Maybe I am not cut out for this? Everyone around me is so accomplished – do I belong here? If I only worker harder, will others see that I belong in this here? Why can’t I ever seem to exceed my own expectations? Imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon that can make insecure overachievers of us all (well, perhaps some people could use a little less confidence and a little more self-reflection). While we may respond in different ways, we often do respond to our own detriment. We strive for positive reinforcement, seek Sisyphean accolades and achievements to prove our worth, and constantly strain ourselves (and perhaps our teams) to reach a higher bar. All the while, these questions of self-doubt circulate at the expense of valuable headspace for our family and friends, rejuvenation and reflection time, and the sanity of those around us.
Imposter syndrome often strikes high achievers, who doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as frauds unworthy of their title, achievements, or chalk these successes up to serendipity and “luck.” One facing this phenomenon often responds with one of two extremes – over-preparation to more than ensure that they meet that mark or procrastination. When I wrote Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit with best-selling author and case interview guru Marc Cosentino, I learned three lessons on how to tame the imposter within.
- Reflect and Reframe: Highlight Your Strengths
When Marc and I began collaborating on Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit, imposter syndrome surfaced in full-force. I was collaborating with someone who had built consulting and case interviewing expertise over decades, had conducted thousands of case interviews, and who had written the “Consulting Bible,” while I was seemingly just getting started. My mind began to run wild with the countless reasons why someone more experienced… more knowledgeable…more… not me… should partner on this book. I had to reflect and reframe.
This opportunity was not serendipitous, it came from strengths that I had developed over time. I had to remind myself that Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit was a 10+ year work-in-progress that started when I began collecting and developing resources to prepare my younger self for government and nonprofit consulting. It grew when I began sharing these resources as VP of Careers for the Georgetown McDonough School of Business MBA Consulting Club, and it expanded when I began designing and delivering workshops to help students better prepare for the industry. When I supported the launch of a public sector management consulting practice and led recruiting efforts, I gained valuable insights into how to identify top tier candidates.
When the roles had reversed, and I was on the other side of the interview table, I began looking for certain qualities and characteristics that differentiated candidates, capturing these characteristics, and reflecting on what made candidates successful. Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit became a letter to my younger self and an opportunity to give someone a head-start. Reframing to strengths drowned out the incessant questions about needing more experience, not being on the same level of expertise as Marc (and no one is), and also highlighted that I knew the preparation more closely than many other people – as someone who had been passed up for jobs, as someone who had to deliberate what distinguished certain candidates, and as someone who made hiring decisions.
- Build Your Personal “Board of Advisors”
Imposter syndrome or not, one thing I always recommend is that you build your own personal “Board of Advisors.” These are people who know you, who you trust, and who are not afraid to give it to you straight. They’ve seen you grow and develop and are invested in your success. You may have different Advisory Boards for different aspects of your life and different stages of your career. For instance, my Parenting Advisory Board (PAB), General Advisory Board (shout-out to the chain), and Career Advisory Board have distinct people who are willing to offer advice, talk through experiences, and share unvarnished feedback. When I began the process for Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit, I reached out to my Career Advisory Board which was comprised of mentors, peers, and even people I mentor (yes – there is a lot you can learn from your mentees) for advice and to temper the imposter within. Some provided validation, others provided feedback, and others served as readers of the very rough first draft of the book. Through it all, they enabled me to build confidence in the product, strengthen it, and ensure that it remained true to its intent. In true imposter syndrome fashion, I over-prepared and probably cut a full books worth of content based on their recommendations (second edition out soon?). Your personal Board of Advisors will be a vital resource in quelling that inner imposter, instilling confidence, and generating a stronger product.
- When In Doubt – Help Others
There are countless reasons why you should pay it forward and help others. Chances are someone helped you get where you are. Those that you help today may be your helpers tomorrow. More than anything else, it just feels good. It can also help cure your imposter syndrome. Mentoring, coaching, and helping others quiets those inner voices and reminds you of why you are in your position in the first place.
When I was drafting Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit, I made sure to continue to devote a significant portion of time to mentoring and coaching others. Students from my undergraduate and graduate alma maters, people from my professional networks, as well as people randomly on LinkedIn, would reach out for advice. Hearing these questions reminded me a lot of my younger self, how much I had learned, and how far I had come. Additionally, it gave me the chance to improve the draft with some real-time coaching and feedback. I walked away from each conversation a little less doubtful, a little more confident, and hopeful that my advice had put them in the position to help others down the road.
While we may face imposter syndrome differently, reframing to your strengths rather than focusing on those doubts, building a “Board of Advisors” to provide feedback, and helping others can help you treat the imposter within.
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About the Author
With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.