Understanding and Combating Imposter Syndrome: Tips from Career Services

Believe it or not, thousands of established professionals believe they’re not truly qualified for the role they hold — even with years of experience. Why is that? 

Imposter syndrome is an all-encompassing feeling where an individual feels like they’re not good enough, not qualified enough, or not skilled enough for the accomplishments they’ve had so far, believing that others will eventually discover the “fraud” of their success. From CEOs to entry-level professionals, at one point or another, almost everyone feels like they may not be good enough.

According to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Have you ever experienced any of the following? If so, your negative perceptions about your own work ethic and worth may be impacting you more than you know.

  • Avoiding feedback or support
  • Second-guessing decisions
  • Overworking to prove yourself
  • Struggling to start or finish projects

Christine O’Halloran, Curriculum Engineer for the Career Services team from Trilogy Education Services, a 2U, Inc. brand, discussed this psychological phenomenon in-depth, offering  useful tips to help those struggling with impostor syndrome and real-world examples to keep in mind while on the job search.

Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

1. The Perfectionist

People who experience this type of imposter syndrome tend to have excessively high goals. They spend a significant amount of time ruminating over any small mistake they’ve potentially made, holding numerous internal (and often negative) dialogues with themselves. As such, they can be labeled as “control freaks” and have trouble delegating work to others.

2. The Superwoman/man

To cover up their false insecurities, the person who experiences this type of imposter syndrome pushes themselves to work harder than others. Despite having landed a professional role and holding several different skill sets, they still feel insufficient. These individuals obtain validation from working and you can usually find them staying late at the office.  

3. The Natural Genius

These individuals are used to excelling without effort. As such, when they face a new challenge that they can not immediately surpass, they slowly start to panic. The shame around not being able to master a task on the first try is nerve-wracking, to the point where they hold themselves to extremely high (sometimes impossible) standards. They often judge or criticize themselves, avoiding activities they believe they may not excel at without effort.

4. The Soloist

The common refrain you hear from individuals experiencing this type of imposter syndrome? “I’m fine on my own.” Just as the name implies, these people believe they can do everything by themselves and reject others’ help. These individuals value their independence to a level that can be detrimental, feeling shame in asking for support even when they truly need it. 

5. The Expert

This type of imposter syndrome centers around knowledge, specifically how much an individual knows. These people typically work hard to attain various degrees or certifications believing they’re not good enough in their current field. When it comes to applying for a job, they will not apply to a role unless they meet all the criteria in the posting. 

7 Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you may be experiencing self-debilitating thoughts about your professional worth, you need to understand that overcoming imposter syndrome is all about policing your own limiting beliefs. It’s simply a lie you’ve come up with and re-told yourself — and one that you need to erase.

Focus on your strengths and use these strategies in moments of doubt: 

  1. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
  2. Open up to people you trust
  3. Focus on the facts
  4. Acknowledge how far you’ve come
  5. Embrace that feeling like an “outsider” may be normal
  6. Utilize feedback in development
  7. Know that you are enough

Career-Related Examples of Imposter Syndrome

The job search can be a difficult and competitive process, but you shouldn’t count yourself out just because you encounter a few hurdles. You may have heard this before, but a large part of the experience is actually faking it until you make it. There are no perfect candidates, so in order to build confidence, you should focus on mindset work and skill building.

As a tech enthusiast and someone who has successfully completed a boot camp, you should never stop learning. Not only do industries evolve quickly, but so do job qualifications. How should you properly relay your story when it comes time to apply? Let’s take a look at a few strategies and real-world examples:

Personal Statement 

This short and compelling statement is usually found at the top of a resume. In about 15 words or less, your personal statement is your unique selling point that highlights your relevant skills, experience, and overall qualifications. Here’s an example from a learner who completed a recent boot camp:

“Business analyst with a background in mathematics and newly acquired skills in Excel, VBA, Python, and SQL from [a university-backed boot camp]. Insatiable intellectual curiosity and ability to mine hidden gems located within large sets of structured, semi-structured, and raw data. Enjoys leveraging background and skill set to support detailed and efficient analysis.”

By succinctly communicating your value at the top of your resume, you can prompt an employer or recruiter to instantly want to learn more about you. If you’re unsure about what to include in your brand statement, you should refer to the job description for the role you’re looking at. 

In the above example, we can determine that the candidate tailored their statement to complement the data role they’re applying for (i.e. listing out in-demand skills and tools like SQL, Python, efficient analysis) By emphasizing these transferable skills, you can set yourself up for success. 

Resume

Your resume should include several detailed project entries as well as result-driven language. Boot camp learners have the advantage of including completed projects in their resume where they’ve demonstrated industry-relevant skills. 

What about if you’re a career switcher and don’t have specific professional experience at the time you’re applying for new roles? This is your chance to think about not only the coursework you’ve worked on but also volunteer experience, internships, and field-specific skills that you believe can help you stand out.

Learn more about the dedicated Career Services support we provide learners. 

Interviewing

Did you know there are different interview styles? It’s important to stay prepared and plan out what you would say or do in many types of situations.

Behavioral interviewing centers around the old adage of “past performance determines future behavior.” During a behavioral interview, employers ask candidates questions that are specific to scenarios they’ve encountered in past roles. Instead of crafting hypothetical scenarios, interviewers focus on gathering insight about your professional behavior and use this to gauge whether you’re a good fit for the job.

One way you can prepare for a behavioral interview is by writing out answers to potential questions in a document beforehand. Practice telling your story and highlighting your skills. Our Career Services offer several means of support when it comes to behavioral interviewing strategies, including:

  • Behavioral and field-specific interview workshops
  • 1:1 practice mock interviews with a Career Coach
  • Access to interview resources tailored by industry

On the other hand, technical interviews are designed around testing your hard skills. Not only should you take the time to practice your answers to common questions, but you should also practice your abilities through programming skills tests. Our Career Services team recommends the following two tips when it comes to technical interviews:

  • Practice problems on popular sites like HackerRank
  • Attend a “Tackling the Technical Interview” workshop

Networking

Your technical abilities and interview skills are crucial to your career success, but it’s just as important to have an active network of personal or professional contacts. According to LinkedIn, 80% of professionals believe that career success can be elevated through professional networking.

Our professional development team suggests developing and practicing your pitch by touching on your past, present, and future. How? Recycle content from your brand statement by making it your starting point and adding in more complete sentences to tell your story. For example: 

PAST: “I’m a business analyst with a background in mathematics. I spent the past five years working as an educator of advanced math to high school students, and I also managed all the data for our department.”

PRESENT: “I recently earned a certification in data visualization from [boot camp] which helped me hone skills in Excel, Python, and SQL.”

FUTURE: “Now, I’m looking forward to using my background and skills to transition into analyzing data full-time.” 

If you don’t have prior experience related to the role you’re applying for, you can include the passion or motivation you have and explain how it led to your current interest in the field. You should aim to finish your pitch with a future outlook, answering these types of common questions, “Why are you here today?”, “Why did you choose to pursue this certificate/program/course?”, and “What are your hopes for the future?”

Embrace the Journey

The job search will look different for everyone, but everyone experiences imposter syndrome at some point along the way. No matter how many companies reach out to you or how great you believe your resume is, it’s normal to be nervous about the future of your career path. Remember, rejection is part of the process, so stay focused on yourself and your wins. 

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