You Are Not A Fraud


When I read the job description for the open position, it sounded like a perfect fit for a nerd like me: analyzing data, ensuring data quality, and training team members on systems and processes. I had already been doing very similar work in my temporary role at the organization, so when a very similar, but a permanent position opened up, it seemed too good to be true.

When I got to the “qualifications” section of the posting, I read the first line, “3-5 years of related experience”, and I was immediately discouraged. By the most generous estimate, I had one year, maybe a year and a half of relevant experience. Oh well, I thought to myself, maybe I can apply to a role like this a few years down the road. Out of curiosity, I kept reading. Under “Qualifications,” the posting contained 14 bullet points listing the required skills for applicants. While I didn’t have enough years of experience according to the first bullet point, I met or exceeded the other 13 qualifications listed. I thought to myself, OK, maybe it would be worth a shot to apply. At least it would be good practice writing a cover letter. I was eager to stay on at the same organization once my temporary role concluded, and it seemed like I didn’t have much to lose.

After five rounds of interviews and weeks of waiting, my soon-to-be manager called me and verbally offered me the job. I was so shocked and excited that I almost dropped the phone.

I had heard the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women tend to apply only if they meet 100% of them. In merely applying to this position, I had gone against that trend. I didn’t meet 100% of the stated qualifications – I only met 93%, and I applied anyway. I thought I surpassed the biggest hurdle, but I didn’t think about imposter syndrome – the feeling that you’re a fraud among your colleagues at work or your peers in school. It’s a strong form of self-doubt, often accompanied by anxiety or depression. According to the American Psychological Association, when researchers began studying this phenomenon in the 1970s, they believed it was unique to women. Today, it’s been shown to be more prevalent among any individuals who are different from most of their peers at work or in school, whether in race, gender identity, age, other characteristics, or a combination.

From my first day in the new role, I was intimidated. I was convinced everyone knew I was unqualified for this job, and because of that, I needed to prove I was qualified, that I needed to somehow make up for the fact that I had been hired even though I had not met that 14th bullet point on the job description. One always has to prove oneself in any new role, but in this case, I went into overdrive. I made it my personal mission to take on every single team-related task I could. In previous jobs, I took initiative when I was interested or when I believed it would benefit the organization. This time, instead of doing those things because I was motivated to learn, I was doing them out of fear. I was afraid that if I didn’t put in 110%, I would be discovered as a fraud- that everyone would find out that I wasn’t qualified to be there in the first place. I second-guessed myself every day for months, and it was emotionally exhausting.

I’ve now been in this role for over a year. Months of working hard led me to start to feel comfortable and to receive positive feedback from my colleagues. It has been an amazing growth experience to take a job that challenges and pushes me every day to be a better professional and a better person. Being eager to learn and grow has allowed me to contribute to my team, the organization, and our larger mission. Taking initiative on my team and challenging myself on new projects has helped me grow professionally and define what I want to do in my career.

I don’t regret all the hard work I’ve put into this job. I do regret that I spent those first months being motivated by self-doubt and fear that I didn’t deserve my spot on the team. I still work hard and take initiative in my work, but I’m finally back to doing so because I’m excited about what we do and motivated by the mission of our organization. Instead of exhaustion, I feel energized and excited. I feel like I belong.

If I could go back in time one year and give myself some advice, it would be this:

Apply for jobs you’re really excited about where you don’t meet all the stated qualifications. Go for positions you don’t feel fully qualified for, know that you deserve the opportunity to prove yourself, and be willing to learn and grow. Once the job is yours, work hard because you feel motivated by the team and excited by the work. You are not a fraud, and imposter syndrome is not necessarily over once you say yes to a job offer. And that’s okay – as long as you don’t let it get in your way.

Rachel Whaley: Co-founder, The Brink of Impact podcast. Always in search of beautiful hiking trails, gluten-free waffles, and cool data visualizations.