You finally make the decision to make a career change, so you start looking for a job. You check all the usual job boards and come across a job title that sounds intriguing. As you read more of the job description, your excitement builds — you think you’re perfect for the job.
Then it happens. You see a requirement for a skill you don’t have, and the job calls for expertise in a software program you’ve only used occasionally. Your excitement now turns to disappointment, and you move on to the next job posting.
Recently, I interviewed a woman for a human resources job who was extremely qualified with excellent skills. While discussing where she would like to take her career, she mentioned that a friend asked her if she would consider a job with his company as Vice President and she said she didn’t think she was ready for the job. As she continued talking about her career direction, I stopped listening. I was stuck on the magnitude of what she had just done.
Too often, the words women use devalue their worth and can immediately categorize them as inferior, weak, unqualified and unworthy of the job being offered. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Ask a guy if he can do a specific job, and he will eagerly say yes. Ask a woman, and she’ll give any number of qualifying answers.
So let’s figure out how we can remove those qualifiers from our communication and substitute them with words and phrases that will help us to get ahead in our careers. Make room for the following in your vocabulary:
The first and most important word women can use to get ahead in their careers is “yes.” The woman in the example above should have said, “Yes, I would love to discuss how I could partner with you in human resources in your company.”
“Yes, I will apply for the job for which I am 95% qualified.”
“Yes, I believe I can do the job.”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Unless a huge case of nepotism is in play, most people do not offer opportunities to unqualified people. Therefore, when singled out for a project, to be team leader, for a promotion or a raise, anything other than an emphatic yes is unacceptable.
Obviously, if you really don’t want what’s being offered, decline politely, but don’t let the reason you say no be related to a lack of confidence in your abilities.
By not saying yes, you are automatically saying, “I’m unqualified, I’m unsure of myself, I’m not confident in my abilities, and I’m not the person for this job now (or probably ever).”
2. No Apologies
How many times do you say “I’m sorry” throughout the day?
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get back to you sooner.”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have the information you need.”
“I’m sorry, but we had to change the meeting time.”
“I’m sorry; X wasn’t available so we had to substitute Y.”
I’m going to need you to stop apologizing. Things happen, work goes on and most of what you find yourself apologizing for isn’t even your fault. Stop being apologetic, because apologizing is a sign of weakness. Save the “I’m sorry” for your family members who will actually appreciate it.
The above sentences don’t change when you remove those three little words. What you’re really trying to do by apologizing is to show a little empathy, so provide a reason rather than an apology.
3. “Let Me Research It”
Too often, we say “I don’t know” or “I can’t” as a quick way to extricate ourselves from a situation. However, these phrases close the door to future opportunity. They paint you as a person who not only is unable to do the task that was asked, but who’s unwilling to attempt to help.
If you really don’t know, offer to find out. Upon further research, you may find someone else who’s better suited for the task, or you may find there’s a really easy solution. If you can’t help because of a scheduling conflict, being out of the office or some other reason, again, offer a solution: “I’m unavailable to attend that meeting, but Sally is up to speed on this issue and can assist in my absence.”
4. There Is No Try
In the famous words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
There’s a reason we tell our children not to use the word “try” — it undermines what you’re saying and leaves room for the possibility you won’t accomplish the task at all. It’s an easy out.
Stop saying things like “I’ll take a stab at it” or “I’ll give it a go,” which raise doubt in the mind of the person asking. Instead, be confident and say, “I will have the project completed by X date.” Then DO IT!
5. “I Recommend…”
Women are already stereotyped as being the softer sex. So starting a sentence with “I feel,” “I believe” or “I think” is really not the best way to go. It qualifies what you’re saying and devalues the worth of anything that comes afterwards. “I feel” is an emotion, not a fact.
“I think we should take this course of action” is weak. Back it up with something: “Based upon the market research, we should take this course of action.”
If you find your suggestions are being ignored in meetings, you’re not being considered for special projects or you’re sabotaging yourself by not stepping up, think about the way you speak, the words you use and how you’re perceived in business.
You may find a few small changes can begin to make a big difference in your career.
Do you believe women devalue themselves at work? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
As Founder of Rework Work, Stacey is a Career Coach and talent acquisition strategist with expertise in diversity & inclusion. With so many questions coming her way each year about career change, resumes, conducting effective job searches and more, she has created e-courses on early career success as well as resume writing, which has been viewed more than 350,000 times in the past year.