Apply for jobs like a Privileged White Man in these five easy steps
Hi, I’m Sarah. I have ten years of professional experience in tech, education and entertainment.
You wouldn’t know it, though, from the way I used to talk about myself. Compare this to a description of my own career I wrote nine months ago:
I am relatively new to the tech industry. I have an interest in a variety of community management techniques, and I used to be a stand-up comedian. I seek to achieve data-driven approaches in my work.
I was 32 years old, talking about myself as if I had graduated from college yesterday. How did this happen? It’s like watching a masterclass on how to undersell yourself.
When I wrote that, I was applying for a mid-senior level position at a market-leading tech company, to manage a department of five people. I got that job, somehow. But when I look back at how I was thinking of myself at the time that they hired me, I am frankly surprised. If they had listened to what I said about myself instead of hiring me based on my experience, I would have barely taken myself on for an unpaid internship.
So, the question begs, how was I ready for so much responsibility, and had so little respect for myself? And how did I possibly recover from a lifetime of social conditioning telling me to be timid as a fucking rabbit?
Well, I have the answer. Recently, I have undergone what I will refer to as Privileged White Man therapy. That is, over the course of the last year, at every point of professional uncertainty, I found and consulted with a Privileged White Man (from here on, PWM) in my community to ask what they would do in the same situation.
I can tell you. The results were astounding. Below are a list of things that PWM do that you can do also.
Warning: these behaviors will lead you to be paid more money and be taken more seriously.
Apply to jobs you don’t think you’re qualified for
Did you know that you can apply for jobs that you are not completely qualified for? It had never even occurred to me.
While job searching, I came across job descriptions requiring 5+ years of related experience.
I had been working for a decade, but I hopped around a few different industries, so I’ve had a non-traditional career track. When I read those job specs, I assumed that I had to have, at a minimum, exactly the number of years requested in that particular field. I also completely disregarded all of my previous experience in other fields, as if I had just entered the workforce over and over and over again, instead of having accumulated a variety of transferable experiences.
When looking for jobs I could apply to, I consulted a PWM. He advised me that you do not need direct experience for every single point on the application. You just need the ability to do the job well.
Think about that. Confident people never read a job specification and think to themselves, “I need to make sure I can prove I can do this job.”
Instead, they simply think to themselves, “I could do that job.” And then they go for it.
They are also more likely to read a job description and estimate what they can learn on the job. They see it as a learning challenge, and assume that once the responsibility has been handed to them, that they will grow into the role.
Forbes released an analysis on application gaps showing that, on average, men are more likely to apply for jobs even if they do not meet all of the criteria. The article explained: “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.”
This article from Quartz also makes the great point, “Job ads are mostly nonsense… They describe an ideal candidate who the company doesn’t actually expect to find. In fact, if you perfectly match a job, you’re likely a bit overqualified.”
As a women going through job descriptions, after a while I realized I was selecting myself out of good jobs from the start by undervaluing my experience, and especially my transferable skills.
I have changed that now. I look at my experience more holistically, and I read more job descriptions and say, “You know what? I could do this job. I’m putting in an application.”
Confidently ask friends, acquaintances and strangers for introductions
Your application is much more likely to be recognized at a company if a current employee (or a personal contact of someone that works there) passes your resume and cover letter along.
It is for this reason you will do yourself a great service by asking for introductions and recommendations if you have a contact within.
This is where ‘networking’ comes in. Lots of people believe that they are ‘bad at networking’, but according to this article at Time, “Researchers say that being referred by someone at the company boosts your chance of successfully landing a job as high as nearly 7%.”
Imagine if you put 100 resumes in and you get seven more job offers than you would have otherwise. Does reaching out to people who might be able to help you sound like too much work now?
When looking for someone to refer you, make a list of the jobs you would like to apply to and place the ones where you have a personal connection, or you know someone who has a personal connection, at the very top.
Reach out to the people that you know, to ask if they could make an introduction for you. You can use social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook to see how close people are to other people working in relevant companies.
If you’re not sure how to ask someone for this favor, here is a sample message:
“Hello! I hope you’re well. I’m interested in applying to a position at [ company ] and I was wondering if you could introduce me to [ person ] who works there? I’m happy to provide a short summary of my professional history if it helps you to make the introduction.”
If someone doesn’t offer to assist you, thank them anyway and move on to someone else.
You can also try reaching out to current employees at the company, even if they are strangers. You can choose someone in the relevant department and introduce yourself.
“Hi [ name ]! My name is [ X ] and I am a [ professional title ]. I see that there is an opening in your [ department/company ] and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about what it’s like to work at [ company ] to learn more as I prepare my application?”
You might not always hear back from people, but if you are presenting yourself professionally [i.e., not badgering people, being genuine about your intentions, and personalizing your message to that person], you never know who might take you up on a cup of coffee.
On the whole, you will find that people want to help you. Lots of companies offer kickbacks to employees who recommend successful hires, which means that people might have a strong incentive to refer you. Other people are just nice and are happy for the opportunity to give someone a leg up. Act optimistically and reach out to people whenever you can.
Remember your past as a series of valuable lessons
We already know that PWM are more likely to put themselves in positions where they are not certain they are qualified. They trust themselves to learn what they need to learn on the job, and rise to the occasion.
They also make mistakes. After all, they are newer at the jobs they are performing. But the difference in how you interpret your experiences can make a huge difference going forward.
Do you remember something you did where things went pretty wrong? Do you ever beat yourself up about it? PWM view mistakes they’ve made as valuable experience.
Women, on the other hand, tend to see mistakes as negative experiences. If we are put into a new situation and we do not perform well from the start, we develop what has been coined as “impostor syndrome”. We fear that our endemic lack of expertise is about to be called out, and that we will be criticized, attacked, or targeted. The very act of learning can lead us to feel less confident, despite the fact we already know so much more.
Men tend to know that they will be less than great at the beginning of a job, but they have confidence in how well they will perform once they figure things out.
Less confident people tend to repeat to themselves what they have done wrong, not what they could do better next time.
If you have had negative experiences at work, take the time you need to process the difficult emotions, and prepare yourself to confidently move forward. The past is the past, and you know what you can do to improve your performance in the future.
Write down the lessons that you’ve learned to help assure yourself. Preparing these learning statements for job interviews can help you answer questions about resume gaps, and it will help you enter into interviews with less fear of being asked about them, since you are prepared with a positive, forward-thinking response.
Interviewers can appreciate an honest narrative about lessons learned, and it signals to them that you are responsible, self-aware, and focused on improvement. What seemed like an negative experience can be leveraged as a plus.
Ask for more money than you feel comfortable
I was lucky enough to learn last year that I am worth a lot more money than I thought.
When I was applying for my last position and the question of salary expectation came up in an onsite interview, I let them know I was not ready to provide an expectation for them yet, that I needed some time to think about it. They said OK.
I went home and immediately contacted my PWM friend, to ask him what he would do in the salary negotiation. I was in the lucky position of applying for a job when I already had one, so I had a little more leverage than I was used to.
He asked, “Do you need the job?” I said, “No.”
He said, “Cool. Double your salary and see what they do.”
The position was a step up for me, so I was planning to ask for approximately 1.4x what I was earning previously. I wanted to give them a number that was “reasonable”, that wasn’t too high, that wouldn’t “put me out of the running”.
The very idea that I would ask for 2x my previous salary felt outside the realm of reality. It completely blew my mind, but that’s what he suggested.
Against every feeling in my body, I took his advice. I asked for double what I was earning in my current position. I was desperately afraid that they would turn to seek another candidate immediately. I was afraid that they would think that I was crazy, and end the application process altogether.
You know what? It turns out that no one else was in line for that job. The number I asked for? They gave it to me.
Had I not asked my PWM friend, I would have suggested a salary at least $20,000 less than what they awarded me.
If they want you and they are ready to make the offer, don’t be shy.
Instead of thinking “How much could I reasonably ask for?”, ask yourself, “I wonder how high they’ll go.”
PWM do this all the time. It’s one of the major reasons (if not the sole reason, actually) their base salary is higher than yours.
That particular time, I was in a the special position of applying for a job while I already had one. Had I been unemployed at the time, I may have behaved differently. If you are not ready and willing to take what feels like a risk, then at a very minimum check on Glassdoor and LinkedIn what the salary expectation is for that job title in your location, and do not accept a salary below the market rate for any reason. When asked for your salary expectations, you should feel very safe asking for the Glassdoor/LinkedIn average, plus another 5–20%. This gives them space to make a counteroffer, bringing it back down to the average — not below it.
Your greatest opportunity to negotiate your salary is when you are accepting an offer. Take your chance. If they are making that offer to you, it’s because they want you for that job, and it took time to find you.
They are expecting you to ask for more. See how much you can get from them, and see what they do. Use your chance or regret it later. Even if you don’t get anything more, you will sleep better at night knowing that you asked.
Negotiate your title
As a last note to your negotiation round — if they can’t increase your pay (or even if they can), ask for a better job title.
The simple reason is this: you are setting yourself up for your next job at a future company, with better pay.
If the job title is Specialist, ask to be a Lead. If it’s a Lead, ask to be the Manager. If it’s Manager, ask to be the Head. Give yourself a promotion walking in the door. Statistically, you are setting yourself up for pay increases for the rest of your career.
If they want you, they want you. PWM know there’s no harm in asking once an offer has already been extended. The worst they can do is say no.
Privileged White Men can be very nice people. I highly recommend keeping at least one or two around. They have been educated how to navigate the professional world in ways that I personally know I was not. They have the VIP pass, so ask them what it’s like backstage and how they got there.
When you are selecting your helpful Privileged White Man for your career therapy sessions, I highly recommend selecting a Woke one. They are harder to find, but it will make the conversation easier. If you do not have a Woke PWM handy, you can still ask a less woke one about their experiences. They will love to tell you about the time they had no idea what they were doing and things worked out great. You can still learn from them.
Remember, privilege is something someone can be born into, but it is also associated with a series of habits that can be made one’s own. You too can network and negotiate your way into great jobs at good companies, commanding better salaries along the way. Enjoy these tips, and good luck!