Expert Q&A: Career Assertiveness & Women

This week’s expert Q&A is with Grant Cooper, President of Strategic Résumés®. He comes to us today to share his expertise on a very worthy topic, the importance of career assertiveness for women in the workplace.

Before we get into gender, what exactly are you referring to when you use the phrase “career assertiveness”?

In past years, searching for a job was similar to “Farming”… in which you prepare your soil (resumes, cover letters), plant your crops (post online or respond to ads), and wait for the harvest (accept interviews and job offers). In today’s super-competitive job market, Farming is ineffective. Instead, successful job seekers now use “Hunting” techniques in which they prepare their tools (resumes, online profiles, elevator pitches, portfolios), survey the terrain (research companies, network with associates, volunteer in targeted environments), and engage the hunt without waiting for an ad (directly contact department heads & decision makers, write blogs to gain attention, use LinkedIn to search for key players to network, pitch a new job description).

This seems to be a pretty hot topic as of late. Why do you think that is?

Uncertainty is the hallmark of our current employment landscape, and job seekers are hungry for those new strategies and techniques that will help them get out of dead-end jobs, find positions following sudden layoff, and land jobs that will leverage their investment in education or pay off student loans.

How do career assertiveness strategies differ for men and women?

There is a conversion of several factors that make career assertiveness more critical for women than men in today’s economy. On one hand, you have significantly more women than men earning university degrees, fewer women sacrificing their career aspirations for their partners, along with increasing opportunities in predominantly male professions. On the other hand, you have the fact that women tend to be less self-aggrandizing than men, often downplay their accomplishments, and are statistically paid less than men for the same jobs. Although times are rapidly changing, from an early age, our culture tends to reward boys for risk-taking, self-promotion, and assertiveness, while girls are generally encouraged to blend in, praised for cooperation, and complimented for nurturing others. While the traits are very helpful in a variety of circumstances, landing a high-paying, professional position in today’s job market requires more of the assertive skills than the cooperative skills.

Why do you believe that assertive women are sometimes labeled as “aggressive,” even when their disposition or actions are on par with their male counterparts?

The actions, management style, and traits that would generally be praised in men for “leadership” and “running a tight ship” will often be perceived as “overly aggressive” or even “b*tchy” when attributed to female business or civic leaders. However, with downsizing and a competitive global economy, results are increasingly demanded, and women who get results are rewarded.

Are there certain career levels or industries that demand a different degree of career assertiveness from women? If so, please explain.

Those industries that are traditionally male dominated, such as engineering, medicine, construction, and the sciences, require that women conduct themselves in an assertive manner or risk being marginalized for promotions or key assignments.

Can you give us an example of a woman who has been successful with her assertiveness strategies?

Sarah was a client of Strategic Resumes who landed a position as an administrative staff member with a local high-tech Internet affiliate marketing firm. Soon after her hire, Sarah exhibited her leadership skills by reorganizing office procedures, creating new operational manuals, recommending improvements, and speaking up on a variety of issues at company meetings. A number of the tenured employees grumbled, some labeled her as “too bossy” and some even used the “B” word. The CEO, however, recognized her leadership skills, gave her several bonuses, terminated several negative employees (the same ones who resented her input), and later promoted her to Operations Manager with a significant salary bump. She holds this position today.

When it comes to being assertive in one’s career, what is your number one piece of advice for women?

My #1 piece of advice would be for a woman to combine her traditionally feminine skills (cooperation, team building, mentoring, coaching, and positive support) with those skills that are often identified as more masculine (assertiveness, confidence, leadership, action-oriented, decisive) in a manner that advances the objectives and goals of the organization.

What else would you like to share on this topic?

My daughter is an administrative employee at a recreational equipment manufacturing firm. Just this week, the CEO recommended her to the Board of Directors to serve as manufacturer’s representative for a new women’s line. This promotion would represent a significant increase in position and pay. The CEO stated that he had observed her work, and noticed that while she exhibited excellent client relations, she “didn’t take any guff” from problematic wholesale customers. She had taken ownership of many customer service issues, saved canceled orders, increased sales, and gained a great rapport with many key accounts, while refusing to let aggressive customers dictate terms. In this case, my daughter’s assertiveness and leadership appears to have paid dividends.

About Today’s Q&A Expert

New Orleans native Grant Cooper is President of Strategic Résumés®. Grant ranks within the top LinkedIn Résumé Writing Experts nationwide and has contracted with the U.S. Air Force, Kinko’s, the Louisiana Dept. of Labor, the City of New Orleans, NFL/NBA players & coaches, as well as universities, regional banks, celebrities, and major corporations.

He can be contacted or 504-891-7222.

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Rachel Dotson is a former digital marketing manager and former blog contributor at ZipRecruiter. She is based in Venice, California.

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