Everyone has probably heard the saying “fake it till you make it”. The saying suggests that when you pretend to be more confident, knowledgeable and competent than you really are, you can eventually achieve these qualities and the pretense becomes reality. But what if that doesn’t happen?

What does impostor syndrome mean?

Impostor syndrome is a very common phenomenon where a person doubts their own competence and success. It’s like they get stuck in the pretend stage, and do not achieve that real self-confidence and belief in their own skills. Such a person thinks that successes are a matter of chance and good luck, while failures and mistakes indicate a lack of competence. In other words, good things are caused by the environment and bad things are caused by oneself.

Those suffering from the impostor syndrome see themselves as a fraud who only convinces others that they know what they are doing, although in reality their skills are at a much lower level. Impostor syndrome is often accompanied by a strong fear of failure and being caught, and the “impostor” is terrified for the moment that their incompetence is revealed to everyone. For that reason, the person might not dare to bring up their own opinions and thoughts so strongly. In addition, it may be difficult for them to accept positive feedback and praise about their own work.

Impostor syndrome can be related to, for example, new situations and environments, such as a new place of study or work. People tend to compare themselves to others, and those suffering from impostor syndrome often feel that they are behind others. Colleagues and fellow students are so talented and smart and you have to work twice as hard to keep up. Comparison and self-criticism cause stress and increase uncertainty about one’s own competence, which again feeds the impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is often associated with talented young women, as there are still many preconceptions about women, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields. This can lead to the feeling that women have to prove their worth by working harder.

Impostor syndrome is a familiar concept to students

Impostor syndrome is also talked about a lot among students. Students may set very high expectations and goals for themselves during their studies – this often starts already in elementary school. In the worst case, excessive pursuit of perfection and fear of failure can lead to dismissing the tasks altogether. Especially big and important projects, such as theses, can be left hanging due to self-criticism and the resulting anxiety.

Especially close to graduation, many students feel insecure about their own expertise and professional skills in the job market – shouldn’t you know everything now? This can lead to the student not even daring to apply for the jobs they really want. However, the truth is that learning by no means ends with graduation, but that’s where the professional development only begins. The studies provide an excellent foundation on which to build competence, so you don’t have to have all the answers when you leave school.

How to relieve impostor syndrome?

Despite its name, impostor syndrome is not an official mental health diagnosis, but rather a way of thinking. Therefore, you can also learn from impostor syndrome by recognizing impostor thoughts and changing your own thought pattern.

  • Remember that you are not the only one going through these feelings. So it’s worth speaking out loud about your own experiences, because it’s likely that others have had similar thoughts at least at some point. For example, Nyyti ry offers various opportunities to meet other students and share your own experiences also anonymously.
  • Learn to be happy about your own achievements. We often remember mistakes better than successes, so making a list can help us visualize the good things.
  • Don’t procrastinate on the important things, and don’t get stuck in the pursuit of perfection and nit-picking. You don’t always have to put 110% into the game.
  • When looking for a job, you can ask a friend to check your resume so you don’t underestimate yourself or your own skills. Sometimes it is difficult to articulate your own strengths, so the help of loved ones or a professional can be very useful.
  • Learn to accept compliments and remember to congratulate yourself for a job well done.

Employers can also influence the development of a student’s professional self-esteem, for example by offering various internships and practical projects where students can develop their own skills at a low threshold. When searching for interns, the importance of motivation and learning should already be emphasized in the job advertisement. During the internship, it is important to ensure that the intern receives sufficient support, work guidance and feedback on the work. Organizational culture is also important, and the employer should ensure that the workplace has a safe atmosphere where teamwork and working together are emphasized.

Although students rarely have years of work experience, they bring a huge amount of new skills and perspectives to the company. Read here what strengths students have in working life.