Be Nice. Be Called Tough.

Act nice, but hope others call you tough. That’s how to get ahead at work.

Sure is complicated getting hired. Two recently released studies show just how narrow a line women must walk to get ahead at work: be nice to others day to day, but make sure your professional references describe you as an assertive achiever. That takes some tip-toeing.  And…I think it can be done. But first, let’s recap the research.

Daffodils are sometimes $2 a bunch in downtown Chicago, where I live. So occasionally I bring in a few bunches for colleagues.  I get a lot of goodwill for $2. (Makes the office look cheery, too.)  Can I buy  off any of my colleagues for $2? No.  Does that small kindness incline them to give me the benefit of the doubt  if my credibility is challenged by someone? In fact, yes: somebody commented so the other day. (Then, she gave me a little bouquet for my own office. Really.)

Researchers at Niagra University found in a study titled “Influence and Promotability: Importance of Female Political Skill,” that women gain politically at work when they are “ingratiating.”  Distributing $2 bunches of daffodils was openly ingratiating; my colleagues loved it. The practical implications, as reported in the Business Journal of Youngstown, Ohio, is that women who are adept at building workplace networks through small favors  have hit on a winning formula for advancing their reputations.

Nice stops where references begin.   A different set of researchers found that women described in traditional gender terms (caring, supportive, etc.)  by professional references  were less likely to get hired, even when they were equally as qualified as male candidates. Men are more likely to be described with active verbs like “confident” and “independent.” That’s what employers want in a new hire, not somebody who’s going to bring them bargain daffodils.

If you want to help your friend land a job,  pump up your reference with examples of how she got the job done, hit targets, and led with confidence and imagination.  Then, once she has moved into her new office, send her flowers.  Just to be nice.  

Image courtesy  of Morguefile contributor starblue.

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