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 — whether they’re just starting out or have years of experience. In fact, many reading this article may feel that way too. Why is that? 

Imposter syndrome is an all-encompassing feeling where an individual perceives they’re not qualified enough or skilled enough  to have earned their accomplishments and success; fearing that others will eventually discover they are a “fraud.” From CEOs to entry-level professionals, most professionals feel like this at some point during their career.

Even more specifically, imposter syndrome impacts different generations in distinct, unique ways. For instance, Millennials may feel that the professional options promised to them when they were children are no longer attainable; some jobs may no longer even exist. Younger generations, including Generation Z, have also grown up on social media, creating a culture of pervasive comparison, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. According to a study by LeadMD, 40% of Generation X respondents attributed their professional success to luck — pointing to a lack of confidence in their own skills and expertise. 

According to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers — meaning that the majority of individuals across all ages, backgrounds, and professional experience have doubted their skills or expertise in some manner. Have you ever experienced any of the following? If so, your negative perceptions may be impacting you more than you know.

  • Avoiding feedback or support out of fear of receiving negative feedback or criticism
  • Second-guessing decisions or questioning your own talents, despite encouragement from others on your team or within your organization
  • Overworking to prove yourself, regardless of a strong track record and recognition from management
  • Struggling to start or finish projects to avoid potential failure

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 resolve, they slowly start to panic. The shame surrounding the inability to master a task on the first try is nerve-wracking, to the point that they often judge or criticize themselves, avoiding activities they believe they may not excel in without effort. They also may hold themselves to extremely high (sometimes impossible) standards.

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 for a role unless they meet every single criterion in the posted job description. 

7 Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

If you’ve concluded that you may be experiencing self-debilitating thoughts about your professional skills and expertise, it’s important to understand that overcoming imposter syndrome is all about policing limiting thoughts. These negative, unfounded thoughts are not true, but they feel true because they’ve become part of an internal monologue that repeats over and over. To overcome these thoughts, it’s important to combat them with the truth — the truth about your skills, expertise, and accomplishments.

To help further overcome common imposter syndrome hurdles, we’ve broken down additional advice by generation: 

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 of 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, never stop learning. Not only do industries evolve quickly, but so do job qualifications. How can 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 personal statement, refer to the role’s job description for more information. 

In the example above, 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 your coursework, but also any volunteer experience, internships, and field-specific skills that can help you stand out.

Learn more about the dedicated Career Services support boot camp learners receive. 

Interviewing

Did you know there are different interview styles? Understanding the different styles and being prepared for each is key to having the best interview possible.

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 boot camp learners receive a variety of Career Services 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 to test your hard skills. In addition to practicing your answers to common questions, you’ll also want to practice demonstrating your tech skills through programming skills tests. Two technical interview tips boot camp learners receive from their Career Services team include:

  • 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 and professional contacts. According to LinkedIn, 80% of professionals believe that career success can be elevated through professional networking.

If you’re new to networking and the term itself makes you want to run, think of it as a simple conversation that can push your career forward. The first step is to leverage the social platforms you use regularly — and some you may frequent occasionally. On LinkedIn, you can join groups, connect with professionals in industries or roles you aspire to, and engage with your connections through posts and comments. Putting yourself out there will get more eyes on your profile and potentially lead to a career-moving connection. Build out your network beyond the professional networking site by looking for industry-specific groups to join and leaders to follow. You can find more tips on networking in our step-by-step guide here

When you’re ready to reach out to an individual, it’s time to draft your pitch. Develop your pitch by touching on your past, present, and future, using content from your personal statement. Make it your starting point, and then add 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 a high school advanced math educator, while also managing 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 your resume is, it’s normal to be nervous about your future career path. Remember, rejection is part of the process, but staying focused on your strengths and your wins will help you persevere until you’re hired for the role you desire. 

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