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Navigating the Job Market with Imposter Syndrome

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This article is part of a series exploring job-hunting in the pandemic and the difficulties that face young people in particular. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect Backbench’s stance as a whole. To find out more about the campaign and how you can contribute, click here.

We’ve all experienced career setbacks, or times when we’ve felt like the least qualified person in the room. This has been amplified this year, when COVID-19 has thrown everything up in the air. But if these negative feelings are affecting your performance at work or hindering your job prospects, you could be experiencing imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the inescapable feeling that your successes are not deserved, or that you’re not qualified to do your job. If you’ve struggled with this, you’re not alone: it is estimated that 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point during their educational or professional life. 

I have struggled with imposter syndrome ever since my first day at my graduate job. Despite holding a degree, relevant work experience, and the passion and enthusiasm of a new graduate, I felt like a fraud. It was as if I’d pinned a sign to my own back that said “I don’t belong here” and I felt like every time someone walked past my desk, they would realise it too. 

At first, I attributed this to being inexperienced, having spent less time in the industry than my co-workers who knew so much more than me. I told myself that it would get better the longer I worked in the role and the more my confidence grew. But weeks, months and even years later, imposter syndrome still manages to take the shine off any professional achievements, no matter how big or small. 

My crippling imposter syndrome was something I learned to live with – a constant desk-mate. But when the pandemic hit and I was furloughed, before being made redundant, this sent me into a tailspin.

How do you apply for new jobs when you barely feel qualified for the one you were just let go from? How do you convince an employer that you deserve a chance when you’re not even sure if you do yourself?

When trying to navigate the job hunt whilst battling imposter syndrome, there are ways to quiet that critical voice in your head. With fewer jobs and increased numbers of applicants, this can send your imposter syndrome into overdrive. While learning to deal with it is not an overnight fix, hard work, dedication, and an injection of self-belief can go a long way. 

If you’re currently looking for a new job, it’s important not to get caught up in thoughts of the competition. You may not feel like the most qualified person for the job, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying your best to sell yourself to potential employers. Think about everything you’ve learned, as well as your strengths and achievements, through the lens of what would objectively impress an employer. You can’t control what others are putting in their job application, so try to put the competition out of your head and focus on making your application the best it can be.

It is also important to reflect on your qualifications and achievements: this could be anything from your degree certificate or relevant work experience, to a past promotion or even an award. Imposter syndrome often makes you doubt your own successes, but remind yourself of why you were put forward for opportunities, to reaffirm everything you’ve achieved.

If someone else had achieved what you have, would you be impressed? If so, don’t shy away from using it to sell yourself or bringing it up in an interview: you’ve earned it. 

One of the most daunting but effective ways to tackle imposter syndrome is simply talking about it, especially with colleagues. Having discussions about imposter syndrome in the workplace helps to normalise it and you’re sure to be provided with reassurance from the people who best know your professional capabilities. Plus, you never know who may also be struggling with imposter syndrome: some of the most experienced, admired members of the team may have their own experiences and coping mechanisms that could be helpful for you.

With imposter syndrome, acceptance is often the most freeing thing. You might not be the very best in the world at what you do, and that’s okay – most of us aren’t. But acknowledging that you always try your best and praising your own dedication is the first step on the path to self-acceptance. Allow yourself the space to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, and the rest will soon follow.

If all else fails, the best thing you can do is simply fake it until you make it. Not feeling confident about your cover letter? Write it like you are. Worried about an upcoming interview? Go into it pretending you already have it, and this is just a formality. Give yourself the illusion of confidence and soon enough it will start to rub off.

Imposter syndrome can take over your life and hold you back from reaching your full potential at work. Remember to be kind to yourself: it’s a terrible time to be job hunting, but the right role is out there waiting for you.

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