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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome During Your Job Hunt

The tendency to discount or dismiss evidence of our abilities can be overcome by taking action

UX/UI Design
7 minute read

To be quite honest, I put off writing this because I didn’t feel qualified. I often second-guess myself when talking about my position as a UX designer, and a writer. I experience flurries of intrusive thoughts that tell me I’m ill-equipped for the job. Impostor syndrome can manifest differently depending on the individual and their experiences, context, situations, and expectations.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings one may experience. They may be feelings of inadequacy, of not being good enough to be accepted by the majority or not being accepted by the invisible standard. It is feeling all of these things despite obvious evidence to the contrary. It can also be fear of judgment, criticism and vulnerability. We sometimes struggle with internalising and owning our achievements.

Although imposter syndrome, coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, can manifest in many anyone, it is more commonly seen in women. Studies conducted in recent years have included imposter syndrome as a barrier to women’s occupational achievement. (I’ve linked some articles below if interested.) Up to 70% of people experience imposter syndrome in their life. How many of you have had that “I’m in over my head and they’re going to find out” feeling?

Why Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome tends to show up with exceptional strength during the job search. It can be especially debilitating for those of us who have transitioned into UX design from other fields. Intrusive thoughts might tell you that you won’t stand out, the competition is too fierce or even lead to a fear of being exposed as a fraud.

In this article, I will share some helpful tips for working through imposter syndrome with the help of imposter syndrome expert, Dr Valerie Young. I will also be sharing an overview of the five categories of imposter syndrome in which each type has a different root cause and a different correction strategy.

Which One Sounds Like You?

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr Valerie Young has classified imposter syndrome into five types: The Perfectionist, The Superperson, The Natural Genius, The Soloist, and The Expert. Let's dive in and see which type will resonate with you, and what steps you can take to overcome it.

Meet The Perfectionist

This type of imposter syndrome is all about the how? How something gets done and how it turns out. They set the bar unrealistically high and feel like a failure even when they achieve great results with just one tiny critique.

If you are a perfectionist, you may tend to control everything and obsess over feedback. Even when you achieve success, it's never quite satisfying enough. This can be especially challenging because as a designer, it's essential to seek quality design feedback to improve your skills.

To identify if you are a Perfectionist, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a reputation for being a micromanager?
  • Do you struggle to delegate tasks to others?
  • Do you feel like anything less than 100% is unacceptable?
  • Do you often say "If you want something done right, do it yourself?"

There are a few ways to overcome this mindset. Celebrate your achievements, understand that mistakes are part of the creative process, and accept that perfection is not always achievable. So, take a deep breath, let go of the need for flawlessness, and enjoy the perfectly imperfect journey of learning and growing as a designer.

Let’s Talk About The Superperson

This type of imposter syndrome can be tough to handle because it's all about quantity. How many tasks, projects, and relationships can you juggle? It's easy to feel like a phoney when comparing yourself to others who seem to be doing it all with no sweat.

If this sounds like you, take a step back and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you feel like you need to work harder than others to prove yourself?
  • Have you put your interests and hobbies aside for your job?
  • Do you work late every day even when your work is “done”?
  • Do you have a hard time relaxing or using your holidays?

It's important to recognise that your self-worth isn't determined by how many things you can do at once. Remember, quality over quantity is always better in the long run. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback and accept constructive criticism. Take time to focus on yourself and prioritise self-care. You got this!

Are You a Natural Genius?

The Natural Genius is someone who is all about the how and when? They tend to believe that things should come easily and quickly, and if they don't, they feel like they aren't talented. This can cause them to give up easily if something doesn't go smoothly the first time, and they don't see value in the effort it takes to master a new skill.

In design, failure is part of learning, testing, and iterating. So if you identify as a Natural Genius type and want to become a designer, it's important to recognise this early on and work to overcome it.

Are you a Natural Genius? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you usually excel without trying too hard?
  • Did you frequently get recognised with straight A's and gold stars as a child?
  • Does having a mentor make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you avoid things that you don't already know how to do?

Here are some quick tips to help you overcome this mindset:

  • See yourself as a constant work in progress and embrace the learning process
  • Cultivate a growth mindset and be open to lifelong learning
  • Break tasks into smaller, more achievable chunks to make progress easier to manage

Introducing The Soloist

The Soloist is someone who values the who? more than anything else. They tend to view themselves as independent and self-sufficient, often finding it difficult to ask for help even when they need it most.

Unfortunately, this approach can be isolating and lead to burnout. Soloists may reject mentorship and miss out on valuable learning opportunities. To succeed in the design world, it's important to recognise that collaboration and teamwork are essential.

Do you identify as a Soloist? Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do you find it challenging to ask others for help?
  • Do you believe that success can only be achieved on your terms?
  • Do you always prefer to work alone rather than in a team?
  • Do you feel like you don't need anyone else's input or feedback?

Here are some tips to overcome your Soloist tendencies:

  • Remember that it's okay to ask for help and seek support from others
  • Practice gratitude and acknowledge the contributions of those who help you along the way
  • Look for opportunities to collaborate and work with others, and embrace teamwork to achieve success


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Say “Hello” to The Expert

The Expert is someone who values knowledge and expertise above all else. They have a deep fear of being seen as inexperienced or unknowledgeable and often strive for perfection in their work. However, in fields like design where tools and techniques are constantly evolving, Experts need to be kind to themselves when they don't yet know something.

If you think you might be an Expert, consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you avoid applying for a job unless you meet every single requirement?
  • Are you constantly seeking out new training?
  • Do you refuse praise when someone calls you an expert?
  • Do you feel ashamed when you don't know something?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, don't worry! Here are some quick tips to overcome these tendencies:

  • Seek out mentorship opportunities to share your knowledge with others
  • Avoid comparing yourself to people with more experience
  • Don't hold onto skills for a hypothetical rainy day, learn as you go

It is often easy to feel like a fraud, especially if you are self-taught. We need to remind ourselves that we are not defined by our job titles. We can use this affirmation for support; “I'm a human being with a valuable skillset.” Ultimately, our peers care more about how we treat them and what we can produce than our job titles.

You are Not Alone

One of the most common misconceptions about imposter syndrome is the belief that you are alone in your feelings of fraudulence. However, research shows that about 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

Finding others who you can open up to and trust can lead to a sense of relief and connection. Try joining a design community (like Memorisely) to connect with people working through the same feelings!

Other Helpful Strategies

  • Positive self-talk in the form of affirmations (i.e. “I don’t need others’ praise to feel proud of myself” and “Mistakes are part of the learning process”)
  • Separate your feelings from the facts
  • Recognise when fraudulent feelings creep up, acknowledge them, and kindly ask them to move along
  • Focus on your positive achievements. Start a brag document where you spend five minutes every week listing the amazing things you did!

You’ve Got This

Imposter syndrome is a common experience shared by many people, but it doesn't have to hold you back. It's a sign that you're pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and striving to achieve your goals. The tendency to discount or dismiss evidence of our abilities can be overcome by taking action and changing our mindset. Reframing our thoughts and using self-talk can help us combat feelings of being an imposter.

Remember, confidence is not a prerequisite for success, and it's okay to feel scared or unsure. If you want to stop feeling like an imposter, then you have to stop thinking like an imposter. So embrace the challenge, own your achievements, and continue to grow and develop into your best self.

Additional Reading and Resources:


4.3.7-6-IP-High Achieving Women.doc (paulineroseclance.com)

Impostor Syndrome Experts - Impostor Syndrome Institute