Imposter Syndrome and the Job Interview: Tips for Women

by Sharon Elber

Imposter Syndrome Job Interview

Have you worried that your colleagues suspect you are a fraud? Maybe you have turned down additional responsibilities at work out of the fear that you might make mistakes and be perceived as incompetent? Does the thought of the interview for that dream job give you a paralyzing fear that you will be seen as a faker for even trying to get it? If this pattern sounds familiar, you may be experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a term that was developed by clinical psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. However, it is important to keep in mind that Imposter Syndrome is not a mental illness. In fact, it is surprisingly common, even among highly successful people.

Both men and women experience Imposter Syndrome, particularly under the pressure of being evaluated in a job interview. However, gender gaps in perceived versus measured performance are well documented, with women regularly underestimating their actual performance.

Women are often taught in subtle ways that we are constantly being evaluated. Whether it is the way we look, the clothes we wear, or the tone that we use in conversation, many women have learned to be constantly vigilant about the judgement of others. It can easily become a habit to entertain an inner monologue that is self-defeating and riddled with self-doubt.

Whether or not your feelings of being a fraud are caused by Imposter Syndrome, the following tips can help you prepare for and shine in your next job interview.

Preparation: Techniques for Reprogramming the Habit of Self-Doubt

1. Recognize That Perfection is an Impossible Goal

It may be good news to hear that suffering from Imposter Syndrome may be more about your high standards than it is about low performance. In fact, research has shown that truly incompetent people often have an inflated sense of their value.

If you persistently set your goals too high, you are setting yourself up for failure. Be intentional about breaking your work into manageable tasks and take time to focus on the accomplishment of getting things done. This behavioral technique can retrain your brain to see yourself as someone that “gets things done” rather than someone that falls short.

2. Practice Giving and Receiving Authentic Praise

People that struggle with feelings of being a fraud can combat self-doubt by practicing giving and receiving genuine praise. A great way to do this is with a trusted friend. Make it a daily habit.

When you give praise, make it sincere. This will help you hear praise from others as a deserving acknowledgement of what you bring to the table. With practice, this technique will help you internalize the fact that you have many genuine strengths.

3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are looking to grow in your professional life, the next job you take will ideally expand beyond the skillset you already have mastered. There is nothing wrong with reaching a little beyond where your current skills are. That is called career progress, and men do it all the time.

People that struggle with Imposter Syndrome may find it hard to take the risk necessary to even apply for a job that has a few new responsibilities for fear they will be perceived as unqualified. If you recognize this in yourself, then you can confront this tendency head on during your job search.

Find some fun activities that will take you out of your comfort zone a little bit. Becoming comfortable with taking reasonable risks is a function of practicing the exhilaration that risk taking can bring. It is important to focus on the positive feelings during and after the experience. Examples of getting out of your comfort zone might include indoor rock climbing, a dance class, or taking on a new role with a volunteer organization.

4. Evaluate Your Strengths and Where You Need to Grow

It is particularly important for people that grapple with Imposter Syndrome to be clear on where they stand relative to the skillsets of each job before the interview. By spending extra time on this you will be ready to face the most horrifying part of the job interview: where you need to improve.

Practicing how you will frame those areas is critical. Remember that it is perfectly reasonable to expect to learn some new skills in a job that is a strong fit for your potential. After you do some preparation, ask a friend to role play with you until you gain confidence with those kinds of questions and your answers.

A related exercise is to spend time remembering your accomplishments and preparing some stories of moments in your academic or professional life where you overcame obstacles, achieved your potential, or received awards. It can be hard for people with Imposter Syndrome to get comfortable singing their own praises. Again, take the time to practice sharing your stories with a friend for maximum effect.

Crunch time: Tips for Confronting Imposter Syndrome During the Job Interview

After you have done the prep work for confronting Imposter Syndrome, you are ready to excel under pressure. It is important to remember that no matter how much you prepare, intense feelings of being a fraud can pop up during the interview simply because of the pressure and the context of evaluation.

The most important thing to remind yourself of is that those are normal feelings. Even the people doing the interview have likely experienced them at one time or another. Realizing this can help you keep those feelings in check, and arrest self-doubt before it becomes paralyzing.

1. Internal Dialog Does Not Represent External Performance

Research has shown that people in general, and women especially, undervalue their performance in public speaking or interview settings. You may have a voice screaming in your head: “They can all see I am a complete faker!” but the people doing the interview are not going to hear it.

Interviewers expect some nerves from an applicant and they are likely to perceive some anxiety as nothing more than normal jitters. Don’t allow the normal stress of an interview to become one more reason in your head supporting a fraud narrative.

2. Be Honest and Authentic

By the time you get to the interview stage of the process, much of the decision making is entirely out of your control. You have done your preparation, and the interviewers have done theirs. All you have to do is be honest about your strengths and accomplishments.

Try to be present and focused on the people in the room and use that to redirect from any thoughts of incompetence that float across your mind. Give yourself permission to be the best version of you for the duration of the interview. There is nothing deceptive or fraudulent about showing your best side in a job interview.

3. Document Your Successes

Immediately after the interview, before processing it with friends and family, make a point to write a list of what you did well and take some time to focus on the positive aspects of the way you handled the stress of the interview.

This behavioral conditioning technique will help you to associate the job interview process with accomplishment. In addition, if you later find yourself fixating on fears that you were perceived as a fraud, you can come back to the list to redirect your thoughts to the positive parts of the experience.

4. If You Don’t Get That Job, Don’t Make it About Your Incompetence

Often employment decisions are based on a variety of factors completely out of your control. Research has shown that women are much more likely than men to internalize failure as their fault, even when it is caused by something they have no control over. This can contribute to feelings of fraudulence if you automatically assume that you did not get a job because you are incompetent or unqualified.

Factors such as extremely specific (and even arbitrary) preferences of the hiring committee, an established relationship with another applicant, personality fit for the organization or even unexamined racial or gender bias can play a part in hiring decisions. None of these are factors you can control, and none of them are directly related to your qualifications.

It would be wrong to assume that not getting a job is an automatic confirmation that you really are a fraud. Such thinking will only deepen your self-doubt. Instead, accept that although preparing and showcasing your qualifications is a necessary and central part of the job search, it is not the only factor in employment decision making.

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