PowerShift Article

5 Words and Phrases Women Should Use to Get Ahead in their Career

You finally make the decision to make a change in your career so you start looking for a job. You check all the usual job boards and come across a job title that sounds intriguing. As you read more of the job description, your excitement builds because you think you are perfect for the job. Then it happens. You see a requirement for a skill you don’t have and the job calls for expertise in a software program you have only used occasionally. Your excitement now turns to disappointment and you move on to the next job posting.

Sound familiar?

I recall interviewing a woman for a human resources job who was extremely qualified with excellent skills. While discussing where she would like to take her career, she mentioned that a friend asked her if she would consider a job with his company as Vice President and she said she didn’t think she was ready for the job. As she continued talking about her career direction, I stopped listening. I was stuck on the magnitude of what she had just done.

Too often the words women use devalue their worth and can immediately categorize them as inferior, weak, unqualified and unworthy of the job being offered. Ask a guy if he can do a specific job and he will eagerly say yes. Ask a woman, and she’ll give any number of qualifying answers. So let’s figure out how we can remove those qualifiers from our communication and substitute them with words and phrases that will help us to get ahead in our careers.


The first and most important word women use to get ahead in their career is “Yes”. The woman in the example above should have said “Yes, I would love to discuss how I could partner with you in human resources in your company.”

Yes, I will apply for the job for which I am 95% qualified. Yes, I believe I can do the job. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Unless a huge case of nepotism is in play, most people do not offer opportunities to unqualified people. Therefore, when singled out for a project, to be team lead, for a promotion or a raise, anything other than an emphatic yes is unacceptable. Obviously, if you really don’t want what is being offered, decline politely, but don’t let the reason you say no be related to a lack of confidence in your abilities.

By not saying yes, you are automatically saying I am unqualified, I am unsure of myself, I am not confident in my abilities and I am not the person for this job now (and probably not ever).

No Apologies

How many times do you say, “I’m sorry” throughout the day?

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get back to you sooner.”

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have the information you need.”

“I’m sorry, but we had to change the meeting time.”

“I’m sorry, but x wasn’t available so we had to substitute y.”

I’m going to need you to stop apologizing. Things happen, work goes on, and most of what you find yourself apologizing for isn’t even your fault. Stop being apologetic because apologizing is a sign of weakness. Save the “I’m sorry” for your family members who will actually appreciate it.

The sentence doesn’t change when you remove those three little words. What you are really trying to do is show a little empathy, so provide a reason rather than an apology.

Let me research it

Too often, we say “I don’t know” or “I can’t” as a quick way to extricate ourselves from a situation. However, these phrases close the door to future opportunity. They paint you as a person who not only is unable to do the task that was asked, but are unwilling to attempt to help. If you really don’t know, offer a solution. Upon further research, you may find someone else who is better suited for the task or you may find there is a really easy solution. If you can’t because of a scheduling conflict, time out of the office or some other reason, again, offer a solution. “I’m unavailable to attend that meeting, but Sally is up to speed on this issue and can assist in my absence.”

There is no try

Yoda said, “Do or do not.   There is no try.” There’s a reason we tell our children not to use the word “try”. It undermines what you are saying and it leaves room for the possibility that you won’t accomplish the task at all. It’s an easy out.

Stop saying things like “I’ll take a stab at it” or “I’ll give it a go”, which raises doubt in the mind of the person asking. Instead, be confident and say, I will have the project completed by x date. Then DO IT!

I recommend . . .

Women are already stereotyped as being the softer sex. Therefore, starting a sentence with “I feel”, “I believe” or “I think” is really not the best way to go. It qualifies what you are saying and devalues the worth of anything that comes afterwards. “I feel” is an emotion, not a fact.

“I think we should take this course of action” is weak. Back it up with something.

“Based upon the market research, we should take this course of action.”

Or simply remove the qualifying words.

If you find your suggestions are being ignored in meetings, you are not being considered for special projects or you are sabotaging yourself by not stepping up, think about the way you speak, the words you use and how you are perceived in business. You may find a few small changes can begin to make a big difference in your career.

Stacey is the author of The Successful Interview: 99 Questions to Ask and Answer (and Some You Shouldn’t). Her writing has appeared in Forbes and she has contributed to articles in Essenceand Black MBA Magazine. She has also appeared on FoxBusiness.com. Connect with Stacey at www.myCareerIncubator.com.

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