A few years ago, a friend and I were applying for jobs at the same time — an editorial position for me, a law position for her. My qualifications matched the position I was applying for perfectly. Fresh out of law school, my friend was aiming for her dream job, admittedly somewhat of a stretch.
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We both got interviews, but we didn’t both get jobs.
I was dropped from the candidate pool after the first round of interviews while my friend went on to land the job that turned out to be even better than expected. She deserved it and I was happy for her, but I couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t worked out the same way for me. Sure, we were in different fields and any number of variables could’ve contributed to my not getting the job. But as I discussed the situation with my boyfriend, he saw things differently: “She has incredible confidence, and sometimes that is a person’s greatest asset.”
There it was. What I had been feeling for some time but had been afraid to admit: I lacked confidence. Though able to acknowledge my strengths when pressed, I never offered them up, nor did I have a whole lot of faith in my ability to face uncharted territories. I often shied away from certain challenges thinking surely someone else was more qualified to take the lead. I undersold and underestimated myself, which caused me—and potential employers—to miss out. Under the assumption that I was being humble, I was actually just losing.
My confidence is still a work in progress and I continue to have moments of doubt, but I’ve made strides. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years that have helped boost my confidence and value as a job candidate.
1. Start slowly.
Cut yourself a little slack and realize that you probably aren’t going to make a 180-degree turn when it comes to confidence. Set smaller goals and realistic expectations. Start by focusing on one thing you know you’re good at. Whether it’s working with people, multitasking, proofreading or a specific computer program—whatever it is, recognize it. Admit to yourself that you do a pretty good job at this one thing, and practice telling one other person. If a friend asks for your help editing a paper, for example, I’ve said things like, “Sure, I think I could really help you improve this based on my experience editing articles at work.” Remember, you’re not saying you’re good at everything, just something. Eventually, you’ll be more comfortable recognizing all of the areas of your expertise.
2. Ask for what you want.
One of the most powerful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from a woman I interviewed for a magazine article a few years ago. She worked in a government role in DC and appeared to have the world at her fingertips. When she admitted she struggled with self-confidence early on in her career, I was floored. She said the turning point came when a mentor told her “never be afraid to ask for what you want.”
A part of being confident is faking it until you make it.
For more timid people, the thought can be terrifying. You may feel presumptuous or rude. But I cannot stress enough how important this is, especially for women. Men, in general, aren’t as hesitant to ask for a raise or a title change, and they reap the benefits. Most times, if you ask for something you deserve, you will get it. So, if you’ve been working your butt of at a company for two years without a raise, bite the bullet and ask for one. The worst they can say is no. But what if they say yes?
3. Accept failure and value criticism.
For people who lack confidence, recognizing weakness is all too easy. But rather than mentally berating yourself when you mess up or don’t do a perfect job, remember that it happens to everyone. Literally everyone. The difference is that confident women don’t have time to wallow in failure. They’re busy fixing the problem and learning from it. So next time your boss provides negative feedback on a project, don’t be embarrassed. Admit your mistake, own it and move forward. Also keep in mind that when someone takes time to provide constructive criticism, it means they are invested in you. It means they have faith that you can do it right the next time. The more you accept failure and the less you take it personally, the stronger you’ll be in the long-run.
4. Say yes.
For the naturally confident, taking chances and diving into new things is exciting. They love a good challenge. But how is a person without confidence supposed to do it? The answer is simple, if a bit scary: Just do it. A part of being confident is faking it until you make it. This does not mean lying about your skills and experience. This does not mean being arrogant and boastful. This means having enough belief in your abilities that you know a new task isn’t beyond your grasp. The more you believe you can do it, the more others believe in you. I used to disregard job postings if one task in the position description was something I hadn’t done before. Although you need to be qualified for the job you’re applying for, give yourself a little credit that you have the smarts to figure out something that isn’t listed verbatim on your resume. Apply for the job you think might be slightly out of your reach. You could be exactly what an employer is looking for.
5. Relax. No one else knows what they’re doing, either.
One of the most frustrating parts about being a less confident person is watching as others seem to glide through life. They speak up in meetings. They say yes to every challenge. They never seem rattled. They exude confidence. Meanwhile, you’re sure people are just a day away from discovering that you’re a fraud. But if you asked most people point-blank how confident they were, you’d be surprised how many feel the same way you do. Even the remarkable Maya Angelou and talented Emma Watson have admitted to this unsettling feeling, known as the Impostor Syndrome. Don’t fall for it. You deserve to be exactly where you are, and you will continue to achieve good things. We are all human, and we are all just doing the best we know how.