Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Back to Business: 5 confidence-boosting tips for women returning to work

Posted August 16

Katie Dunn, Back to Business Women's Conference organizer

Editor's Note: Katie Dunn, founder of the Back to Business Women's Conference, is sharing some of her great expertise for women who are looking to get back into the workforce. She's also gearing up for the second conference, which is set for Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 in Research Triangle Park. Registration is open.

I saw this sign on a shop in St. Augustine, Fla., during spring break. Naturally, I went in. Who wouldn’t? Such confidence!

What does your sign say? Are you open and awesome? I’m willing to bet that you are, but I’m interested by the confidence gap I keep reading about and how some say that it’s preventing women from taking risks, reaching for that stretch job and speaking up enough. So how can you build up that confidence level when you may just be returning to work after a career break?  Read on for five confidence-boosting ideas that you can start practicing today.

Confidence Booster #1: Transfer Your Confidence

We all have areas of our life where we feel more confident than others. For some, work is their confidence comfort zone. For others, running the show at home is where they feel in charge. So, what if we applied the confidence we exhibit at our confidence comfort zone to our less-confident zone?

For women returning to work after a career break and struggling to regain their professional self-assurance, I’d like you to apply your confidence in your non-professional pursuits to your job search and your professional life. Here’s how: Notice your posture, body language, the volume and tone of your voice when you’re taking care of business in a place where you feel like the boss. The next time you’re heading into a professional event, a networking meeting, or an interview, recall that in-charge feeling. You are the boss.

Why does confidence matter? In “For Women to Rise, We Must Close the Confidence Gap," author Margie Warrell argues that in the context of job-searching, a less-confident woman won’t apply for certain jobs if she doesn’t feel fully qualified.

You’ve probably all heard the statistic from a Hewlett-Packard internal report that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women will only apply if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Over the many years of a career, the cumulative effect of consistently not reaching for the next job or applying for one you have the potential to do can add up to tremendous missed opportunities, lower salary and fewer promotions.

Confidence Booster #2: Just Act!

The Atlantic Magazine cites perfectionism as “another confidence killer” in “The Confidence Gap” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. “Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified. In order to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”

Margie Warrell had some of my favorite advice on the topic of exhibiting more confidence: “After working with thousands of women across diverse professions and cultural background, I’ve learned that nothing builds confidence in any arena more than stepping right into the middle of it … palms sweating, stomach knotted, beside the guys … despite the chorus of doubts urging you to play it safe in the stands. The only way to build confidence and courage is by acting with it.”  This is a modern-day echo of the famous Eleanor Roosevelt advice to “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Confidence Booster #3: Pay Attention to the Words You Use

Your word choice can be a powerful signal of your confidence level. Be cognizant that you’re presenting ideas in a way that is not apologetic or timid. Don’t fear disagreement – a healthy exchange of differing opinions and ideas can be an amazing way to reach a good outcome. But, if you’re afraid to speak up and present your opinion or ideas, this exchange won’t ever happen.

Confidence Booster #4: Visualize Success

A technique often taught to sales professionals that you can use to build your confidence is to visualize a successful outcome. This takes goal-setting an important step farther, as you actually spend a few minutes imaging what success looks like for you in the situation you are faced with. If you’re entering a job interview, visualizing success means imagining yourself getting the call from the hiring manager to welcome you to the team and offer you that job. It’s a pretty powerful technique and one I urge you try the next time you’re faced with a situation that challenges your sense of confidence.

Confidence Booster #5: Remember Your Victories

Ever heard of an “Attagirl File?” It’s a file, either physical or electronic, where you keep confidence-boosting accolades, thank you notes, awards, and anything that you’ve received that points out a job well-done or makes you feel positive about an action you took. I call mine “Wins.”  If you don’t have one, start one today and refer to it whenever you need a reminder of how awesome you are.  It’s also handy when you go to update your resume or have a performance review.

A few months ago I was invited to lead the discussion on Women Returning to Work at an MBA Women’s Leadership Conference. My first thought was “Who, me?” But then I realized that I live this stuff, read about it constantly, write about it weekly, obsess about it and talk about it with everyone I meet. I’m the expert! Yeah, me.

So when you see a job that you want, roll up your sleeves and apply, find a connection at the company to put in a good word for you and visualize yourself getting the job after wowing them in the interview. Be open and awesome!  Yeah, you!

Dunn, a Cary mom of four, has more tips on her Back to Business website and through the conference's LinkedIn page. Her Return to Work Checklist also is helpful to women who are just starting to relaunch their career.

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