Try this one on for size: I just read an article offering six suggestions on how to improve the hiring of women for engineering positions. Suggestion #1 was based on the following statement: “…research shows [many] women tend to apply only for jobs where they meet 100% of the job requirements. This, in contrast to men, who tend to apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the [job] specifications.” This isn’t the first time I’ve read that bit of gender trivia and, I’m guessing, not the first time you have either.
The author of the article asked my opinion about his suggestions (and whether I was willing to share them) and my first thought was to comment that recommending women follow what men do is just stupid. In fact, women must be smarter than men since recruiters tend to immediately filter out anyone with less than 100% of the job description as the number of applicants for a position grows ever larger (but that’s based on my experiences and anecdotal evidence).
Then I began thinking that getting data from recruiters to confirm this gender disparity might be interesting. In a counterintuitive way, it could even suggest that women may be more successful in the hiring process than men who simply waste time applying for positions they will never begin to be considered for. And then I had another thought: “What research is this based upon?”
Uncovering a recruiting myth
A short search for the original study produced dozens and dozens of statements, all similar to the one above, but no source until I hit the most prominent reference: Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In. Her take offered a glimmer into how this ‘truth’ originated: “An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements.”
Following that discovery, I came across the best result I could hope for — a blog by Curt Rice in the UK Edition of the Huffington Post: “How McKinsey’s Story Became Sheryl Sandberg’s Statistic.” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one trying to find a source for this gender differentiation. Mr. Rice tracked the Lean In citation back to an article in a McKinsey Quarterly. Once he accessed the article, he found it stated essentially the same thing Sheryl noted in Lean In, almost word for word, without any further reference to where, when, who etc. No one at McKinsey was willing to offer any further help and without a direct connection into HP at the [unknown] time of the supposed internal study, the Huffington Post blogger concluded that at best the research was more likely an off-the-cuff anecdote.
Do women and men approach the job search differently or is this unresearched statement merely a recruiting myth?
(I am now sending the link to this post to everyone I’ve ever known at HP to see if they ever heard of or participated in this internal research. Feel free to do the same.)