Is the term ‘imposter syndrome’ one of those buzzwords that crops up in recruitment and job-seeking advice articles or is there more to it than that?
Research suggests that it goes somewhat deeper than a simple lack of confidence or self-doubt. It’s more of an inability to clearly assess your skills and work experience. For some people, it can often feel they are ‘faking it’ in some aspects of their lives, be it work or even personal.
According to a 2011 study, around 25 to 30 per cent of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome. And around 70 per cent of adults may experience it at least once in their lifetime, research suggests. (Alexander, Sakulku, 2011)
Situations Where Imposter Syndrome Could Arise
When looking for new work, could you experience feelings that prevent you from applying for positions despite being well-qualified? As an employability service, our Employment Advisors encounter people every day who are at a specific juncture in their lives where imposter syndrome can strike; job seeking. We spoke to some of our Employment Advisors to find out if this was something they had encountered and to see what advice they had.
One of our Employment Advisors, Hanifa Hamadache believes that big transitions such as looking for work post-college can leave job seekers feeling unprepared and unable to accurately assess their skills.
“One of my clients was looking for a taste of office life when she finished her four-year degree, something that could give her administration experience. She strongly felt that she needed to complete an ECDL before she could even think about applying for jobs,” Hanifa said.
“Although it wouldn’t have been a problem for her to do this training, I could tell when I spoke with her that she had been using a computer at college for research, typing, presentations, different software programmes and essays. Now my client is in full-time employment in a job that combines admin with an early childhood role. She didn’t have to do the ECDL, she just needed to chat with someone who could help her see that she already had those capabilities.”
Inability to Assess Your Skills Clearly
With imposter syndrome, your competence is probably high but your confidence in your abilities might be low. Our Employment Advisor in Drogheda, Aileen Critchley says she encounters this phenomenon a lot, particularly with parents who have been away from the workforce for a while.
“I met a client who had over ten years of Business Administration experience during which time she earned several promotions,” Aileen said.
“I referred her for a course to refresh her office skills to help remind her that she still has lots to offer. We began working on building up her confidence and job searching skills with intensive one-to-one support on CVs, cover letters, elevator pitches and interview skills. Over the course of a couple of months, my client’s confidence began to soar and she successfully interviewed for a Civil Service position and has started her new role.
Impostor syndrome is significantly influenced by perfectionism. Our Employment Advisor from Mullingar, Susan Howard believes that impossibly high standards can make it difficult for people to seek assistance and can contribute to a lack of motivation and a fear of trying.
“I had one client open up to me about his extreme fear of failure and the incredibly high standards that he had always set for himself,” Susan said.
“Despite a successful managerial career, he didn’t believe in his capabilities. With a person-centred approach to confidence building, I could see my client’s attitude changing week by week. He is now interviewing for a process manager job and feels ready to go for jobs he wants.”
Our employment advisors believe it’s important for everybody seeking employment to know just how common this state of mind is. Also, many people find it difficult to assess and take stock of their achievements. They advise that these feelings of inadequacy can be helped by talking over your fears and taking steps to build up your confidence and self-efficacy.