The Catch-22 of Experience (imposter syndrome and motivational fit)
Most people have seen the statistic where a man will apply for a job he meets 6/10 qualifications for and the woman won’t unless she meets 10/10 (states HBR, Confidence Code, Lean In…). This is centered in a lot of bias, imposter syndrome, and also business norms and these are all hurting not just the job prospects of someone applying but also the success of the person who actually gets hired (Natalie speculation here, read on).
Near and dear to my heart today I’m applying for positions. I did this a few months ago as well when I wanted to take my career in a different direction. I wanted to get into product ownership and product management. Every PO/PM job I applied for, I didn’t totally meet the qualifications, after all I’ve never had that TITLE…and the hiring managers knew it. It was right NOT there on my resume. But at the same time, I had been hired to coach, train, and mentor product owners and product managers. I had seen it from the outside and could be objective about it. Also, I consulted for many different companies and understood industries and the technicalities it takes to make trade offs between tech debt and new feature development. But guess what…I didn’t have the right experience in their eyes – I’m telling myself it was just a resume scan and I didn’t have enough sameness.
But what a Catch-22 right? You can’t get the experience until someone gives you a chance, but no one will give you the chance unless you have the experience. What’s the definition of ready for being ready for a new challenge? I felt like an imposter and was wondering why in the world I was even allowed to coach the elite PO/PMs whose echelons I could never reach. It reminded me of when I was in college, after college when I was a developer and my first ScrumMaster position. I was an imposter who didn’t meet the qualifications but someone gave me a chance.
Is it us as individuals who hold ourselves back or is it others? I think it’s both. Let’s start with ourselves though. I was in a presentation by my friend Billie Schuttpelz about imposter syndrome and she asked us to discuss what we would need for a vulnerable environment to feel safe to talk about these issues. The narratives were similar: no interrupting, no pontificating, no judgement, no put downs…all basic respect things.
Then she did something unexpected and told us to first make those agreements with ourselves. Because we control those parts of our own internal imposter syndrome. And you know what? It hit everyone in the gut. We did these things and yet we were sensitive to them. It reminds me of something I realized once. Most often people talk about their biggest insecurities. If someone feels fat, they talk about eating healthy and wanting to work out, if someone is insecure about marriage/dating that’s what comes up with them. Our insecurities as much as we try to hide them tend to be very obvious, especially when we know someone well. Wow, who knew we can hurt someone we’re close to because we know what will hit them right in the heart?
So yes, our insecurities and imposter syndrome hold us back. But hiring managers and recruiters do as well. And in my not so humble opinion it’s to their detriment. When I was fresh out of college I learned about something called motivational fit. You didn’t want someone to be overqualified or even 100% qualified for the job because they would get BORED. Sure, it’s great that you have done something, but if you keep wanting to do it over and over again and not try new things then you’re probably a bit complacent. And you will eventually try to find the next thing and not stick with the company that hired you because you’d be best for the job. Great that you did it once or twice but if you keep wanting to do it how much better will you get? Will you develop new skills? Will you be challenged and motivated to stay? If that was true, I wouldn’t be jobless now.
We need to be challenged and we need to try new things. We have to quell our imposter syndrome and insecurities, but we also need to be given the chance and confidence to do so. We need to be able to try and fail and eventually succeed. But if we never get the chance, either by not applying or not even getting an interview that status quo is really gonna suck for everyone. Innovation doesn’t come from repetition or complacency, it comes from hard work, failure, and learning new things. And if none of this was true imagine all the jobs that either would have the same people or wouldn’t be filled (after all at least every 8 years we have a president who has never done it before…sometimes it’s a horrible choice and sometimes it pays off…but everyone is new and has to learn sometimes and it’s the bad choices that help us make better ones in the future because we all have to learn somehow).
agile agile imposter catch-22 collaboration corporate definition of ready imposter imposter syndrome leadership motivational fit natalie warnert productivity servant leadership teamwork value women in agile