Women Report Their Work Differently Than Men Do

Happy New Year.  Are you slowly getting going or are you still in the holiday mood? You just might be starting to think about what you want to accomplish this year. Here’s something to consider so your plans for success don’t get undermined this year.

Let’s say you worked really hard last year and produced remarkable results.  Your strategies increased sales by 20%.  You have an interview to be considered for a new position and a promotion.  You go into the interview prepared to discuss your work.  You discuss the numbers you’ve achieved.  Your results are better than your competition for the job. 

Considering that you had the best performance, do you think you’ll get the job?  

You just might not.

The Wall Street Journal reported a study done by professors at Columbia University Business School.  M.B.A. students were asked to recall math test performance 15 months after a test.  There was no incentive to inflate the test taker’s score since everyone was told they would get $50 if they recalled their performance with a certain degree of accuracy.  

The good news is that both men and women performed similarly on the test.  The bad news is that there was a big difference in how the scores got reported. 

What do you think happened? 

Male test-takers mistakenly inflated their scores by an average of 30.5% compared to 14.4% for the women. Yikes.  That’s quite a difference. I wonder how many hiring managers know about men and how their performance is seen so differently than it is. 

I don’t think many do.  Even worse—and I have no data to prove it—but I think women go the other direction.  They minimize their accomplishments.  

I can remember one of my job interviews where the conversation focused on my job performance.  I was the only female selling to men in engineering and maintenance departments.  My sales were strong. Talking about my accomplishments to the interviewer made me feel uncomfortable.  

I remember telling the interviewer, “I normally don’t talk about myself so much, but since this is an interview, you’ll need to know about my work.”  

I think women just aren’t comfortable talking about their accomplishments.  Why is that? Maybe because we think we’re bragging.  Talking about your work is not bragging.


I often tell my coaching clients that it’s not bragging if what you say is true.  

So what happens if you’re competing with someone who inflates what they accomplish?  That’s a real problem and you have to be prepared to neutralize it.  When you cite data, also include the source of the data.  Be precise.  Instead of saying, “It was about 20%,” say 19.8%.  Precision is heard as less inflated and more accurate.   You’ll highlight the difference between you and your inflated competitor. 

Another strategy is to get the December 5, 2011 copy of the Wall Street Journal and send a copy of “Tall Tales: Do Men Exaggerate More?” to your Human Resources department.  Tell HR that you can show them how to get better candidates for your company.  That’s no exaggeration.

Maura Schreier-Fleming is a sales strategist and founder of Best@Selling, a sales training and consulting company. She wrote Monday Morning Sales Tips and works with sales professionals who want to sell more and get more business.