Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Your Job Search, with Lisa Orbe-Austin

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 243:

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Your Job Search, with Lisa Orbe-Austin

Airdate: May 13, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

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Sign up today for a free review of your resume by one of Top Resume’s expert writers.

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Everybody experiences imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling that you’re not as talented as others. Or that you don’t qualify for a job. Does that sound familiar?

Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin is here today to talk about how imposter syndrome can affect your job search and what you can do about it.

She’s a licensed psychologist and executive coach. And Lisa is the co-author of the new book, Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life.

She joins us today from New York City.

Lisa, here’s where I want to start, what is imposter syndrome exactly?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that people experience when they have significant credentials, accomplishments, concrete experiences, but they have struggled to internalize them. As a result of that, they often feel like those experiences are not real, they often believe that they’ve come as a result of a mistake, luck, a coincidence. So, oftentimes to cover that they overcompensate by overworking or sometimes self-sabotage, looking to try to cover that experience of being fraudulent or incompetent. It isn’t anything really true. So, that’s the main stuff that’s behind imposter syndrome.

Mac Prichard:

How does it make you feel inside, imposter syndrome? How do you see it affect people? What kind of feelings do they have?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I mean, I think they often feel very insecure about their competencies, their skills, their qualifications, they often feel like they overvalue other people’s skills and undervalue their own. They typically feel pretty lonely in the experience because they feel fraudulent. They’re trying to hide that experience of fraudulence, so they’re not sharing the moments in which they feel incompetent. So, there’s often this large experience of loneliness and disconnection from other people’s experience of them.

Mac Prichard:

Is it common, imposter syndrome?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Yeah, the research finds that about 75% of people have experienced imposter syndrome over their lifetime, and so it’s very, very common.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a surprising statistic. Do you have a sense of why it’s so common? 7 out of 10 people having this experience?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I think because of, you know, some of the ways in which it originates, that’s why it’s so common. And it’s common because, culturally, we adhere to these myths about intelligence and hard work that aren’t accurate, and so as a result of that, I think that’s why so many people have it, is because these are common ways that we are often raised to think about overwork and intelligence that just…that’s why I think it’s so common.

Mac Prichard:

When people hear the word syndrome, they may think this is a psychological disorder but that’s not the case, is it?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

It is a psychological phenomenon but it’s not a disorder. It’s not a mental health issue. It was discovered by 2 psychologists in the 1970s and they are very clear about the fact that it’s not a mental illness; it’s a phenomenon, it’s an experience. Largely because when something gets classified as a mental health disorder, it has to impair you in school functioning, social functioning, or occupational functioning. And for people who have imposter syndrome, typically they’re not impaired in those domains. They’re pretty successful typically.

Even though they don’t perceive themselves as such, they are successful and can function quite well.

Mac Prichard:

That’s surprising to hear because you would think that people who enjoy success wouldn’t have this experience. Why does that happen?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

It’s funny the way that you phrase it because I don’t think that they really enjoy their success. They often are very petrified by success because the success feels very precarious, so even though they have these accolades and accomplishments, credentials, they don’t…they feel that they’re very, like I just said, precarious. That they could go away at any moment, that they weren’t obtained through a legitimate fashion so they feel oftentimes that they could disappear at any moment. As a result of that fragilizing of their accomplishments, there’s this experience that one false move, one slip, and it’s all over, and so it definitely creates a sense of fear about accomplishments and winning and success.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a remarkable image. I mean people are…it’s as if people are walking on a tightrope, isn’t it, when they have this experience?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Yeah, and they feel like the only person that can control that tightrope is them, and the way that they control it is by over-functioning.

Mac Prichard:

Well, what causes imposter syndrome, Lisa?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Well, most of the research points to the fact that these experiences of imposter syndrome come from early childhood experiences of either being seen in one of two ways. And then we have classified a third way that we have seen in our practice.

But the first way is that, when you grew up, you were thought of as the smart one. You were the one who was really naturally gifted, smart, intelligent, but that meant that things just came easily to you, so it didn’t require any work on your part. And so, every time that you’ve ever had to work, it’s meant that that particular image of you isn’t true because people who are naturally gifted, smart, and intelligent, don’t need to work.

The second way is that you weren’t considered the smart one but you were considered the one who worked hard. So, you get the things in your life by working really, really hard. Not because you have any natural skills or talents or gifts. And I think what these 2 particular kinds of dichotomies set up is this idea that if you’re smart, you don’t work hard, and if you work hard, you have to do it because you’re not smart, and actually, to be successful, you have to have both.

You have to have natural skills, abilities, talents, and you have to work hard but these things actually coincide together, they’re not separate and paradoxical experiences.

And I think the third way that we have identified in our practice were people who didn’t have either of these experiences because they grew up in places in which they had to survive And so, for the third group we see people who weren’t thought of as smart or hardworking because nobody was really paying attention to them because they were neglected by their adult figures or there weren’t any kind of adult figures there to give them those pieces of feedback. So, they’ve just learned to survive. Even when they’re successful, they don’t see it as a result of skill or talent; they just see it as, “I’m just trying to get along. I’m just trying to survive.”

Even when they’re far beyond survival.

Mac Prichard:

When you talked about the first group, I was reminded of the book by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who I think is at Stanford now, called “Mindset” and she talked about people who enjoy early success in life, especially in high school or college, and they’re afraid to take risks because success has come to them early, and they don’t want to jeopardize that success. Is that related to imposter syndrome as well or is that an entirely different issue?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Actually, we talk about Carol Dweck in our book because we feel like the experiences are quite related because of this idea of a fixed experience. That is not the idea of what she calls the growth mindset and the idea that when you fail you can learn from it. When people fail who have imposter syndrome, they feel exposed by it. They feel like, “Oh, see, now you see all the ways in which I am flawed.”

As opposed to, “Oh, here’s an opportunity for me to actually get something from this and to be able to grow and get bigger. To be able to do more.”

It’s a very different experience. So, what we’re talking about in the book is often encouraging for people to lean more toward a growth mindset perspective rather than a fixed mindset perspective, or a fixed quality prospective. That it’s with mistakes that you learn and grow and expand as opposed to contract, fear, and feel like it’s dangerous. So yes, they are very connected concepts around fixed versus fluid and flexible.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to talk more about how to overcome imposter syndrome, particularly in a job search, but before we move on to that, I wanted to talk about gender. Does imposter syndrome affect both men and women equally?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Well, the interesting piece on that is that the research is very controversial, it’s back and forth. So, one study will find that it is true, another study will find that it isn’t true, so there’s not a conclusive finding regarding gender, but there has been some interesting research to suggest that men and women may approach it very differently. So, what they find pretty consistently with men, and this is clearly not always true but generally true, that men tend to want to engage in saving face when they have imposter syndrome. As a result, they’ll put themselves in situations where they know that they will succeed, because they will be with lesser peers or have lesser competition, because they want to make sure that they still rise to the top.

Where women will put themselves in a position of risk and try things, and face a constant battle with that imposter syndrome because they are in places that are very competitive and facing this idea that they could be fraudulent more consistently. They’ll take the risk where men will get caught in places where they’re lacking opportunities for advancement and growth because they’re trying to make sure that they’re top of the game.

Mac Prichard:

Interesting difference.

Well, let’s talk about job search. How do you see imposter syndrome affect people who are doing a job search?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

There’s a couple of ways that I’ve seen it show up for job search. I think that one of the key ways is that often, people with imposter syndrome find themselves getting stuck in a job because they’ll often feel like they’ll be inadequate for other roles. So, they often perceive, “This is the best I can do. I’m not sure anyone else would be interested in my skills or I’m not sure if I’ll be competitive in this market.” So, they often stay in roles too long because they are concerned about their viability in the marketplace because they don’t trust their qualifications.

They can also be very perfectionistic about what they think they’re qualified for. So, because their perfectionism is one of the underlying components of imposter syndrome, if a job spec is not 100%, they don’t fit in it 100%, they won’t bother applying for it or if they feel like they don’t have almost everything. As opposed to considering, “Well, if I have 50 or 60% of it, I should give it a shot.” They really want to make sure that they have everything.

I think another thing that can show up is there’s a significant piece of performance anxiety that goes on in people with imposter syndrome. We were talking earlier about self-sabotage and so, I often see it show up around not preparing for interviews or not preparing for the process because the performance anxiety of the interview can be so intense, because there’s such a concern that they’re going to screw up or not be able to sell themselves appropriately, so they don’t prep, so I see that.

I also see this experience of not reaching out to their network because often, people who have imposter syndrome are often the go-tos, they’re the people that people go to for help because they’re so competent in skill, but they don’t like having to rely on or need others in the process, so they often skip the part of networking. Those are some of the common ways I think it can show up in a job search.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so avoiding risk-taking, not asking others for help, and not doing… self-sabotage, not doing the preparation that might actually help them get an offer after a job interview.

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I want to dig into each of those areas. We’re going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin about imposter syndrome and how to overcome it in your job search.

When you suffer from imposter syndrome, you undersell yourself. Not only in where you chose to apply, or in job interviews, but in your resume, too.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin.

She’s a licensed psychologist and executive coach. And Lisa is the co-author of the new book, “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life.”

Now, Lisa, in the first segment we talked about imposter syndrome; what it is, why it happens, who it affects, and how it can shape a job search. And you made 3 points just before we took the break about how imposter syndrome can influence a job search. The first one I want to dig into is your point about not taking risks and aiming for jobs for which you might not have 100% of the qualifications.

What advice would you give someone who’s in that situation? How do you see people overcome that?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

It’s layered but I think that some of the things that people can do to concretely avoid that are working on internalizing their accomplishments by cataloging them and generating examples of their accomplishments, which I think also is just a helpful process to actually prepping for the interview process. But also, having an accountability partner because often they don’t trust their own evaluations of their work, but if they have somebody in their lives that they know that they can trust in their honest evaluation of their skills and abilities, then they can do this in partnership with them to list out all of the skills and abilities that they do have that would be very viable in the marketplace.

I think another piece is learning to apply for things that aren’t perfect fits. Very rarely you are a perfect fit for a job. When someone develops a spec, they’re looking for this magical ideal candidate and they know they’re not going to get 100% of everything. And so, it’s also allowing yourself to apply for things that you see that you have most of the qualifications for. Like, 60% or so, and then applying with that in mind. You don’t apply with this mentality of, “Oh, all the things I don’t have.” You apply with the mentality of, “These are the things that I do have. This is what I can offer.”

I think the other piece is divesting energy from toxic situations or difficult work situations. So oftentimes, people with imposter syndrome get caught up with trying to fix the situation and it’s like, you’ve got to take some of that energy and focus it instead on your search and your process. Sometimes in my practice, I’ll tell a client, “Well, before you vent about that particular situation at work, you owe yourself 25 minutes of job search work and then you can vent.” Just to get into the habit of giving to yourself first before you use your energy to reinvest in a toxic or negative situation. Find ways to invest in yourself.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought up that percentage of desired qualifications. I think you said 60% and I hear that number consistently in interviews on this show, both from recruiters, career coaches, and hiring managers, and I’m always surprised that people wrestle with that, so thank you for making that point.

Let’s talk about self-sabotage. You mention that some people get interviews and they’re so anxious about doing well or perhaps their anxiety leads them to not prepare and they don’t get the position. How do you see people overcome that kind of self-sabotage?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I think you have to structure your preparation. You have to have a routine for how you prepare for interviews. So, if you structure…and this is what you do: you’re 5 days out from the interview, you do this, you do that. Create a structure so it isn’t a choice, because when you have anxiety you’re never going to feel the desire to prep for the interview. You’re always going to want to avoid it because that’s a natural tendency when you have anxiety is to avoid the stimulus of the anxiety.

It’s really important to have a structure and engage the structure, and stick to the routine around the structure, and have a plan for how you typically prepare for an interview, and then you don’t have choices about it. It’s embedded into your schedule of how you’re going to prepare for the interview and every day you have a different task related to the prep of it. But I do think it’s not giving yourself choices around it and knowing that this is the responsible thing to do is set up a structure to prepare for that process.

Mac Prichard:

What do you recommend if the phone rings and it’s a recruiter and she wants to talk to you right now, and you haven’t had the structure and schedule to do those sorts of things?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I think, I always tell my clients, “Don’t pick up the phone immediately.” You know, because you can get caught off guard and be in a situation where you can’t really talk but then you engage in a conversation you aren’t prepped to have. And so, I always say if you don’t recognize the number, don’t pick it up. Take the message and then call back when you’re in a quiet place, when you’re prepared,  you’ve done some, even if it’s a small amount of preparation, you’ve done some prep to have the call. It would be a disaster to just get to an impromptu conversation immediately.

Mac Prichard:

I imagine the process that you lay out can be translated into a compressed schedule, so if you do get the call and the interview is tomorrow, you still have some steps you can follow, don’t you?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Yes, absolutely. You’re wanting to be somewhat flexible in the way that you do it. What I do with a lot of my clients is I have these standard interview questions that I make them develop cards or documents around, and then they go to study them. So, they engage in the studying process for the common questions, the behavioral questions, they have things that they are looking at around that, and then they always have questions that they’ll ask the interviewer.

You always have this three-pronged process, so you can always condense that into something shorter, but you definitely want to be prepped with a basic plan for how you’re going to approach this.

Mac Prichard:

The third point you made about how imposter syndrome affects job search in our first segment was that people are often reluctant to ask others for help or to leverage their network. How do you recommend people work with their networks if they’re reluctant to do that?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I’m always like a big proponent in what I call relational networking. A lot of people who have imposter syndrome are always like, “I don’t want to ask somebody for something when I haven’t talked to them in a while. It just feels like I’m taking and not giving.”

But if you engage in relational networking, which is this experience of, “We’re building professional community together, and I’m going to give to you in whatever ways I can and add value and you can give to me in some ways but the idea is that we’re building something that’s going to last a long time.” At least that’s the idea behind it. It may or may not but the idea is that you are building community around you.

And so, yes, this time you may be asking for something, next time they might be asking for something. But if you engage in a relational way and you do your homework about them, you get to know them before you even reach out to them, that you give yourself this opportunity to think of that relationship in a much less transactional kind of way, that I think make people with imposter syndrome very fearful around being rejected.

I oftentimes also encourage people to recognize that generally, people are receptive to this and the worst thing that can happen is that you won’t hear anything. Not that they’ll be outraged if you reach out to them, which I think is the fear, but people are often really kind. Which, you’ve got to put your foot in the water first to recognize that they are, and I think that oftentimes, that gives them the momentum to keep going when they’ve had a good conversation. They’re like, “Oh, that was really good and I learned this and that and the other thing.” And you’re like, “Yes. this is what it can be like if you think of it much more relational.”

Mac Prichard:

We haven’t talked about money yet. How does imposter syndrome affect salary negotiations?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Well, I’m glad you asked that question because I do think that that’s also a big piece of it, which is that I think that when you have imposter syndrome, you’re much more reluctant to negotiate because you just feel like you should just be happy for the opportunity, that they’ve given you a gift because you don’t necessarily feel like you deserve it, and so, I do think one of the things that you can do is, clearly you always want to prepare for your negotiations and keep a win-win perspective around it. Not this win-lose, adversarial perspective that I think creates a really threatening environment that people with imposter syndrome are very fearful of.

It’s going to be thought of as everyone’s winning in this circumstance. They’re going to get a really happy employee, they’re going to get someone who really feels valued and you’re going to get whatever compensation you need to take it to the next place. So, I do think that it’s changing the mindset around the process of negotiating. Oftentimes I hear people say, “Well, what if they pulled the offer?” It happens so rarely. The experience is…people expect a negotiation. I mean you want to be prepared to not say something that’s just random and off the charts, so they don’t think that you’re not prepared for it, but if you’re prepared, it’s pretty standard course.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve shared some very practical steps that people can take to overcome imposter syndrome. In your work with your clients, Lisa, how long do you typically see that it takes people to act on these ideas and see benefits?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

That’s a great question. I think it varies, it really varies on the person. It depends on how much investment they make in the process, and for some people, the experience is much more layered. They have other things that are also getting in the way of them succeeding and taking care of themselves in these ways, but I think what’s important is, if you’re invested in making a change, there are concrete things that you can do to move the needle. You can move it pretty quickly but you have to work in essence to regroove your mindset around the way that you see and internalize your strengths and accomplishments, and the way that you see community, and the way that you even process failure. There are a lot of things to work on but I think it’s concrete, the things that you can do to make this big shift.

Mac Prichard:

Is this work that you can do on your own or do you recommend working with others to address the issues that come with imposter syndrome that can affect your job search?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

I think that it’s work that you can do on your own. You can also see somebody who specializes and also get support. There’s no harm in that. But if you want to just do it on your own, I think it’s possible. Actually, our book is actually a workbook, so it is actually the step-by-step process of actually managing and pivoting your imposter syndrome in another direction. So, we do believe that you can do it on your own but you can also get support. We also support that very strongly.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation. Tell us, Lisa, what’s next for you?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Well, the book comes out on April 28th and so, I guess that’s the next thing that will be coming out for us and we’ll also be doing a companion course to go along with the book for people who want to have a community around them to work on the book in a structured format.

Mac Prichard:

I know people can learn more about your new book as well as your other services by visiting your website, dynamictransitionsllp.com.

Now, Lisa, given all the great advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to overcome imposter syndrome in a job search?

Lisa Orbe-Austin:

Well, I think the one thing that I want people to walk away with is that you can change the process, even if you feel like it’s always been the same and there’s no other way to do it except for this painful, difficult way of doubting yourself, and just being grateful for what you get. There is a way to shift the dynamic but it does take a commitment to shifting some of the negative ways which you’ve engaged with yourself before, but it is possible to move the needle and get a better experience in the future.

Mac Prichard:

Don’t use the application process to find out if you’ve got a good resume or not. Talk to one of the experts at Top Resume today. It’s free.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

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Next week, our guest will be Meg Gerry.  She’s a certified career coach and co-host of the podcast, All Things College and Career.

One of the biggest challenges you face in your career is how to choose the field you want to work in. Meg and I will talk about why it’s important to narrow your career choices and how to do it.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate or considering a mid-career change, I hope you’ll join us.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Does imposter syndrome hold you back from pursuing your dream job? It’s a common issue that affects approximately 75 percent of us at least once in our careers. If you feel like a fraud when discussing your job skills, there are concrete ways to overcome it, says Find Your Dream Job guest Lisa Orbe-Austin. Applying to jobs that you aren’t 100 percent qualified for and having others who can speak to your strengths are great ways to boost your confidence. Lisa also shares the importance of having a structure for your job search, and how to use your network, even if you’re hesitant to ask others for help. 

About Our Guest:

Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin is a licensed psychologist and executive coach, with a focus on career advancement, leadership development, and job transitions.

Resources in This Episode: