8 in 10 People Have Experienced Imposter Syndrome at Work — 4 Ways to Overcome It

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Mary Benitez10
May 23, 2024 at 11:35AM UTC

For many of us, new jobs can trigger feelings of doubt and inadequacy. The American Psychological Association estimates 82% of people have faced the “imposter phenomenon,” or struggling with feelings of fraud related to what they’ve achieved. Couple this with joining a field predominantly run by a different gender or race, and the first weeks or even months in a new position can be intimidating.

I work for Axon, a public safety tech company with a socially critical mission to Protect Life and, as far as software engineers go, I come from a non-traditional background. I don’t have a computer science degree. Candidly, during my first few weeks at Axon, I felt like an imposter. Who was I to land this incredibly important role? Would my team doubt my decision-making abilities because I didn’t have a similar background to them? Could I really do this job?

While these questions consumed me in my first weeks, it turns out I didn’t have to fear being a fraud or ill-equipped for my new role. I hope by sharing a little about my experience, I help someone else (maybe you!) in pursuing their dream job. Here are four ways to overcome imposter syndrome.

1. Network, network, network.

A career coach once told me, “you’ll get the best return on investment for your job hunt if you focus all your energy on networking, rather than solely applying for positions.” You know what? She was right. Taking her advice, I registered to attend a Women Hack event, and since I was determined to stand out from the crowd, I developed an app to showcase my skill set to the participating companies. It was here that I met a recruiter from Axon and scheduled a tech screening, the first step in the interview process.

This is not to say that you need to prepare anything elaborate for networking events (I just love coding). Rather, find a way to make yourself stand out from others. This could be a funny superlative in your elevator statement, a unique business card or even a basic website to showcase your portfolio.

While networking may be intuitive for extroverts, we ambiverts and introverts have to consciously work on putting ourselves out there. Networking is more than attending events to meet people, it can be as simple as tapping those we already know in the field for referrals. Yet, women are 26% less likely than men to ask for a referral, which many companies highly value in the interview process. Referrals and networking can help combat imposter syndrome that deters some of us from even applying to a role.

If you’re not sure where to start, look for associations in your industry that host or promote events. Many offer remote and in-person event opportunities.

2. Don’t be afraid to chase that dream job.

You can’t expect to land your dream job if you don’t apply. A LinkedIn study found that women apply for 20% fewer jobs than men do. Women tend to apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the requirements, while men apply when they meet 60% of the requirements. Don't let the fear of rejection prevent you from exploring a job that interests you.

Yes, employers list skills they’d like to see in potential applicants. But (and this is a big but), soft skills like integrity, perseverance and dependability are gaining more clout in the recruitment process. In fact, the most important soft skills employers seek are teamwork/collaboration, communication, and problem-solving/critical thinking. Sixty-three percent of employers surveyed by Monster are willing to hire someone with transferable skills and train them in a new role.

I didn’t meet all the criteria big tech traditionally requires for software engineering roles. But I chose to chase my childhood dream of working with law enforcement and pursued an interview at Axon. After passing the initial tech screen, I leveraged experiences from my time at a 911 dispatch center and a game designer and built a gamified mini-training simulator to bring with me to the next round of interviews. This showed passion and creativity and helped me land the job I have today.

Don’t get stuck on the requirements you don’t meet. Instead, be ready to highlight the soft skills that showcase your work ethic and eagerness to learn. You might be surprised where it leads you. 

3. Seek an empowering employer.

You can tell a lot about an employer and their workplace culture from their website and social content. An empowering employer celebrates employee wins and recognizes talent rather than always attributing success to company leaders or someone in the C-suite. Obviously, those leaders play an integral role in business operations, but it’s the broader employee base that drives company success. Look for individuals’ stories in company blogs, social media posts or even on the careers page. The more transparency you see into the day-to-day of employees' work, the stronger the chance that the employer celebrates and supports employees.

Beyond the website, the interview process is also very telling. Think about how engaged you feel throughout the process. Yes, meeting with multiple people within a company for interviews can feel intimidating, but remember that you are also interviewing them to see if the company will be a good fit for you. Some questions I liked to ask in interviews to determine how potential employers support employees include: 

  • Why do you work here? What keeps you coming back every day? 

  • How does this position (or this department) play into your company’s 5-year goals? 

  • What does this position’s retention look like? 

  • What professional development opportunities do you offer?

The answers you receive to these and similar questions reveal a lot about a workplace. Use the questions part of your interview to determine if the company you’re speaking with is a cultural fit for you. 

4. Ask for help or support.

Let’s say you land your dream job. You’re three weeks in and you still feel like you can’t hack it. Don’t sit and hope it will get better with time. Seek support or advice from your manager or department lead. Will you likely feel vulnerable having this conversation? Yes, but I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t make you a bad employee. In fact, it makes you the opposite, it shows that you are proactive and want to solve problems before they become large.

I spoke with my peers and manager regarding my concerns about my experience. Rather than agree that I was different, they embraced my experience and encouraged me to feel agency to influence development using the skillset I already had. Once I saw that my nontraditional background was appreciated as an asset, I was more confident in the job. 

Asking for guidance or support can open opportunities to grow and establish mentorship with someone more senior.

Imposter syndrome, while not fun to experience, isn’t a job-ruiner or deal-breaker. I encourage you to seek out empowering companies and go for that dream job.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Mary Benitez is a Software Engineer II at Axon, where she works with Axon Dispatch. It’s no surprise Mary ended up at Axon. She had childhood dreams of working in law enforcement and even spent some time working at a 911 dispatch center in between her career in games and at Axon. She leverages her experiences from her dispatch days and passion for coding to enhance innovation for dispatchers and law enforcement.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for overcoming imposter syndrome? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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