Just like no person is out of your league, no job should be either. Flirt with the job that seems out of bounds; you just might get lucky. Here’s why you should carry the confidence of a mediocre white man and apply for the jobs you don’t think you’ll get.
Ladies get a bad rap. From their employee database, a 2013 Hewlett Packard internal report produced the statistic that men apply for jobs when they meet just 60% of the listed qualifications, while women tend to apply only if they meet every last one. So it looks like most women are afraid to apply, out of fear of being “underqualified.” Meanwhile, men apply anyway. All of the time.
This perceived fraudulence, or imposter syndrome, describes how people can persistently feel out-of-place or undeserving of credentials or status, despite their education, experience, and accomplishments. Earlier research from the 1970s focused the phenomenon on women, who felt as though they are less competent and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. And it’s not just women — more research from the Journal of College Student Retention finds that first-generation college students are also more likely to experience imposter syndrome than other students. Unfortunately, amassing achievements does not appear to reduce imposter syndrome.
The hiring process is one example of imposter syndrome in action, exacerbated by the workforce’s demands and demographics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published in 2020 that 57.4% of women participated in the labor force, compared to 69.2% of men. Men dominate the workforce. As for first-gen students, the Journal of College Student Retention found in 2021 that since their families do not have a full understanding of the demands of higher education, these students may not benefit from strong family emotional support. Because these groups need to seek out other resources, like communities or support groups, they can be underrepresented and feel less deserving.
Yet despite these gendered disparities, data from the Harvard Business Review found different results. A lack of confidence is the least common reason for not applying to a job. In 2014, in over 1,000 self-reports, 46.4% of men and 40.6% of women reported believing the statement “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”
From these results, the general hesitancy about applying to jobs doesn’t stem from personal doubt regarding job performance — we know we work hard and can see our tasks through. Instead, many are specifically worried about having the right minimal qualifications on paper, because they think employers will otherwise pass on their resumes without giving them a shot. As the HBR put it, this mistaken perception about necessary qualifications resides with the hiring process, not women themselves. Further critique by the HR Examiner points out that discrimination and underpresentation are the problem, and can create a toxic workplace. Simply put, people need better information about how the hiring process really works.
During the interview process, you need to sell your skillset and establish that you meet the minimum qualifications. Whatever job(s) you did before taught you skills that will help in the job you’re applying for. You just need to communicate that. Practice your interview skills and rehearse your answers to include your experiences.
Please remember that you’re at the same college or company as your peers because you bring something special to the table. When felt in healthy moderation, self-doubt can provide an opportunity to evaluate and address your strengths and weaknesses. Any job would benefit from your self-awareness and reflection skills. If you are not the type of employee they usually hire, don’t fret. You can be an unconventional choice. Bring new, unexpected skills to the team. So don’t dismiss building your confidence entirely! Prove to the hiring team, and yourself, that you are a valuable asset that they’d be lucky to have.
Given Gen Z collective’s dream of not doing labor, celebrate that you’re ambitious with your career. Treat yourself like the irreplaceable human being that you are, because employers should follow suit.
Mohr, T.S. (2014). Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified. Harvard Business Review.
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice.
Holden, C., et al. (2021) Imposter Syndrome Among First- and Continuing-Generation College Students: The Roles of Perfectionism and Stress.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). “Table 3: Employment Status of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population by Age, Sex, and Race.” Current Population Survey.
Kay, K. & Shipman, C. (2014). The Confidence Gap. The Atlantic.