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A Pathrise fellow on how to overcome imposter syndrome

Updated in 2023

We’re excited to include guest posts on our blog from interesting people and companies in the industry. This post was written by Vivian Chung, a former Pathrise fellow who found her dream job as a designer and is sharing her experience on the job search and imposter syndrome at her first job.

So, you landed your first job. Congratulations! All the hard work over the last 4, 5, maybe even more years has finally paid off. Or has it? 

Imposter Syndrome: [ im-pos-ter sin-drohm ] anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.

If you’re sitting at your desk wondering why the hell your company hired you, and feeling incredibly useless, you’re probably suffering from the imposter syndrome. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Just keep this in mind, those inner doubts and fears of yours are probably wrong.

Who am I?

My name is Vivian Chung, and I’m working my first design job ever at a San Francisco startup. It’s also my first real full-time job. As is common in the tech industry, my path to this career was unconventional. I studied Business and Computer Science at a Canadian University, and while my studies had almost no direct relation to my current career, I always nursed a secret ambition to become a designer.

Eventually I neared the end of my university degree and decided that it was time to pursue my goal with everything I had. The problem: design was almost non-existent in my life. I was surrounded by software engineers, and no one who I could talk about my career. I was lost about what my next steps should be.

Almost exactly one year ago, I got an email from Pathrise. In case you don’t know about Pathrise, it’s a career accelerator for people who are looking to break into the tech industry. I was accepted into the program as one of the first design fellows and began working with incredible mentor. But throughout the 7 months that I was job searching, my confidence took a big hit from rejection after rejection. 

Interviewing and job searching is hard, that’s no secret. It always hurted to hear yet another friend landed a fantastic job while I was still searching and I took it way too personally. I was constantly plagued with doubts like this:

  • Am I making the right decision in pursuing this career?
  • Do I actually have the skills to succeed in this career?
  • Will I actually be able to land a design job when I didn’t go to school for design?
  • Everyone is so much better than me, who would want me?

This is not an advertisement, but a genuine factor in my journey: the saving grace in my career search was Pathrise. I was able to get feedback on my work and skills and receive emotional support. My mentor was incredibly uplifting, but not cheesy or fake. They were realistic and brought things into perspective for me when I needed it. I was skilled, but there was room for improvement. I just had to put on my best face and find someone who would take a chance on me.

But when I finally landed an internship that brought me to the Bay Area and then led to a full-time job, I still attributed it all to luck and timing. If my manager wanted to talk to me, I feared she was going to fire me. I felt like I was being constantly monitored, and that if I slacked off even just a little bit, I would suffer the consequences. I got a ton of stress pimples.

I didn’t feel like I got the job because of my skills. I felt like I got it because I seemed like the best option at the time. I felt like a fraud. Maybe you can relate?

The truth

Admittedly, a big part of job searching and landing a job is indeed luck and timing. It’s also about playing your cards right and rolling the dice over and over again. But at the end of the day, there is still a minimum level of skill to be met. Managers are (generally) not stupid; they have eyes and know what they are looking for. 

You were hired for a reason.

One of the big “aha” moments for me was when I read Haseeb Qureshi’s post, Ten Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer. I won’t regurgitate all the information, but I highly recommend it as a read. It might inspire an “aha” moment in you as well.

I realized that it’s called a job market for a reason. You’re selling your skills, and employers pay you a salary for them. You are in control of who you work for and what your selling price is. If you received a job offer, you can be confident that this employer wants you. They have invested a lot of time and money to give you an offer. They want you to succeed, because it will bring a lot of value to them

Another important lesson that really helped me start to overcome the imposter syndrome: your self-worth is not tied to the prestige of the job you hold or the amount of money you make. Prestige of a career and company is subjective, and ever changing. Don’t measure yourself with a stick that constantly changes and is determined by others. The amount of money you make is tied to how much profit an industry can make. For example, being a nurse is not the most lucrative career, but brings an incredible amount of value to society. Healthcare is not about profit. Not making $200k a year does not make you any less of a human.

What now?

I’m still working on overcoming the imposter syndrome, but keeping the logic and bigger picture in mind always helps when I’m in a rut. Here are some actionable tasks that helped me combat imposter syndrome, and will hopefully help you as well:

  • Don’t be shy about asking for feedback 
  • Schedule regular 1-on-1s with your supervisor
  • Continue to update your portfolio with work projects (it’ll remind you of what you’ve accomplished, and keep you on top of things)
  • Talk to your friends about their work to gain some perspective on what others around your age do at work
  • Keep in touch with others in similar roles to you at the company so you can get an understanding on what they do on a daily basis

As my parting gift to you, here are a couple books recommended to me by a mentor whom I highly respect, that have made a lasting impact on how I view career and life in general. They will help you gain more confidence in your career:

May growth and success continue to find you! 

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you want to work with any of our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with your job search, become a Pathrise fellow.

Apply today.

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Alex MacPherson

Hi I'm Alex! Since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2019, I have worked on the growth team for Pathrise helping job seekers hone their skills to land their dream role through curated content on interview prep, resume building and more.

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