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Combating Imposter Syndrome | You Are Who You Know Yourself to Be

Dr. Waajida L. Small

Should I apply for this job?

Am I even qualified?

Will they call me back?

These are just some of the questions you may ask yourself when you start reviewing the “qualifications” section of a job listing you're excited about. Imposter syndrome creeps in and you begin to question whether or not to apply. 

In this article, I share tips for combating imposter syndrome along with ways that you can show up as a more confident, charismatic, and capable job applicant.

The imposter is not you

To combat imposter syndrome, we need to first understand what it is. A simplified definition of Imposter Syndrome is believing that you are not intelligent, competent, or successful enough, despite what you have actually achieved. When things don’t go the way you expected, you may question your worth. 

As an HR leader, I can assure you that sometimes recruiters can be so overwhelmed with the number of resumes they have to review that they don’t have the opportunity to go over them all. It has nothing to do with you not being qualified. The sad truth is that many qualified applicants get missed because of the sheer number of resumes received. Don’t let that stop you from continuing to pursue the opportunities that appeal to you and your skillset. 

Take a look at some of these strategies that can help you move past imposter syndrome.

Confidence is key

When we feel like we’ve failed, our confidence is inevitably impacted. Being mindful of this is important as feelings of failure can, at times, be the biggest culprit in giving imposter syndrome that little push it needs as it prepares to rear its ugly head.

One strategy that I have used is putting that failure into context. I ask myself what happened, how did it happen, what role did I actually play. I also consider what, if anything, could I change to achieve a different outcome? When we put what we perceive as our failure into context, we can begin to confront our fears. 

To help us do this, Idealist offers suggestions on how to face our fear of failure and come out on top.

  1. Ask yourself why you are afraid to fail. Understanding the negative emotions that accompany failure is the first step in moving past your fears and boosting confidence.
  2. Confront your failures. Don’t be ashamed of your failure. See it for what it is, the impact that it had, and if there are any lessons to be learned. Knowing why a particular outcome occurred allows you to understand where missteps may have happened and gives you the confidence to make a different decision the next time.
  3. Reframe your failure. Feeling like you have failed doesn’t mean that you actually did. Remove your feelings from the situation, identify the facts, and take the necessary steps toward becoming more confident.
  4. Recover. Sometimes, failure happens. When it does, take the time you need to understand it and then take steps to recover. Using the five W’s method is sure to work. Identify the “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, and “Why” of the failure.
  5. Put yourself first. Be present and take control! Don’t let false insecurities break your confidence.

The cold hard facts

The thing to remember is, you don’t need to check all the boxes to be seen as qualified for the job.

Position descriptions are often a summary of what an “ideal” candidate may be. The first thing to consider is that “ideal” is relative to the person creating the job description. Second, no person is perfect, and no job is perfect either. Finding synergy between the role and the person in that role is what is critical for success.

In closing, I offer you some suggestions from Idealist, all of which I support as a career HR practitioner.

  • Don’t view qualifications as a hiring manager’s checklist, view them as a hiring manager’s wish list. 
  • Identify what is an absolute must (required) and what is nice to have (preferred). 
  • See where your experience is relative to the minimum. If you are within an acceptable range of the minimum in one area, this may be negotiable if you exceed the minimum in another.
  • Include a cover letter; they matter! A thoughtful cover letter goes a long way in helping the reader get to know you and why you are interested in a particular role.
  • Do not discount your nonprofessional work experience (service and volunteer roles). It not only shows that you care about community, it can showcase skills that many not be obvious from your work experience.

You know who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you are capable of. It is inevitable that the imposter will show up every now and again. The key is to not let them in the driver seat. Take the time to assess, process, and make a plan to move forward.

Dr. Waajida L. Small

Dr. Waajida L. Small is a human resources executive who has worked in the public and non-profit sectors for over 15 years. She is a certified leadership and executive coach, human capital strategist and certified purpose leader. Dr. Small is the author of "Our Leadership Journey: Shared Stories, Lessons and Advice for Women of Color", a book for women of color on the rise into positions of leadership and influence in their organizations, industries and communities.

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