The art of the con: the job search when imposter syndrome strikes

On a recent chat with a friend over coffee, we got to talking about life after graduation and the job search. As we began catching up we started talking about the imposter syndrome. Recounting moments when we were at professional events being in awe of the people around us, but also wondering how we managed to “con” everyone into believing that we belonged here.That feeling is something that I have struggled with, especially more recently entering the public health field as a young professional.

As a student, we are constantly learning and aspiring to achieve in our careers. As a young professional, this doesn’t change, but what does change is wanting to contribute and putting to use our skills.

While job searching, this becomes evident in cover letters and emails to prospective employers. The eternal student in me always says “I’m no expert, but I’m really interested in this field…and by the way, I have the following skills”.

After the third rejection letter or the fiftieth email that hasn’t received a reply, it really takes a hit on your self-worth. Saying “I’m passionate” or “I’m capable” don’t seem to get you that foot in the door.

This amplified my feelings of being an imposter. I think to myself: “I don’t belong and they’ve caught me!” Clearly my sense of legitimacy is tied up with being able to get a job!

As a very stubborn person by nature, I refuse to take job rejections as a sign to give up. It did however make me stop to reflect on the whole process and where I was headed. The remainder of this blog is a summary of my reflections, questions I have asked myself, and experiences I have had. I hope it can help someone else also at a similar point in their career.

How can I show I have skills that an organization needs but also convey that I am learning?

I really struggle to (and continue to) be a good spokesperson for my skills. Looking back, I would scratch out “I’m no expert’ and change it to ‘I have the following skills and that’s why you need me. My passion is an added bonus and my love for learning makes me a great addition’. I think I always try to err on the side of ‘always learning’ to avoid overstating my skills and as a result I come across less confident in how well I can do the job.

Where should I look for jobs? It seems like I’ve looked everywhere and anywhere and nothing has caught my eye.

In the beginning of my job search, I felt overwhelmed at all of the possibilities of where I could look for work. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule of where to look – unless there is an encyclopedia of public health related organizations that are hiring; in which case, share it! But I think a good place to start is Google, Indeed and even Facebook! It sounds strange but there are Facebook groups of young professionals like yourself who have banded together to share job postings. And lastly, the good-old fashioned talk to people. They might know someone that has a lead, or someone crucial to the hiring process at an organization. You’ll find the best help in the unlikeliest of places.

It feels like I am the last person who still hasn’t figured out a job or what they are doing after graduation.

As I finished school and everyone around me seemed to be heading off confidently in their own direction, I started feeling anxious that I wasn’t at the same ‘stage’ as everyone else. Introverts like myself tend to not share too much of ourselves, but here is where I think we need to break the ‘introvert code of conduct’ and seek out support from friends, family, peers (or even your pet cat!). Talking about my struggles and uncertainty in the job search to others in an honest way has made me realize that others are in a similar position and that those feelings are valid. People who are in a similar situation as you are, can be the most supportive as they are experiencing the same uncertainty as you. As long as you’re willing to share your struggle, someone out there might feel the same way. There’s strength in numbers!

What now? I’m still looking and I’m starting to think I should just try to pursue something else.

That thought has probably crossed your mind at some point, but I’m a firm believer that you should never give up on your passion. If public health gets you up in the morning and if you would fight anyone who tells you public health is unimportant, I believe that passion will carry you to do public health work wherever you choose. The job search is a long process and it is part of the reason I personally felt worn down. I was letting the currents take me wherever it wanted. Realizing I was starting to lose sight of my inspiration and motivation to do public health work was gut-wrenching. I tried to actively combat this, starting with finding activities or events that reminded me why public health is ‘the one’. Finding spaces and people who are just as passionate as me was really motivating and supportive – conferences were a good way to help me refocus my energy and get that push to keep going.

There is so much advice out there, I don’t know what or who to follow and what to ignore.

That’s a great question, but it’s also something I don’t have an answer to. There are probably hundreds of “30 Things to Do to Get Your Dream Job” or something to that sort… I don’t think there is a recipe book out there for what is “good” advice but use good judgement and 1) Apply the advice that seems relevant; 2) Try some advice that you haven’t thought of.

The irony that this blog seems like a how-to-guide isn’t lost on me, but I hope it instead serves as a sounding board for anyone out there that has felt something similar and let them in on what I tried to do. I don’t think anything I’ve said here is mind-blowing or surprisingly new; I just hope it serves as inspiration to keep at it! And to keep on keeping on!

“Because there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it is sent away” – Sarah Kay


About the author

Share your story

Are you a passionate and dedicated individual with a vision for helping advance public health professionals and their careers around the world? Do you want to share real advice and personal stories on our blog?


A simple template to get you started.

We will also add you to our Public Health community so that you can receive more awesome stuff from us. If you’re not enjoying them, you can unsubscribe instantly.