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Gendered mistakes can derail job interviews

Chris Posti
| Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

A woman recently met with me to prepare for an interview. Currently a director, Lynn wanted to have a mock interview for the vacant C-level job that manages her entire department.

As we practiced interviewing, I kept noticing reasons why she would not get the job. I also realized many of her mistakes are common among women in the workplace.

Let's forget about the glass ceiling and sex discrimination. While there is some of that going on, we women need to be honest with ourselves. If we are not getting promoted, we need to consider how we might be contributing to that.

In Lynn's case, her appearance alone was reason enough to knock her out of contention. Her business suit consisted of a polyester black blazer, a camisole edged in lace and a flowing, bright floral skirt, also polyester. Her hairdo was inappropriate for her age and position, and on top of that, it was unflattering.

Some people insist that appearance should not matter so much in the workplace. You can argue your point as much as you like, but the fact is, it matters. Whether the attire is inexpensive, too tight, shows cleavage or is not suited for one's job, if it's inappropriate, it's a distraction that detracts from the message we want to convey.

When Lynn answered the mock interview questions, she consistently provided too much tangential information or inappropriate information. Further, her answers did not demonstrate the ability to manage change or anticipate needs or trends. Having risen from the ranks, Lynn confessed she had never established a professional network outside the company, so instead of demonstrating a broad understanding of her field, her answers were narrowly focused on tasks.

She sat still, never using her body to express her points. Well, actually, she did move her head. Sometimes she tilted it to the side, making her look coquettish instead of professional.

At the end of most of her sentences, her voice went up in the dreaded “uptalk” fashion, giving the impression she was unsure of herself or her answers. Her childlike voice was soft and unnaturally high-pitched. Her word choice did not help, either. She used a lot of wishy-washy terms such as “I feel” and “I think” instead of “I'm sure” or “it's clear.”

Women more than men tend to think that “doing a good job” is enough to get them promoted. That's a fallacy. Knowing how to communicate well through words and body language, and having a strong professional network are some of the other components necessary for success.

When I gave Lynn her feedback, she was floored. She said she had in fact worked with a coach for 12 months and never gotten any of that feedback, making it my turn to be appalled. When there is a need for professional development, it can make sense to hire a coach, but if the results are not evident in a few months, either the person is not willing and able to change, or the coach is incompetent.

The next day, Lynn got a new haircut and interview outfit. She worked diligently and quickly on the other matters, too. The final decision on who will be hired or promoted remains to be seen, but she made the cut in the first round of interviews. If you have seen some of yourself in this column, will you make your changes, too?

Contact Chris Posti at,, or at 724-344-1668.

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