciate your help

Answer:

Without seeing you in action, I can only guess what might be undermining your natural tendencies.

Here are some pointers that will help you shine: 

  • Stand as soon as the interviewer arrives and give a warm and hearty handshake, web to web. Don’t wait until they grab your fingers—extend your hand and then hold the handshake for a beat as you look them straight in the eye and smile and tell the person how pleased you are to meet him or her. This simple gesture sets a strong tone right out of the gate.
  • Don’t be shy about making pleasant small talk on the way to his or her office. Comment on the beautiful office space, the neighborhood, the company or the weather…confident people strike up a friendly conversation and try to relax the interviewer (they are always nervous, too).
  • Bring your notes and don’t be afraid to use them. It makes you look well-prepared. If something of interest is mentioned about the job, pause and write it down.
  • Rehearse your CAR stories so you can assert yourself and interject them. What is a CAR story? CAR stands for Challenge, Approach, and Results. This easy-to-remember mini-story format can be applied to your responsibilities to give examples about how you work and the results you achieved. So, rather than just waiting for the interviewer to ask a question, you are prepared to drop in a powerful mini-story at any point in the conversation. So, for each major area of responsibility that you are “selling,” come up with one or two CAR stories. Write down the Challenge you faced with that responsibility, the Approach you took to accomplish it, and finally, the Results you achieved. The more you rehearse out loud, the more confident and assertive you will sound.
  • Come prepared with questions about the job, such as expected results after the first year, expectations of internal and external customers, and what happened to the person who had the job before. After you have asked job-related questions, move into questions about the culture, the manager’s leadership style, the strategy, and other big picture questions. Candidates demonstrate their assertiveness by the questions they ask, as well as the questions they answer.
  • Take credit. Studies show (and I’ve observed) that women tend to soft peddle their accomplishments. Instead of using phrases such as, “I negotiated a 30 percent reduction in the vendor contract,” they soften it: “We were fortunate to get a 30 percent reduction…” If you did it, take credit for it. On the other hand, when a team was involved, be careful not to sound like a glory grabber. In other words, if you lead a team effort, it could sound something like this: “I intentionally chose three influential internal customers to sit on the Steering Committee, and I also invited some powerful external customers who were skeptics. I knew if the pilot project was successful, we would need champions to get buy in across the company. Focusing this team was a challenge but in the end, the pilot was a success and they played a key role in selling it to the rest of the organization.” You can still talk about the team’s efforts but be sure to play up your role in leading it. 
  • Look the part. If you’ve let your hairstyle, eyeglasses, shoes, makeup get out of date, go to an image expert. Sometimes you can find them at fine clothing stores and they will work with you as a part of their overall service. Sometimes I meet an executive woman who does a fine job where she’s been working for the last ten years. People know her and overlook any faux pas in the style department. But if you have a frumpy look, it can make you look less assertive. Think bold colors and a tailored jacket with clean lines.
  • Hold the floor: In Deborah Tannen’s book, Talking from 9 to 5, (1994, William Morrow and Company, New York) she observed and recorded hundreds of Board meetings. She points out that women tend to speak softer and don’t hold the floor as long as men do. After the meetings, when she interviewed the participants, they often attributed a woman’s ideas or comments to someone else, largely because the woman didn’t make a strong enough impression when she was speaking. During your interview, round out your thoughts with examples and tell CAR stories to highlight your accomplishments and your style. This is not the time to be overly modest or too concise in your style.