A Myth? Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified

By Rachel Hill

You’ve probably heard the following statistic: Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of the requirements.

Indeed, I often quote this piece of evidence when talking about unconscious bias in our recruitment skills training session for leaders. When looking at self-bias affecting applications received from women. This could be affecting your recruitment pipeline and diversity mix which are crucial factors in your overall recruitment strategy.

Do Women Need More Confidence?

It’s usually invoked as evidence that women need more confidence. As one Forbes article put it, “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women dont feel confident until theyve checked off each item on the list.” The general advice: women need to have more faith in themselves.

Original Research

This all comes from an original piece of research based on a Hewitt Packard internal report and has been quoted in books such as Lean In, The Confidence Code and dozens of articles.

However, as Tara Sophia Mohr explains and has gone one step further to investigate this with some research results posted in her Harvard Business Review article.

So Is this Myth About Women Applicants True?

Well, it turns out in her HBR piece based on research with over 1000 women and men in their application practices. The main reasons for not applying are actually a little different:

  • Didn’t think they would hire me as didn’t have the qualifications and didn’t want to waste their time
  • Being respectful of the other person’s time reviewing the applications
  • Didn’t want to put myself out there in case I failed
  • Was following the process as outlined

Both men and women list the above four reasons, although higher for Women on points 3 and 4 above. Interestingly a key driver for not applying is wasting people’s time.


The main two insights I gather here, especially in the current candidate-tight marketplace are that: a) both men and women need to “have a go” more and apply, for roles even if not 100% match to role requirements. And b) it could be Recruitment guidelines e.g., that applicants MUST meet all criteria wording and phrasing, that is actually putting more women off from applying than men. Women are taught to follow the rules.

In Tara’s synopsis “What held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process”.

Further Questions

So, my questions are: Are unconscious bias and poor practices impacting your recruitment process and pipeline? And does anyone else have examples of where and why they think women don’t apply for particular positions? I’d love to know.