Imposter Syndrome at UKC (and why we have to stop perpetuating it)

By Lily Santurri Friday 5th March 2021

Image Courtesy of Wix

Imposter Syndrome is defined as an internal experience of believing that you are not good enough.

The truth is that most people reading this article have probably faced Imposter Syndrome at one point or another. By not attending a top ranked Russell Group university, when it comes to job applications, we can feel inferior and subsequently do not apply for the best opportunities.

I know this is the case because I have experienced it on multiple occasions.

One of these incidents took place on the day that I attended an open day at a successful consulting company in London. I was so excited and thrilled that I had been accepted (especially when I had been rejected from a plethora of other open days). However, on the day I couldn’t help feeling anxious about the dreaded ‘what university do you study at’ and ‘what degree do you study’ questions. I resented the polite looks of surprise when I told them I was studying English Literature, which would ultimately lead to me awkwardly justifying why a humanities undergrad was qualified to work in accountancy. Furthermore, I would be lying if I said that it was the first occasion in which I had felt apprehensive to say which university I attended. Don’t get me wrong, I think the level of teaching at Kent is brilliant and I wouldn’t have wanted to study anywhere else. However, knowing that I did not study at a top ten ranked university made me feel immediately unworthy in the competitive environment. Everyone else appeared to have done so, and it felt as though once the word ‘Kent’ had crossed my lips, I was immediately discounted. I was no longer their competition.

The truth is, it is unlikely that anyone was actually thinking this. I had gone through the same application process as everyone else after all. In all probability, the only person in that room who doubted my intellectual capability was myself. Yes, traditionally top companies have dismissed students if they haven’t been from Oxbridge, but in that moment, I was perpetuating the consequences of these attitudes by letting my fears get the better of me and allowing it to affect my performance.

I personally believe these insecurities are born from the competitive nature of education. After spending years striving for top grades, we are conditioned to believe that if we didn’t come out of A-level results day with a bag of A’s, we’d have to content ourselves with sub-standard careers. The day I found out that I had ‘only’ achieved BBC, I genuinely believed that no matter how hard I worked or how passionate I was, from that day onwards I could never achieve anything great.

This belief was confirmed in my mind by the number of rejections I had to face in my first couple of years at university. I don’t think anything quite prepares you for the feeling of rejection you experience when you put your heart and soul into an application, and you are informed that your best isn’t quite good enough. Some companies don’t even bother telling you that you’ve been unsuccessful. Silence really does speak volumes.

I know this article is about how we should stop perpetuating the effects of imposter syndrome, but I feel as though I have to give validation to the fact that imposter syndrome is not solely self-imposed. There are companies who might discount you for your A-level grades, even if you fit every other criteria and have extensive experience.

But, to be honest, if a company is going to judge my intelligence on exams that I took four years ago, I don’t want to work for them anyway.

I am not my A-level grades. I am my confidence and my values. I am the five months I have spent working in a law firm during my university summer holidays. I am the leaderships skills I have learnt from being on committees and the communication skills I have harnessed through my literature degree. I am the resilience I have gained through every rejection and so much more.

We need to stop punishing ourselves for what isn’t on our CV’s and start celebrating what is.

This doesn’t mean settling for ‘mediocre’ careers. There is nothing we can’t achieve if we have the motivation to carry us.

To prove my point, I have interviewed three University of Kent students who have achieved opportunities in three of the most competitive sectors: the Civil Service, Law (Magic Circle firm) and KPMG (one of the ‘Big Four’). Their interviews focus on their experiences with Imposter Syndrome and their motivating advice for younger students.

You study at the same university as they do and if you put the hard work in, you will have the same chance. Work hard, stay motivated and apply, apply, apply.

First Interviewee: Jake Mason, graduated in Economics with Econometrics in 2020

Accepted onto the Civil Service Fast Stream

Did you think that you would be unsuccessful getting into the Civil Service given that you had not attended one of the top universities?

‘I attended a number of assessment centres for various role and always found that the majority of students that I met there had attended one of the top universities. When I attended a Civil Service insight day back in 2018, I was told that around 1% of their intake came from the University of Kent. Statistics such as these added to the doubt that I may not be of the same standard as other applicants from top universities.’

Do you face Imposter Syndrome at work now and how do you deal with it?

‘Imposter Syndrome is definitely something that I face at work. As I have no educational background or previous experience in politics or healthcare, I always feel like there are others better qualified who would do a better job than me. This is something that my line manager and teammates are aware of and they have always been supportive with praise and feedback. The department even held a ‘Dealing with Imposter Syndrome’ session a couple of months ago and I was surprised by how many senior people had similar feelings to me, so it was really nice networking with them.’

What advice would you give to students who are currently applying to grad schemes/encouragement to apply to top jobs?

‘Students should never feel like they’re not good enough when applying for graduate schemes. If you meet the requirements on the company’s vacancy posting and feel like you would be a good fit, then you 100% are qualified for that role and should apply. Every individual is different and has a unique set of skills, knowledge and experiences to bring to a company that even people from the top universities do not possess.’

Jake’s final words of wisdom were: ‘I urge everybody to not give up hope as good things come to those who wait’.

Second Interviewee: Oliver Pope, Final year of a Law degree at Kent

Secured a training contract with Linklaters

Did you think you would be successful in getting into a firm such as Linklaters given that you did not study at one of the top universities?

‘It was definitely quite daunting looking at the percentage of trainees who had attended Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. However, after attending a number of open days and events with various firms, it became clear to me that for most firms, the skills you have gained through your degree are more important than which university you attended.’

How many job rejections have you received before getting your job offer and how did you deal with those rejections?

‘In total, I applied for a mixture of both vacation schemes and training contracts at seven different firms, receiving five rejections. In the moment, it is definitely disheartening receiving a rejection, especially in the earlier stages of an application. However, you can use it to help you bounce back and perform stronger in another application. Where possible, I tried to receive feedback and find out why I was rejected in order to work on the issue to improve next time round.’

On your vacation scheme did you experience Imposter Syndrome and how did you deal with it?

‘Initially, I did experience some Imposter Syndrome, especially in the first couple of days of my vacation scheme. However, after working and socialising with other students on the scheme, I realised we were all in the same boat and there was no competition between us at all; it was actually quite the opposite. The aim of a vacation scheme is to learn about the role of a trainee and to experience the work that they do, so there is no need to worry if you do not understand something. Everyone I reached out to at the firm was so supportive and willing to help me with any questions that I had, no matter how small.’

Oliver’s final words of wisdom were to ‘gain as much experience as you can (both legal and non-legal), build and maintain your commercial awareness and don’t be afraid to apply to those top firms.’

Third Interviewee: Alexandra Lee, undergraduate in Hispanic Studies and Management

Obtained an Audit Vacation Scheme at KPMG

Did you think you would be successful in getting into a company such as KPMG given that you did not study at one of the top universities?

‘I never thought about being unsuccessful due to the university I went to and honestly, through the application process with KPMG, they never made me feel like I couldn't succeed due to Kent not being in the top ten. The interviewers seemed to care a lot more about who I am and if I would fit into the company rather than where I went to university.’

How many job rejections have you received before getting your vacation scheme offer and how did you deal with those rejections?

‘I applied for about a dozen summer positions and was rejected from the majority of them. The rejections were definitely disappointing, with some companies not even contacting me to inform me that I had been unsuccessful. However, through friends going through similar experiences I have come to realise that rejection is a normal part of applying for internships/vacation schemes/grad jobs.’

Alexandra’s final words of wisdom were that she couldn’t ‘stress enough’ that students should ‘apply to as many internships as they can! It can often feel frustrating to continuously be rejected but you will be rewarded if you put in the hard work.’

So, after all of those inspirational interviews, where does that leave me? I’m still not certain what my future career will look like as I have applied to a variety of opportunities in a selection of different fields. The furthest I have got with any application so far is waiting to see if I will be shortlisted for a Technology Business Analyst assessment centre over the next week. I do not know if I will get the job. But what I do know is: if I am unsuccessful, it will be because I wasn’t a perfect fit for the role and not because I am not good enough.

Don’t be the reason you didn’t get your dream job.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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