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How to Navigate the Job-Hunting Process as a Woman Working in STEM

job application, right careerOne in five UK engineering businesses list skills shortages as their most important challenge in the coming years, and in industries such as Aviation, the lack of engineering and technical skills is even worse.

Despite the gap, the British Engineering industry has the lowest female workforce in Europe – 12%, compared to Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus at 30%.

Businesses working in STEM are increasingly recognising the importance of female talent and are actively ramping up efforts to attract more women into the field. However, with traditionally masculine working environments, overwhelmingly male workforces and an immediate career disadvantage, how can women in STEM navigate the job-hunting process?

How to Secure Your Ideal Job in STEM

Getting Through the Door

  • Network – As industries are waking up to the importance of women in STEM, relevant organisations and conferences are increasing in frequency and popularity. Attending these events will provide invaluable networking opportunities, and becoming involved with speaker or organising activities will position you as a STEM industry expert – inevitably leading to further opportunities and helping to drive your personal brand.
  • Constantly Evolve – We’ve moved beyond ‘dress for the job you want’ – tailor your skills and attributes to match the job you want. Continued personal and professional development will help you stay ahead throughout your career. Build your personal and professional skills through coaching, mentoring, online courses or formal qualifications to ensure you’re the best possible candidate in any selection process.

CV Application Stage

  • Tailor Your CV to the Job Advert – Unconscious bias is present at every stage of the recruitment process. Even if your skills, knowledge and experience match the job description, your recruiter or hiring manager will also be looking for a personality or culture ‘fit’, and both they and the role decision-maker will have been involved in writing the job ad. Use this bias to your advantage – identify the ‘masculine’-sounding words in the job advert and ensure you use the same or similar ones in your CV wherever applicable. Use words and phrases that convey your role in leading teams or projects (however small), rather than supporting, and use action-related words rather than softer, supporting phrases. Your hiring manager will want to see their image of the ideal candidate reflected back at them, so make it as easy as possible for them to match your CV to this ideal.
  • Focus on Achievements – The average recruiter or hiring manager spends 5-7 seconds reading a CV before they decide whether an applicant is worth pursuing. Focus on achievements first and foremost in your CV, to grab the attention of the reader and reinforce your ability to compete with other candidates. Be specific – what exactly did you achieve in each of your previous roles? Why were these achievements beneficial to your employers? Use statistics and data to prove the difference you made to your company or team – for example, sales or account figures, efficiency increases, reduction in errors, client satisfaction rates or exceeding project requirements.

Interview Stage

  • Stand Out – Use your personal story as a woman in STEM to evidence not only your directly relevant career experience, but also the different experiences that you have compared to men in your field, and how your responses increased your adaptability and soft skills. Showing your passion, through your natural interest in STEM and your efforts navigating obstacles you have encountered, will help you stand out amongst other interviewees.
  • Project Confidence and Capability – Often it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that makes the most impact. Confidence, body language, tone and behaviours can significantly impact interview success rates. Ask other people about the successful candidates they’ve interviewed (or think about people you’ve interviewed yourself and gone on to hire) and note down which words come up the most to describe the candidate’s interview performance. These are likely to be words associated with masculinity, competition or strength, such as ‘assertive’, ‘competent’ and ‘capable’. Record yourself practicing an interview and watch back to see whether you would describe yourself as in this way, and if not, work on improving them. Keep these in mind when interviewing, and your hiring manager will recognise your skills, knowledge, experience and ability to hit the ground running in the new role.

Jenna BeardAbout the author

Jenna Beard leads technical recruitment services at VHR Workforce Solutions and has over 14 years’ experience recruiting into STEM. VHR Workforce Solutions provides award-winning managed services solutions in 50 countries around the world.