“That job looks amazing, just what I want to be doing!”
“But… I don’t know. I wouldn’t know what I was doing. I’d be lost and in over my head and it’d only be a matter of time before everyone found out.”
“What if they asked me a tricky question in the interview and I didn’t know the answer? Ugh, I couldn’t cope with that.”
Is this what’s going through your candidates’ minds when they see your job ad? If so, they could be suffering from imposter syndrome. And they certainly wouldn’t be alone.
So read on to learn what imposter syndrome is, whether it’s preventing good candidates from joining you, and what you can do to overcome imposter syndrome, be more inclusive, and attract the very best candidates.
- What is imposter syndrome
- Could it be deterring good candidates from applying to your jobs?
- Is this a particular problem for certain groups?
- Could it be leading you to hire less qualified candidates?
- What should you be doing?
What is imposter syndrome?
People suffering from imposter syndrome doubt their abilities and accomplishments, and fear that they’ll be exposed as a fraud. They believe they don’t deserve their success, and that their accomplishments are the result of luck or deception.
The term was first coined in 1978, when Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes described it as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness”.
Imposter syndrome can impact personal relationships and educational development, but it’s especially disruptive in the workplace.
Could it be deterring good candidates from applying to your jobs?
Quite possibly, yes.
Chances are that imposter syndrome is affecting candidates seeing your job ads. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once, and it’s especially common among people experiencing changes in environment, such as moving to a new workplace.
Imposter syndrome also affects people at all levels, all the way up to top executives, so it’s not something that only troubles entry-level candidates. Imposter syndrome is definitely something you should keep in mind when developing your recruitment strategy and crafting job ads.
Dr Valerie Young has identified five types of imposter syndrome:
1. The Perfectionist
Focusses too much on how they do things and demands perfection of themselves. Afraid to try new, unfamiliar things for fear of not doing them perfectly immediately.
2. The Natural Genius
Believes they should be able to understand new information and methods right away. Refuses to apply themselves to things they don’t immediately understand, seeing the need to learn them over time as a sign of failure.
3. The Rugged Individualist
Thinks they should be able to handle anything without relying on help from others. Avoids challenges that would require collaboration or teamwork to overcome.
4. The Expert
Wants to learn everything they can about a topic before they consider themselves adequately competent. Afraid of demonstrating ignorance.
5. The Superhero
Feels the need to “succeed” in every role they fill in life, both personal and professional. Pushes themselves to the limit, and suffers burnout, exhaustion, and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
As we can see, a person suffering imposter syndrome can be daunted by the prospect of:
- Doing things they aren’t already accomplished in or don’t understand
- Collaborating with teammates and the wider company
- Questions they don’t have an answer for
These are all reasons candidates might not respond to your job ad, even if they may well be exactly who you’re looking for.
Is this a particular problem for certain groups?
It looks that way, yes.
Imposter syndrome is closely associated with the experience of women in the workplace. While research has found that men are affected by it as well, imposter syndrome more often impacts women and ethnic minorities, most likely because of lower representation in professional environments and existing social factors.
Because of the stereotype of the “good leader” with typically masculine traits, women are often insecure about assuming leadership positions, because these stereotypes have conditioned them to believe themselves not fit for such a role.
Ethnic minorities often feel a need to “disprove” negative stereotypes, or that any success they achieve is the result of luck or positive biases. Women and ethnic minorities struggle with a lack of professional role models and lower levels of pay, which also contribute to a sense of doubt about their suitability for more advanced jobs. As Dr Young argues, “the more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel.”
Could it be leading you to hire less qualified candidates?
Yes, it’s possible that the best candidate you can find isn’t the best candidate you could have found, even if your recruitment strategy and assessment process are extremely thorough. The perfect candidate may not respond to your job ad, because of a sense that they wouldn’t match up to other candidates, or couldn’t do the job if they did get an offer.
Imposter syndrome can hold back your company’s growth by stifling great people’s ability to join you, or to grow, thrive, and contribute when they do. Overcoming this phenomenon should definitely be a part of your recruitment strategy.
What should you be doing?
Most coverage of imposter syndrome focusses on what individuals suffering from this problem can do to manage it and feel confident in themselves, but there’s a lot you as a potential employer can do too.
Research emphasises the importance of tackling imposter syndrome’s cultural roots, by increasing diversity across teams and hierarchies, and working to ensure equal treatment for all employees. If you can build a structure that’s inclusive and equal, people more susceptible to imposter syndrome will be less vulnerable, and will feel more confident about working with you.
A great place to start is with your job ads. Create the right impression here, and you can bring in those brilliant candidates who might not realise they’re a fantastic fit for your company. Get it wrong, and you’re potentially letting the perfect candidate get away. Here are some tips:
Make your job description more focussed
A good job description helps the candidate get a sense of what they could expect from this job, but be careful not to go overboard. List just the three to five most important responsibilities. Going into too much detail can overwhelm candidates and make them think they’re not qualified. You can usually train candidates in other responsibilities, if they match those most important ones.
For help crafting job descriptions that will overcome imposter syndrome and make sure you’re really getting the best candidates, take a look at JOIN’s catalogue of tested templates.
Divide your requirements into “essential” and “nice to have”
The same principle applies when you’re listing the requirements for the role. A lot of companies make the mistake of listing everything they can think of. Keeping your list of requirements under 10 items will ensure you don’t scare great candidates off.
A great method is to break your requirements into two sections, “essential” and “nice to have”. This gives a confidence boost to candidates who have those “nice to have” skills, as they’ll see how much their application is valued. But you’ll also be letting qualified candidates who don’t have the extras know that it’s still worth getting in touch.
If you need to talk about qualifications, make sure you’re not favouring a specific type. Rather than asking for a degree in computer science, ask for a degree in computer science, taught online (with relevant qualification), or equivalent experience. If you’re hiring within the EU, don’t ask for a degree from just your country, ask for one that the EU recognises.
Make your application process easy
Keep your application process as simple and bug-free as you can. A frustrating application process will deter candidates from completing it, and this is especially a problem if your candidate suffers from imposter syndrome and was apprehensive about whether this application was worth making.
A great way to avoid this is by using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) like JOIN. This standardises the applications you receive and lets you customise the forms your candidates need to fill out, giving you the chance to add only the necessary screening questions. Easier for talent, and also easier for your hiring manager!
Introduce your company
At the end of your job ad, give an introduction to your company. Talk about your values and your commitment to diversity and equality to make candidates feel welcome. Give it a personal touch with some photos. This will help uncertain candidates picture themselves working with you.
Maximise your visibility by multiposting
OK, now you have a great job ad. But where to post it? Advertising on just one platform will minimise the pool of candidates that will see it, even if you use a major job board. Niche job boards can be a highly effective tool for targeting specific groups of talent. Use a multiposting tool to post your job ad to multiple platforms and make sure the best candidate sees it. For more information, check out our free job posting page.
Create a friendly interview atmosphere
Many great candidates with imposter syndrome find interviewing daunting, because they’re scared of revealing any ignorance, or they struggle to show off their skills and accomplishments. Choosing the right interview questions can create a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, and help you discover a brilliant candidate that other companies may well overlook.
For help crafting interview questions that let your candidates show you what they’re really capable of, take a look at our catalogue of example questions for any job.
Imposter syndrome may well be keeping the perfect candidate from finding you, but by following these tips, you can fight back and make sure that you’re really hiring the best.