Do You Have Imposter Syndrome or Did You Oversell Yourself?

by Brian Skory

For a while now, I’ve been hearing more about the topic of  Imposter Syndrome - a sense of unease that possibly you aren’t actually qualified for the new role you’ve just accepted. Where there initially was excitement and celebration for this latest development in your career, now there’s a feeling that you somehow don’t belong - that you’re an imposter.

Perhaps this a relatively new experience for a new era, or possibly it’s just a renaming of the doubts and fears that have always followed us into new territory that places us slightly outside of our comfort zone. In any case, keeping the following points in mind may help to ride out these initial emotional buzzings until you’ve found your footing for your new situation.

  • The people who hired you probably know what they are doing. This is their business, their area of expertise, and chances are better than not that they did a proper job of vetting you and slotting you into a role that you will have every chance of being successful in. Give the process some time to play out.
  • There is no shortage of ancient sayings that talk about the need to “walk through the gates of confusion to get to the fields of clarity.” When we place a candidate into a new job, we always follow up with the hiring manager 30 days later to see how our candidate is doing. Nine times out of ten, the response is always the same: He or she is still coming up to speed on their product, service, etc. but otherwise is doing just fine. In other words, there is an expectation that there will be a learning curve - a period of walking through the gates of confusion - until one stops feeling like an imposter.
  • This last point is more of a general life philosophy. If Imposter Syndrome has an antithesis, it surely must be confidence - confidence in one’s ability to perform a task, do a job, and to fit into the overall landscape as a valuable and contributing member. But before confidence must come competence. And competence comes from knowledge applied over time. Never stop gaining new knowledge. Pick up a book or sign up for an online course for that new language or framework. Apply that knowledge whether it is on the job or off the clock for a personal side project. 

All of this having been said, there does remain the possibility that a person could absolutely oversell themselves and end up in a very uncomfortable situation. There are two ways this could happen. The first is when a person deliberately oversells themselves and goes into a new job with an “I’ll fake it until I make it” strategy. In this case, the person is an imposter, and I strongly recommend against this. It generally doesn’t end well and costs the hiring company time, money, and frustration, and more than likely will cost the candidate their job.

The second and more common scenario is when the candidate inadvertently oversells themselves. This happens when there is some degree of breakdown in the communication with regard to what skills and experience the candidate actually brings to the table and what the actual expectations are for the role they are going into. These are fairly easy to safeguard against by keeping the following points in mind.

  • When listing skills and experience on your resume, utilize a skills matrix which rates your level of expertise along with the last year that technology was used. 
  • Prior to and during interviews, be steadfast in learning as much as you can about the role you are applying for. Study the job description before your interview. If you received the job description from a recruiter, go to the company’s career page and look for it there. Oftentimes the company’s job description will be more robust and inclusive. That said, sometimes the recruiter’s description of the role will have additional details based on more recent conversations with the hiring manager. At any rate, arm yourself with as much information as possible prior to the interview. Ask lots of questions during the interview and walk out of that meeting with a thorough understanding of the expectations for that role. 
  • Round out your understanding of the role by learning as much as you can about the company. You can do this by studying their website, doing internet searches, and reviewing LinkedIn profiles of employees who hold similar positions at that company.
  • The goal is that when you get to the point of accepting an offer, you are confident that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. 

Ideally, a new role will be a bit of a stretch for you because that’s how we grow in our careers. So in a sense, you’ll be a bit of an imposter until you get your footing in this new phase of your work life. But with proper preparation, the discomfort of this transition should be minimal and the rewards should be well worth it.

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Brian Skory is one of Stout's Tech Talent Managers. Brian has has been with Stout since 2007 and is responsible for matching great talent with great jobs . Before Stout, Brian worked in a variety of technical industries including learning and development for software application training. In his spare time, Brian enjoys running, hiking Arizona's mountains, swimming, and rock climbing.
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