Whether you're in your first job or you're years into your career, the chances are that, at some point, you're going to feel incompetent. Maybe there's a teammate who knows more than you. Maybe you don't understand a certain program's technicalities. Or maybe you have a presentation coming up that you don't feel totally qualified to give.
Whatever the case, there's a thing we all call "fake it 'til you make it." This doesn't mean lying to your employer about your qualifications, and it doesn't mean that you can't ask for help (you should always ask for help when you need it!). But there are some simple hacks you can use to make yourself seem more competent and knowledgeable in the workplace.
If you want to appear like a more capable career woman, here are seven tips.
Those taking notes in meetings are those who are tuned in. Whether they're jotting down pointers or writing reminders for themselves, a responsible, competent professional will take a notebook and pen with them to an important meeting.
You can appear and actually become more competent by doing the same, rather than convincing yourself you'll somehow remember it all on your own. After all, there are 11 million meetings in the United States each day on average. That adds up to 55 million meetings a week, which means 220 million meetings a month and well over a billion meetings by the end of the year. The average person attends, on average, 62 meetings each month — are you really going to retain all of that information without writing down some notes?
Studies suggest that those who socialize more are actually smarter. Social interactions have a consistently positive effect on cognitive performance, such as improving their memory and fostering the ways in which they process patterns of information. Social psychologist Oscar Ybarra of the University of Michigan had studied whether those who socialize more do so because they're smart, or if socializing more makes them smarter — and the latter proved to be true.
Ybarra concluded that being around others is stimulating, but to really reap the cognitive benefits, you should be more engaged and try to understand others' perspectives.
Speaking with confidence will ensure that you're taken more seriously. If you're doubting yourself, why should anyone else trust your word? Likewise, even super knowledgeable people don't sound like they know what they're talking about in presentations if they're ill-prepared. Organizing and preparing ahead of time can help you establish credibility and appear more competent (even if you don't feel totally ready to do the presentation yourself).
Other ways to speak with confidence include controlling your pace (speaking too fast will make you seem nervous), making eye contact, standing up straight and using appropriate body language. Science of People, which analyzed thousands of hours of TED talks, found "the most viral TED talkers spoke with their words and their hands."
If you're not sure how to solve a problem in the workplace, you can appear more competent in handling the problem by at least using logical reasoning. Logical reasoning can be broken down into three ways of thinking: induction, abduction and deduction.
In abductive reasoning, "the major premise is evident, but the minor premise and therefore the conclusion are only probable," according to Merriam-Webster. For example, if you find your boss' office open with the lights on but they're not there, you might use probability to reason that your boss is in the building, had to run to the restroom or take a call outside, and abandoned their office without turning off the light or closing the door.
Deductive reasoning is defined as "the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning," according to Merriam-Webster. "Simply put, deduction—or the process of deducing—is the formation of a conclusion based on generally accepted statements or facts." For example, if your office is a 30-minute drive from your house and you have to be there are 9 am, from those two facts, you know that you have to leave your house by 8:30 am to arrive on time.
Meanwhile, abductive reasoning is defined as "a syllogism in which the major premise is evident but the minor premise and, therefore, the conclusion only probable," according to Merriam-Webster. So you form a probable conclusion based on the information that you do know. For example, you might be piecing together evidence of a qualified candidate — you have their resume, cover letter and some references. From all of that information, you take away the idea that they're likely a good fit for the company.
If you don't know what's going on in the world, it'll be really difficult to have conversations with others who are informed, and it can even become difficult to handle some work-related tasks. For example, if you work for an international company and aren't aware that your Asia-based office might be dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, you won't be able to effectively communicate with them or prepare yourself to work without them for the time being. Depending on the industry in which you work, having a grasp of world news could be even more important.
You can keep yourself up to date by reading the news online or reading the newspaper every morning. You can also subscribe to news organization's newsletters to have updates emailed to you directly. Or you can keep tabs on social media platforms like Twitter that are constantly disseminating up-to-the-minute updates, so long as you're following news organizations.
Appearing more competent also means keeping your cool under pressure. While you might feel nervous internally, especially if you're handling a large project that you don't feel entirely qualified to be taking on, it's important to keep calm.
If you need help, you can ask for it; talk to your teammates about delegating tasks or request a meeting with someone on the team or your boss who can give you some more guidance. But, whatever you do, don't panic and risk ruining the whole project by making impulsive business decisions while already thinking irrationally.
In Plato's account of the Greek philosopher, Socrates, he says, "I know that I know nothing." In other words, a wise person knows that they know nothing — that there's always more to learn. This notion has since been dubbed the Socratic paradox.
Keep an open mind, strive to learn new lessons and skills each day and stay humble about the knowledge that you do have. If you feel as if you already know everything there is to know about a program, an industry, a skill or anything else, you'll never get any better. And that certainly doesn't come across as very competent.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.