Visiting the UK recently, former First Lady and author of this year’s bestselling book, Michelle Obama, revealed she still sometimes struggles with ‘impostor syndrome’. I’m reading Michelle’s book at the moment – it’s amazing that someone who has achieved so much still can’t shake off that feeling of self-doubt.
Impostor syndrome is nothing new to me. As a natural introvert, I’m far from comfortable in certain situations. Networking events – I hate them. Business breakfasts – no thank you. Back when I was in the wine trade, me and my impostor syndrome used to frequent industry wine tastings together. (How awful for you, I hear you say, but when you don’t quite know what you’re talking about yet, wine tastings are pretty daunting.) On one occasion I had to attend a tasting with a senior colleague, who for some reason thought I was called ‘Steffi’. I had never corrected him, since its not that different from ‘Steph’, my actual name. Unfortunately, this is when I learned that I ought to have nipped it in the bud – wearing the ‘Steffi’ name badge that he had arranged for me, I spent the day explaining to the good folks on the German wine table that I’m not actually German, I don’t want to buy any Trockenbeerenauslese, and if I were in fact young enough to have been named after Ms Graf, the German tennis star, I definitely should not be drinking mid-morning.
That’s when I learned that nothing fuels impostor syndrome like having to admit that you’re an impostor.
Most of us will have encountered impostor syndrome from time to time, particularly during job interviews. You can marginalise it by preparing brilliantly, but it’s perfectly normal to have feelings of self-doubt in a pressurised interview situation. How you handle it, though, can influence whether you are successful or not. And, of course, there’s the human factor – how you connect with the interviewer, whether they can see you fitting in to their team, and the characteristics they are looking for that you don’t know about. So you can do your best, but ultimately the outcome is out of your hands, no matter how well you perform.
We encourage our clients to take a holistic approach to recruitment – that means there is more to the process than reviewing CVs and interviewing candidates. After all, everyone puts on their best self for an interview, regardless of impostor syndrome, and some people are just good at interviews (Spoiler: they might have had a bit too much interview practice – alarm bells!). The interview should be a starting point – the qualities that make a candidate suitable for your business lie in their motivation, behaviours and potential. All these things can be measured using psychometric testing, and that’s where we come in.
Too often, recruitment is treated as a box ticking exercise. The business demands a particular set of skills, and they are really only interested in candidates that tick every box. They justify this by saying it is essential that the successful candidate can ‘hit the ground running’. This is a very dangerous approach – and here’s why. The reason most people change jobs is because they want a new challenge. We work in the IT industry, and unsurprisingly, technical people love learning. They want to be challenged – to work with the latest technology, to solve problems, to further themselves.
Here’s the thing. ‘Hitting the ground running’ is the exact opposite of a new challenge.
So, what happens after you hit the ground running?
Well, to be blunt, you start looking for another new challenge.
Doesn’t really sound like a long-term prospect, does it?
If you struggle to recruit, and your staff turnover is higher than you would like, you should ask yourself honestly whether this is the approach you are taking. If so, it will cost you a lot, it won’t get any better if you don’t address it, and your high staff turnover will harm your business’s reputation in the marketplace.
Hiring managers – don’t look for a box ticker. You can’t expect to build a team for the future if everyone you hire outgrows the job as soon as they start. The candidate that has the right behaviours, motivation and potential will be a better long-term prospect than the box ticker every time.
Jobseekers – embrace your impostor syndrome. If it’s good enough for Michelle Obama, it’s good enough for the rest of us.