Guest Blogger Valinda Lee: Finding your power in the job search process

When I was in college, my professors regularly told me that I was a good writer. I didn’t believe them; I thought they were being nice. When my English 101 teacher tried to convince me to be an English major, I figured the major must need more students.

My senior year I took a job as a teacher's assistant and one of my roles was to pre-read every paper and assign a suggested grade. As I made my way through each, it dawned on me: I am a good writer. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in minimizing my strengths.

Women consistently undervalue their worth, whether it’s in negotiations or other skills. It’s no wonder; white women make 79 cents for every dollar a white man earns, with black women earning just 65 cents and Latina women earning 55 cents.

One of the hardest parts of a job search is reconciling the things that we cannot directly control—the wage gap, the questions we’re asked in an interview—with the things we can. In my 10+ years working as a career counselor in both private practice and higher education I’ve focused my work in helping clients reconcile the two and claim their power within their search. Here are three ways to find and own your power.

1. Own your accomplishments.

Helped organize conference on marketing and development.

Assisted gathering data for end-of-year report.

Employers won’t believe that you have the skills that they want if you don’t believe it first. Delete words from your resume that minimize your accomplishments like “assisted” or “helped.” You didn’t assist with gathering data, you gathered data. To highlight the work that you did as part of a team, articulate that instead: Collaborated with outcomes team to gather data for end-of-year report.

2. Include the good stuff.

I worked with a college student who didn’t believe she had anything interesting to write about her Los Angeles mayor’s office internship. She completed typical office tasks like photocopying and sorting mail, but it became clear she was also trusted with larger responsibilities...like organizing a press conference for the mayor of Los Angeles. We laughed. Yes, include that.

When I tell clients to quantify their accomplishments, they freeze, unsure of how to add numbers to their resume if they’re not in sales. All roles have aspects that would be surprisingly complex to an uninformed observer. Can you speak to the volume of customers served, the size of a data set, the specialized training required to operate equipment? If it’s related to the job you’re applying for, don’t leave it out.

This is important when it comes to salary negotiation. Lay out the skills you’re bringing with you—the experience you have that will save time in onboarding, your certifications that your employer won’t have to pay for, etc. While your employer considered these things when extending you the initial offer it’s essential to reiterate your experience and value.

3. Don’t forget about your feet.

As a career counselor I occasionally hear unfortunate stories: interviewers making racist or sexist comments, employees repeatedly getting asked on dates by male clients, companies with leadership that lead to ethically questionable practices.

Your feet are two of your most important instruments of power. If something is unhealthy, unsafe or feels wrong, trust your gut. Let your feet take you where you need to go, if that’s away from a client who is more trouble than they’re worth, out of an interview with a supervisor you wouldn’t be able to work with, or away from a job offer that doesn’t meet your goals.

Want to share your own negotiation story? We'd love to hear it! Contact Lily at lily@askforit.co to learn more about guest blogging. 


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Valinda is Associate Director of Career Planning & Resources at Scripps College, a private, liberal arts college for women, and works with private clients on LinkedIn strategy and resume/cover letter editing via her practice, Careers with Valinda.

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.