Alumnus Success Story: Navigating Imposter Syndrome

At the Career Center in LynxConnect we support students with many different aspects to a successful college journey. Understanding ourselves and navigating the difficulties of expressing our professional identity is just one small part of how the Career Center supports your journey. Something we all experience and must learn to manage is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is defined as “an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.” It’s the feeling that we are not good enough, or that we doubt our skills, talents, and abilities. We all struggle with this from time to time, and it can be hard to see the qualifications, skills, and motivation that others see in us. Read about how this alumnus used multiple appointments with a career counselor to see their genuine talents and manage their own feelings of imposter syndrome to gain their dream job.

Imposter syndrome is defined as “an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.” 

Cydney Hughes, a CU Denver Career Counselor, met with this student over a few months to help her through her dream job interview process. Here is their story.

When I met with Caitlin Kamerer in January 2022, I was immediately struck by her professionalism and determination. Caitlin recently moved to a new state and was searching for a full-time position while also being a full-time doctoral student. It takes immense dedication and perseverance to pursue a doctoral degree, but to pursue a full-time position as well is inspiring. Over the course of our first meeting, Caitlin and I talked about her program, career interests, and job search so far. Her previous experience was mostly in Annual Giving, but she was also interested in DEI and consulting work. After four months of searching, she was beginning to feel like she needed help revitalizing her process. We focused our conversation on tips and strategies she could add to her already expansive process to increase her chances of landing her dream role.

One month later, Caitlin and I met again when she had an interview scheduled for an Assistant Director of Annual Giving position at Stanford University. Over the course of our second appointment, I learned that Caitlin had originally applied for a different position at Stanford, but that they had identified the Assistant Director position as a better fit for her. She had already completed the first-round interview for this position and was heading into the second round. As we continued to talk through what would be most helpful in her prep for the interview, Caitlin identified that answering “About Me” questions and coming up with questions for her interviewers was most difficult for her. As we began to prep in these areas, Caitlin pulled up a several-page word document of prep material for her interview. Not only had she written down and answered questions she might be asked in the interview, but she had also clarified her own personal goals, mission, and vision and how they pertained to this role.

Caitlin Kamerer
Doctor of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity, Higher Education
(exp. May 2024)

It was clear that Caitlin was very organized, detailed, and clear about her career intentions. She knew what she wanted to do, and she knew exactly how to say it.

In understanding this, I started to pivot the conversation toward how she generally feels when interviewing. Through this discussion, Caitlin told me more about her feelings of imposter syndrome and feeling like she was under-qualified for this role. Caitlin explained that while she had many years of experience working in Annual Giving, she had never worked for an institution like Stanford. We discussed how intimidating it can be to interview for large, established, or even Ivy League schools.

As we prepared Caitlin for her second interview, we talked more about why she felt like an imposter. “Because most of my annual giving experience is from smaller institutions, not somewhere like Stanford,” she said. Having experienced similar thoughts myself, I encouraged her to reframe her thought process a little bit. What if we considered the experience and skills that she could gain from a smaller institution that she couldn’t gain at a university like Stanford. Would she have had the ability to work on more projects at a smaller institution? Would the scope of her position have been larger? Could she have developed stronger knowledge, relationships, or skill sets?

Assistant Director of Annual Giving Programs, Stanford Medical Development 
It's easy for us to read job descriptions and pick out the specific reasons we are not qualified. Many times, job descriptions will list minimum and preferred qualifications to identify ideal candidates. As a Career Counselor, it’s my job to help students think critically about their experience and how it can be applied to the position. Qualifications can be black and white, but not always. Sometimes we must read between the lines and determine if the experience we have would allow us to perform well in the next job.

As Caitlin and I continued to discuss her skills sets and qualifications, we focused on the job itself and questions she could ask in the upcoming interview. Through our discussion, she realized that she really didn’t know as much about the position as she wanted to. She recognized then that maybe some of her imposter syndrome was due to the title and the institution and not necessarily the position itself. 

Caitlin continued to progress through the interview process to complete a third and fourth-round interview. Before each interview, she continued to reach out to me to prepare. With each conversation, I could see her becoming more comfortable in the process and feeling qualified for the role. After several meetings, not only could she identify why she was a great fit for this position, but she believed it too. She felt confident, qualified, and proud of her experience and performance in the interview process. During our meetings, she continued to identify how much our conversations had helped her in the interview and got her in the right frame of mind. It can be difficult to maintain professionalism, enthusiasm and excitement for the role when there are several weeks between interviews. She was grateful that even as a doctoral student at CU Denver, she could utilize our services in the Career Center to help her achieve her dream position.

It’s important to remember that the employer wouldn’t be interviewing you if they didn’t think you were qualified. We are all uniquely brilliant, talented, and skilled in different areas.

A few days after our last appointment, I received an email from Caitlin letting me know she had received an offer from Stanford. I was always confident in her abilities and her fit for this role, so I was ecstatic to hear that Stanford agreed. She is a wonderful interviewer and an incredibly dedicated and passionate higher education professional. As a Career Counselor, it’s wonderful to see the growth and development that can happen during the interview process. Those feelings of imposter syndrome and self-doubt can always creep in, but it’s important to remember that the employer wouldn’t be interviewing you if they didn’t think you were qualified. We are all uniquely brilliant, talented, and skilled in different areas. If we can believe it for ourselves first, we can make others believe it too.