Could your biggest job search problem be… you?
“The Imposter Syndrome, sometimes called Fraud Syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Wikipedia
Some people feel guilty for losing their job, no matter how illogical. And some feel they are really a fraud and it is just a matter of time before they are found out; feelings exacerbated by unemployment or the vagaries of a prolonged job search while still employed.
Do you feel your success is just a matter of luck? Are you proving to yourself you are worthless and a victim by not taking the proper steps towards finding a new job?
Think hard on this one.
Do you have Imposter Syndrome? Take this test
Dr. Valerie Young, researcher and speaker on occupational success, devised a test to help people identify their tendency towards feeling like a fraud:
- Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
- Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?
- Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal” or the fact that people just “like” you?
- Do you hate making a mistake, being less-than-fully prepared or not doing things perfectly?
- Do you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your “ineptness?”
- When you do succeed, do you think, “phew, I fooled ‘em this time but I may not be so lucky next time.”
- Do you believe that other people (students, colleagues, competitors) are smarter and more capable than you are?
- Do you live in fear of being found out, discovered, unmasked?
A tendency towards imposter syndrome seems to be strongest while looking for a job.
There is all that unknown, all the rejection and you have so little control over events and outcomes it adds to the feeling of worthlessness. There is nothing like feeling helpless to make a person feel like a fraud. It is often circumstantial and does not have to be career limiting.
Some people react to these feelings with a need for perfectionism or self-aggrandizement. No one else can see the solutions they do and they are quick to say, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.” When things don’t go their way they are famous for a sour grapes review. They are reluctant to change their methods of job search and often feel most jobs are beneath them so they don’t pursue likely prospects and often focus on jobs above their skill or experience level. When they fail to get those jobs, they prove to themselves that they are frauds, and thus begins a downward spiral.
This is often the case for those over 50 who believe they encounter ageism. Their lament is often, “They just don’t value my 25 years of experience, they only want to hire people who will work for peanuts.” These same people are overly generous with criticism in the name of analysis but instead, just convey a negative demeanor and lack of confidence.
Another aspect of the fraud syndrome is what I refer to as, “Magical Thinking.” Candidates believe their credentials are so strong and compelling, none of the traditional and proven job search techniques apply. They waste time on job boards and send resumes out randomly. They honestly believe their comprehensive experience is so stunning that their phone will should be ringing with offers (like I almost did! – Jacob). The fact is, they have never hired anyone who used that technique nor have they ever heard of any executive who has. But they remain committed to failure-guaranteed activities. Their belief they are in fact a fraud and a failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Technology professionals often manifest the syndrome by conducting interviews that stress what they lack, whether asked or not. Believing they are talking in the spirit of honesty and not wanting to misrepresent themselves, they mention skills they don’t have instead of keeping focus on what they do have that qualifies them for the job.
Researchers have found the imposter syndrome often results in desire to avoid situations where people felt vulnerable. They believe the motivation is to avoid doing poorly, looking weak, being compared. It is especially handicapping to feel you won’t live up to other’s expectations. Thus, they don’t engage in activities others have proven to work in a job search, such as networking and personal branding.
They avoid or delay any activity that prompts comparison. Instead, they invent new approaches they are convinced are creative and ‘out of the box’ when in fact, they simply don’t work. They go to a mall to hand out their resume or they use LinkedIn to broadcast their frustration or worse, send out thousands of unsolicited resumes. Often, they are suckered into paying for dubious services, in fact whole industries have arisen to prey on people who feel helpless or fraudulent.
Researchers discovered true imposters are unable to ask for help. By definition, if you are reading this, you are seeking help and therefore, you are not an imposter, or at least hope to recover from the syndrome.
14 action tips to counter feelings of being a fraud
- List examples and outcomes of accomplishments from your resume.
- Review your skills and experience.
- Don’t compare yourself with those younger and/or more accomplished than yourself.
- Take a full accounting of the you that has achieved the success you have today and remind yourself of your accomplishments.
- Keep a list at hand of 3-5 significant tasks you excelled at and reread it every time you have to pick up the phone or otherwise interact with job leads.
- Measure yourself by proof of your achievements; your outcomes.
- Brag to a loved-one about each day’s accomplishments, no matter how tiny.
- Keep a “brag book” to reread frequently.
- Create a daily to-do list of reasonable and achievable tasks.
- Remind yourself you are more than your career. Focus on those who love you.
- Stop complaining. You don’t need to hear all that negative chatter.
- Avoid people who complain about the job market or your unemployment status.
- Stop reading the media about the deplorable employment market. You only need one job.
- Engage in your hobby to offset frustration and negative feelings.
About the author
Rita Ashley is a job search coach for executives and technology professionals. In the last two years, 98% of her clients have achieved their goals within 6 months. Is it your turn? Rita’s website is www.jobsearch4execs.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @JobSearch4execs.
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