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  • Diana Schneidman

Freelancing and consulting: Do we women underestimate our ability to do the job?

In the last few months, multiple sources have reported that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, while women apply only if they match 100%.

It appears the story comes from a Hewlett-Packard internal report and was picked up by several other sources. I saw it in the Harvard Business Review.

What I have read and heard about this finding relates specifically to full-time, “regular” jobs, but I suspect that it applies just as well to freelancing and consulting.

Here the hesitation is often a bit more general. Freelance and consulting opportunities rarely show up with a bulleted list of requirements.

Instead, we see a company online or find a person who is a likely client and then make contact with them. Since we do not have access to detailed qualifications, we simply check out a LinkedIn profile, the company website, and similar resources to determine if we appear to be a good match.

It’s easy to be intimidated by an impressive company. Perhaps it’s a pretentious mission statement where we don’t understand the jargon despite experience in that industry. Maybe it’s a giant, international firm that feels over our heads simply because of size. Maybe it is one facet of the business that we are not fully comfortable with despite extensive experience in other aspects of the work.

In our minds we are like Wayne and Garth in the Wayne’s World movie, bowing down and declaring, “I’m not worthy.”

Way premature.

What if you really aren’t qualified?

If we look into the company more deeply, we may decide we are qualified enough. It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand everything the company does, we just need to be able to carry out our single assignment.

Some of that high-sounding mission-statement stuff is incomprehensible to everyone. Type the word string into Google and you’ll soon know as much B.S. as the client does.

Occasionally you really don’t know enough. If you don’t feel sufficiently confident to jump in and learn as you go, explain to the prospect the specifics you are not familiar with but express confidence in your ability to learn. They may well decide to go ahead and work with you.

In other words, you may not need to know 100% to get the assignment. Sixty percent may be quite sufficient . . . and the competition may be even less qualified.

Clients for freelancing and consulting tend to be more flexible than those hiring full-time employees, in part because they are not looking at a long-term commitment.

Other survey findings you should know about

The Hewlett Packard findings are much richer than the widely publicized explanation implies. The research shows that the most common reason that both men and women do not apply for a job is that they do not believe they would be hired since they don’t meet all the qualifications and they do not want to waste their time.

Further interpretation of results suggests that women have different conceptions of how the job market functions due to different experiences throughout their schooling and their careers. Women are more prevented from applying by their lack of understanding about how networking and the creative pursuit of jobs can succeed despite not having all the on-paper qualifications.

Second, women are more socialized throughout their lives to play by the rules, which puts them at a disadvantage when they outgrow their childhood role of teacher’s pet.

Third, women have traditionally experienced gender discrimination; they have had to be more fully qualified, with more credentials, to compete for the same jobs as men.

This fuller picture helps us appreciate where women are coming from rather than beating ourselves up for our naivety. In addition, remember that the findings pertain to “real jobs,” not to self-employment.

So let’s go forth with courage. The risk is minimal, the potential rewards are substantial.

Originally posted 1-20-15

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