This blog was originally published in April 2020.
So you’ve made it through uni. You’ve worked hard. You’ve done your career research and polished your CV. Most people would agree you’re all set for a rewarding and fulfilling career.
But would you agree?
Impostor Syndrome is the constant, nagging feeling that we don’t deserve what we have achieved. It leads us to believe our accomplishments are a fluke and that, one day, the world will see through our ‘fake’ success. Most of us suffer from this to some extent. But why would they want to publish your blog post? What do you have to say that’s so important? How long before they realise you’re just not that good?
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into this trap of negative self-talk. We’re taught to value modesty and to never be ‘big-headed’ – having low self-esteem on top of that can lead us to doubt ourselves when we do well.
Impostor Syndrome was conceptualised in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. They studied a group of women whose success could be objectively quantified – they scored high in tests and were academically recognised as high-achievers. Yet the women themselves experienced feelings of ‘phoniness’ and put their success down to luck.
It affects both men and women, though gender differences have been noted. Having written eleven books and won numerous awards, Maya Angelou doubted herself every time she sat down to write. ‘I’ve run a game on everybody,’ she said, ‘and they’re going to find me out.’
I know I find that reassuring. That feeling of being ‘found out’ isn’t exclusive to me – even the most successful people struggle to accept their professional achievements. And for those who are just starting out in their careers, impostor syndrome can potentially sabotage some great opportunities. I’ve been so afraid of appearing cocky on my CV and at previous job interviews that I’ve been really tempted to sell myself short.
So how do we strike the balance?
Honesty is the best policy
Employers can only go by the strengths and experience you put forward. Have you led and motivated teams? Have you conveyed that? Be truthful about what you’ve already achieved and don’t downplay your success. Contrary to what that little voice might say, no one can ‘expose’ you as an impostor if you’re upfront about your strengths.
Success is more than just luck
Whether you’ve made it through to an interview or assessment centre, or you’ve been offered a position, don’t let your inner critic devalue your success. Remember, employers need employees, and they don’t take decision-making lightly. If you’ve received an offer, it means you have something of value – that could be relevant qualifications, demonstrable work ethic, or powerful interview technique. Ask for feedback on what you did well – it’s always good to know!
Talk to someone
We get so wrapped up in our own worries, it’s easy to convince ourselves we’re the only people feeling this way. We look at our peers and marvel at their skills, not realising that we are just as capable, or that everyone is on their own unique journey of self-improvement.
It might sound really cheesy, but talking to your peers is a great way to challenge negative feelings. They might reveal that they feel the same way about their own achievements, or reassure you that your self-doubt is unfounded. Just knowing other people are going through something similar could put your mind at ease, which in turn allows you to work to the best of your abilities.
Challenge negative beliefs
- Where’s the evidence that I’m an impostor? On closer inspection, you’ll probably realise there’s no proof at all – it’s just a feeling.
- Would I say this about my best friend? If you wouldn’t doubt another person’s success, you’re most likely holding yourself to a different standard.
- What did I do well on that application or in that interview? It’s much easier to focus on what you think you didn’t do well, and that is what fuels impostor syndrome. Try not to give in to it. There are reasons you’ve made it this far – look hard and you will find them.
I’ve been told it takes between six months and two years to get to grips with a new job. No one knows everything from the get-go, so be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You won’t come across an ‘impostor’ – rather, your initiative and willingness to learn are traits any good employer would value.