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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome when Searching for a New Role

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Most job seekers are aware that employers across multiple industries are desperately looking for skilled staff to join their ranks.

While recruitment power may lie in the hands of candidates, there is one insidious self-destructive mindset that can scupper any job application, even when the chance of getting the job is high - imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a sneaking, creeping sense of hyper self-awareness that, rather unfortunately, most people can relate to. And while much HR attention and recruitment strategy has been focused for the last couple of years on adjusting to hybrid work, mental health support amid a crisis and how to battle against the rising tide of resignations from legacy industries, imposter syndrome has quietly and subtly continued to bore holes in workers’ confidence, undermining job mobility, and crushing talent dreams.

Can imposter syndrome be fixed?

Or, if it isn’t something that has a tangible cure, is there a way to mitigate the worst effects of imposter syndrome so employees can approach career planning and skills development from a position of positivity and self-belief?

What is imposter syndrome?

Impostor syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context”. The causes of imposter syndrome are myriad, but in the main, they are caused by “early family dynamics and gender stereotypes”, however, this is subject to debate. What is mostly agreed on however is that imposter syndrome is more present during periods of transition. This is exactly why imposter syndrome is so prevalent during job interviewing and career changes.

Are there different types of imposter syndrome?

Yes, there are. According to Very Well Mind, there are 5 different types of imposter syndrome:

  • The Superhero - who overworks themselves for fear of failure or to make up for feeling inadequate.
  • The Natural Genius - sets high goals, and feels crushed when they don’t meet them.
  • The Expert - constantly learning more and more because they never feel satisfied.
  • The Perfectionist - never happy with completed work, constantly tinkers and edits.
  • The Soloist - prefers to work alone and never asks for help.

How does imposter syndrome manifest?

As the above 5 points indicate, there are many different ways imposter syndrome manifests, from self-destructive tinkering of completed work to self-created burnout. But generally, it manifests as:

  • Berating your own performance.
  • Self-sabotaging behaviours.
  • Fear of not meeting expectations.
  • And an inability to assess your own skills and reliability.

When considering a career move or changing jobs, however, imposter syndrome will manifest in other particular ways - either through fear of application, and feeling inadequate in applying for a role, or excessive changing and tinkering with a CV, for example, which overcomplicates the application and actually does more harm than good.

Does imposter syndrome affect everyone the same?

Studies indicate that imposter syndrome affects high achievers more than others. However, what cannot be ignored is that there are many cultural and socio-economic impacts on a professional’s sense of self, and their sense of belonging which can impact the feeling of being a fraud. In regards to moving jobs, that feeling of not being appropriate or having enough skills for the role can manifest in other, particularly exclusionary ways that wouldn’t traditionally be caused by imposter syndrome, but which can exacerbate feelings of it, such as: not feeling culturally accepted within a workplace, or not feeling like an applicant’s heritage, sex, age, weight, religion or sexual preferences will be accepted or seen. So, there is a crossover between imposter syndrome and employment and recruitment biases.

How can you make sure a job application does not fall foul of imposter syndrome?

A bit of preparation goes a long way, so learning about how imposter syndrome will impact the two most important parts of a job application - the CV, and the interview - is a good start.

The CV

  • Keep the structure of your CV simple, keep the language active, and remove any sense or semblance of self-doubt from the text.
  • CVs are meant to be documents where you highlight the very best in your career to date. It’s a chance to tell your story, on your terms, and to highlight the wins.
  • If in doubt, CV writing services and hands-on recruiters will support you in crafting the perfect CV and help you visualise your career as a series of developmental stages that lead you to this next job.

The Interview

The interview is a slightly more complex but no less decisive stage on your journey into a new job. Imposter syndrome in an interview may rear its head if you’re asked targeted questions about your skills, your experience, your career, your qualifications or your ability to work with others.

The best advice we could give is the following:

  1. Practice makes perfect! Practice answers to the most common questions, and prepare yourself to answer the really hard ones that want you to show self-doubt, such as “tell us a time where you faced a particularly hard challenge”, or “what’s your biggest weakness”.
  2. Remove “filler” words from your vocabulary. This means words like “um” and “ahh” - those words that you use to fill gaps in sentences while you organise thoughts. Filler words show hesitancy, and doubt, and come across as negative when talking about your career or qualifications.
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