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There’s been a lot of discussion about Imposter Syndrome — the feeling that you’re unqualified or undeserving of your job title — in the media lately. It seems that everyone from newcomers to CEOs experience it at some stage in their career – and thankfully it’s now being discussed openly. If even a CEO at the top of their game is vulnerable, it’s no surprise that Imposter Syndrome holds students and graduates back from achieving their goals. We spoke to Alec Dudson, founder of Intern, about practical ways that young creatives can overcome Imposter Syndrome and gain the confidence to begin freelancing while they’re studying or fresh from leaving university.
1. Start selling yourself as a professional
“You gain nothing by defining yourself primarily as a student or graduate to the outside world. It is something that seems so simple — and I understand how someone becomes conditioned to value themselves lower than they should — but that simple act makes it far harder to project their skills in a professional way.
Defining yourself as a student usually reads that you’re not quite experienced or confident in what you want to do. Instead of putting ‘graduate from…’, it makes more sense to actually use a job title, even if it’s one that’s a little speculative.”
2. Take on small projects to build confidence
“It’s always a good idea to take on freelance projects, no matter how small the client is. Working on small projects usually means that you have to be resourceful and organised — which are valuable, transferable ‘soft’ skills — make sure you highlight that in your LinkedIn profile or resume.
Starting small is a good way of dealing with Imposter Syndrome, it’s a journey that everyone has been on and you’ll learn lots from working collaboratively with friends, other students or small businesses.”
3. Document your work
Document your work and do it to a professional standard — no one is responsible for your portfolio other than you and it has to be good. It doesn’t matter if you created something amazing, if the photo of it is very low quality, that’s what people are going to see.
You can always find other ways of documenting projects, think about your resources and the type of work you’re doing. You don't always have to photograph things, publications and printed matter look great scanned in and set on a background of your choosing. Don’t be afraid of combining different methods of documenting in one portfolio — pick the best way of making each project pop and so long as you keep your standards high, your portfolio will be eye-catching.
It definitely helps to turn even the smallest projects into stunning portfolio work. Even if you work on a small logo for a company and you know they’re not going to do anything exciting with it, it doesn’t mean you can’t. If it means investing a little bit of money, like professional printing or studio photography, it could be worth doing so to get that stunning visual record.”
“The more emails you send, the more interviews you go to, the easier it will become to confidently communicate how much of a badass you are.”
4. Get networking
“Another good way of dealing with Imposter Syndrome is going to events of your interest. Research the speakers and write some relevant questions beforehand and build towards either asking a question during the event or (bonus points for this one) staying until the end and approaching the speaker to ask your question face-to-face. Making those simple connections with a person that is already established in the industry makes you realise they’re just regular people like you. Do this once and you’ll already feel less like an outsider, after a few times, there’ll be no stopping you.”
5. Practice pitching your skillset
“When pitching to potential employees, always have a proposal in mind. We spend far too much time on being anxious about asking for things, I think it’s a cultural thing in Britain — we don’t like asking. So instead, think of every pitch as an exchange — you present your skills and knowledge and then explain how these will benefit your client. By assuring them of the value that you bring, you’ll also prove to yourself that working with you is far from a hardship.
Being specific in what you want to do helps in overcoming this anxiety. It also shows your potential clients or employers how confident and organised you are. It’s worth mentioning that practising these pitches will make you better at it. The more emails you send, the more interviews you go to, the easier it will become to confidently communicate how much of a badass you are.”