Career Management

Do you ever feel underqualified for your job? Like, you’re sitting in a meeting with a client who is waffling on about this and that and you deserve an Oscar because you feel so unbelievably out of your depth, but they don’t know that. It’s an out-of-body experience where you find yourself questioning everything you know and all the ‘skills’ you’re supposed to have. Are you a crock?

The whole way back to the office you feel deflated and start asking yourself what you’re doing with your career. Then you start questioning your academic qualifications and the meaning of life, too. When you find yourself starting to think like this, it’s time to shift your focus here instead:

How did you get into your job?

Take it right back to the start. Did you go through round after round of interviews, meeting with different members of the business, coming out as front-runner against multiple other candidates? Were you grilled about your technical knowledge, soft skills and ‘cultural fit’? If the answer is ‘yes’, then rest assured your organisation backs your ability to complete the job at hand (so you should too); they wouldn’t have hired you otherwise. In this case it’s likely your feelings of self-doubt might just be a workplace wobble and temporary; totally normal. If the answer is ‘no’ and you kind of ‘winged’ your way into the role, then your organisation really needs to sort out it’s recruitment vetting processes and you probably shouldn’t be too surprised about feeling underqualified.

You’ve got to challenge yourself in order to grow

If you constantly move between jobs at the same level, you’ll never truly progress or develop. Making a lateral move isn’t necessarily a bad one; sometimes it’s totally reasonable to do so; perhaps to work for a better company or escape the horrors of another workplace. However if you want to keep your career progression trajectory on the up, you need to challenge and stretch yourself.

Alison Cardy, Career Coach and Founder of Cardy Careers:

“Everyone starts out as a beginner. The only way to become qualified is to show up and work through each learning curve that presents itself. Remember that you are capable of growing. That capacity is more important than knowing everything from the get go.”

Being out of your comfort zone leads to great things

Some people don’t perform well under pressure, and few people flourish when they feel they are drowning and failing. Having said this, there’s something to be said for stepping outside your comfort zone in order to achieve greatness. Are you actually in over your head, or are you staring at an amazing opportunity to prove your inner pessimist wrong by stepping up the plate?

Charlotte Billington, Career Coach and author of What to Do Next:

“It is good to embrace change and challenge yourself to learn and grow and develop. Sometimes this will be scary and include doing things outside of your comfort zone with little experience but to give it a go. You will look back and be thankful you did. When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect at every single thing we do we may limit our advancement. Look out for opportunities within areas you may not have experience but are interested in. If you are in a role where you feel out of your depth, learn from others, find a mentor and ensure you have the correct support in place. We may hinder our advancement and inability to move forward if we put too much pressure on ourselves. Keep calm, work hard, have support in place, be open to opportunities and ask for help if you need it. It may be uncomfortable at first but if it is the right role for you that plays to your strengths you will soon be proving your worth.”

You’re your own harshest critic

While we’re on the subject of ‘inner pessimist’, let’s highlight the fact that you judge yourself a lot harsher than others will. You’re probably being extremely critical of yourself and would do well to cut yourself some slack. Obviously you want to hold high expectations for yourself (and never change that), however letting that pressure manifest within your brain and take over your mentality is a slippery slope to a lack of overall confidence and under-achieving.

Failure can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

Speaking of under-achieving, when we tell ourselves we’re going to fail, we are more likely to end up doing just that… because we talk ourselves into it. There’s no doubt that a negative mindset will encourage negative outcomes. Your feelings of being totally underqualified for your job aren’t going to get better by admitting defeat early and surrendering.

People make mistakes

If you do ‘fail’ … who cares? Okay, obviously you do because no one likes failing, but we all know that even incredibly successful people have to learn from mistakes and failures. Few people get a smooth ride to the top. Making mistakes makes you human. As long as you learn from it and take steps to correct the error, you’ll come out a stronger person.

Feeling underqualified is part of being human. If you feel underqualified, it means you have an opportunity to challenge yourself and grow, so take it with both hands!

Caroline Stokes, Career Coach and Founder of FORWARD:

“We may not admit it to ourselves without fear of feeling stupid, but it is natural for us to feel under qualified in our job, or to feel impostor syndrome at various stages of our lives. We always look up and compare ourselves to others, especially in the first 90 days of our job, or when we aspire to be at a certain place in our career. The feeling can lead to frustration and jeopardize our ability to be successful, unless we can take a moment to set realistic goals, or adapt our mindset. When I was young, my grandmother once said to me ‘I still feel like I’m 16’. Only now, at 44, do I understand. We all have insecurities, and we think when we reach our 30’s, 40’s or 50’s we will know everything we need to know and life is certain. I wish I could avoid sounding like a 70’s hippy here, but there is no destination, we’re all on our own unique life and career journey. The secret to banishing the unqualified feeling is to keep trying new things, push your own limits. If you’re not feeling imposter syndrome, or if you’re not feeling uncomfortable, you’re not growing. Bottom line: if you’re feeling under qualified, work towards the area you want to grow into. Then, repeat. And, repeat.”

Still not happy?

At the end of the day, if you still feel totally out of your depth and it’s making you feel down or insecure, seeking some professional, bespoke advice is recommended. You might just need to put some extra hours in for a while or have a very frank conversation with your manager about being overloaded, letting them know you’re concerned.


About Phoebe Spinks

Editor of Undercover Recruiter & Senior Account Executive at Link Humans, a recruitment marketing agency.

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