Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Four Career Development Exercises to Rocket Charge Job Prospects for Women

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Four Career Development Exercises to Rocket Charge Job Prospects for Women 

Imposter syndrome is not unique to women, but it affects them more often than it does men.  

Typical symptoms of imposter syndrome include people undervaluing their own work, being overly modest, attributing good results to luck, and not applying for jobs they’re suitably qualified for. People describe it as feeling like a fraud and not belonging.  

The cost of this is enormous because professionals miss out on life-changing promotions, career development opportunities and admission to top universities. According to The Muse, it’s common in big tech and other important industries.  

As a coach to successful female leaders in Cisco, Microsoft, Uber and other top firms, I can attest that even women at the highest levels of leadership can experience imposter syndrome.  

But there are ways to beat imposter syndrome.  

Here are four coaching activities I do with female executive coaching and MBA applicants to help them win and rocket charge their career development.  

These four coaching activities have been crucial in women gaining entry to Stanford and Harvard University, getting top jobs at Amazon and Microsoft, and getting millions of dollars in scholarships and professional funding to develop their careers.   

  1. Facts not feelings  

My first career advice for writing a strong CV, cover letter or application form is to focus on facts, not feelings.  

Too often, people don’t include important achievements because they believe that those results may not be that impressive, especially compared to those of other people.  

For example, I had an MBA candidate a couple of years ago who didn’t want to mention that she had single-handedly raised millions of dollars in seed funding because she assumed that the amount would be much smaller than other candidates had raised.   

Far from it. Achieving this level of funding was an outstanding feat, and it was way above the average candidate.  

The solution in these cases: I ask the person to write down all the things they did in each job and the results they achieved. Importantly, I insist they attach no feelings (e.g., this was good or this was bad) to any of their outcomes. By removing the feelings, we focus on objective facts.  

  1. Tangible results matter. 

The next activity is closely linked to the first. One of the best ways to demonstrate value is to find ways to quantify the impact you had. Sometimes putting a number or percentage is a great way to demonstrate how valuable you are to an organisation.  

I challenge female candidates to do two main activities here: 

  1. First, identify their contribution. To do this, I forbid the use of phrases such as “I was part of”, “member of”, and “contributed to”. I encourage them to rephrase with action verbs and assertive phrases such as “Led and created and “Built and increased”.  
  1. Secondly, I ask them to create a metric / KPI for each activity. Some are easier than others, e.g., you can easily state how many people you led, how much you increased sales, and how much revenue your area generated. Some are harder; for example, it is not as easy to measure how much your coaching improved morale.  

Not all these measurements will go in the CV, but the activity alone helps you work out your best results and how these can be used to sell you to recruiters, admissions teams and decision-makers.  

In short, being objective about your job performance is beneficial. 

  1. Get constructive feedback. 

Feedback can be a double-edged sword. I have seen cases where women have asked for feedback and got soul-destroying and patronising feedback, especially from male colleagues, but getting feedback from trusted advisors around you is essential for career development

I ask women to seek out a variety of people to get feedback on their performance. I typically tell them to ask a couple of close friends (the type who are not afraid to hurt your feelings), family and colleagues (peers and seniors). I also encourage them to get feedback from both men and women.  

Effective feedback is constructive feedback that is focused on personal growth. Asking people to give concrete examples can really increase its value. We recommend checking out this Harvard Business Review Podcast with Ella Bell about how to ask for useful feedback.  

The benefit of getting good feedback is that you identify your blind spots. You can work out where you are strong and where you need to do extra work. Moreover, you can look at your own experience with a different lens and identify suitable job prospects and academic areas for career development.  

In short, don’t fear what other people have to say about you. Ask for feedback and use it to improve.  

  1. Take some risks and just say yes.  

The most valuable advice I give to professional women is to take some risks. When we feel nervous about an opportunity, it can be easy to say no and stay in our comfort zones. 

It has been shown that women often won’t apply for jobs unless they have close to 100% of the job description. However, men will apply when they only meet 60% of the required professional experience and competencies.  

This apparent lack of women’s empowerment means so many women professionals miss out on amazing job prospects.  

So, to avoid missing out on life-changing professional development and life experiences, I encourage women to say yes.  

Being assertive and taking some chances along the way is how people end up on famous lists like the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women. While not every woman can, or will, make it to such a prestigious list, the lesson is clear: being assertive and saying yes is a great way to overcome career hurdles and beat imposter syndrome. 

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