Imposter Syndrome and High Stakes Interviews
01:35 - Imposter Syndrome at the workplace 04:35 - Leverage the Imposter Syndrome 08:40 - A high stakes failure. Learnings from it 12:15 - High stakes Interviews. What to do?
Today we have with us Sheenam Ohrie. She is the Vice President of Dell Digital Services online. Prior to this, she has worked in very senior management roles in Infosys and SAP labs also.
Sheenam started her career as a fantastic technical engineer and has rapidly risen through the ranks with her vision and leadership.
An industry leader, success sits humbly on Sheenam. Her willingness to engage and share her insights sets her apart.
She is one of the founders of Dell Women Entrepreneur’s network and just last year she also won the Zinnov award as a next-gen woman leader.
We asked if she would be willing to talk to us about Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is a sense of doubt or inadequacy that gets to even the most competent and capable of people. It can prevent us from sharing our ideas, building our network or looking for opportunities.
Today we are looking to understand how it plays out and what we can do to tackle it.
Today we are looking to understand how it plays out and what we can do to tackle it.
Sheenam welcome to the Podcast.
Sheenam (1:20) – Thank you so much Brij for having me here. It is an absolute honour.
Brij: Have you seen imposter syndrome play out at the workplace?
Sheenam: Oh Yes! Both with men and women.
Brij: Ok.Tell us more about it please.
Sheenam: (1:35) So, Imposter syndrome is all about us believing that we are not as capable as we really are actually. There would be a lot of times in conversations where a person is downplaying himself or herself.
I will give you a very recent example. There is a Director in my previous organization Dell – When I left that role and moved to a new role, he came to me and he said, ‘I don’t know what will happen to me when you go’.
I said, you don’t exist because I exist. You exist because you are capable. You are a great technical leader. You bring to the table these 5 things. SO don’t underplay yourself.
So I believe it is a very common thing at workplace. Each one of us at some point of time go through that and maybe at multiple points of times, maybe in a month too. How do you leverage that, how do you capitalize that to move ahead I think is very very important.
If you just look at from a gender perspective, I think it happens more in the female gender than it happens in the male gender. That is also because women will not apply for a role, till they are 100% confident that they can do it.
Men will do it if they think 20-30% of it meets something that that they have. So women have to have this very hard pressure on themselves to be really really perfect at everything. At everything they need to be. And that, I think also brings to the fact I may be not as good as somebody else. Right?
What happens is that when you are not asking for things. Right? As much as your counterparts and your male peers are asking – you will also get lesser things.
(3:50) That is a balance that I think people have to start to work towards.
Organizations have to work towards creating an environment where women can ask. Women have to start asking more.
Brij: Right! Clearly the fact that I become aware of my imposter syndrome is probably the first step in beginning to fix it?
Sheenam: (4:15) Awareness Brij is always a first step to any problem in life. If I am aware of the fact that I have a challenge. Or if I put it in a more positive manner, I have an opportunity. I will go out and do something about it. I will go out and bring to the table a variety of competencies, variety of skills, variety of behavioral patterns, to kind of work towards getting that challenge out of the way.
So, I think, awareness for anything, whether it is self imposed for such behavioral aspects or a skillset itself – i think is the first step towards anything we have to learn.
Brij: Sheenam, you used a very nice phrase. You said, ‘How we can leverage imposter syndrome?’ and then you said, ‘Opportunity as well’. I want to know more about how to leverage the imposter syndrome?
Sheenam: (5:20) What does the imposter syndrome do to you? IF I have to just list down a couple of things – It infuses self doubt in you. You start to wonder whether your performance is up to the mark or not? You start to assess your competency and skills in an unrealistically negative manner.
Sometimes, that kind of pulls you down. Most times it will try and pull you down. Because you are fighting that game against yourself.
What I would do, and what I do generally, when I go through those phases because all of us are human beings and we will go through those phases. I try and write down what is it that I did in the last one month. In the last 3 months. I sometimes take it up to a year.
What I would do is, on a Friday afternoon, I will clear up 2 hours in my calendar and just leave time for myself. I list down what is it I wanted to do. What is it that I did.
Then I also at the beginning of each year set up some learning goals for myself. Like last year, I said, I would read 12 books and I would do one technical course for myself.
I assess whether I did all of that. Was I falling short or not?
(7:00) There are times when the niggling in your brain is an indication of the truth. Sometimes it is not the indication of the truth.
If it is an indication of the truth, you have an opportunity to change course and opportunity to decide how you can meet those and how you could bring yourself back to the right competency levels that are needed. To the right behaviors that are needed.
Most times, it is just somebody talking in a particular way. A particular body language and maybe a pattern of body languages that has infused that self doubt into you.
So then it take a little bit more peeling of the onion, (and ask) Why am I feeling this way? If I have done all the things I needed to do and if I wanted myself to achieve, then why am I still feeling this low negative under-achieving kind of feeling?
You then get down to maybe (realizing that) association with these people is not the right thing for you. Maybe, this is how you need to behave when that person says something. How did it make you feel? What would have been the right response back?
It could be different things but you have to start peeling back the onion on why you are feeling that way. Once you have done that, you are at a far more comfortable position with yourself. That by itself, is a huge leverage Brij.
(8:35) Because you know what is beating you down. Why you are berating yourself so much. Once you know that, then the way forward is only way up. That is what it is in my opinion.
Brij: Sheenam, I am also seeing somethings, even for myself that, when the stakes are very high in my head – When this particular outcome is of high importance to me – I tend to become tongue tied. I go into a different defensive kind of thinking because I don’t want it to go bad. Can somebody’s imposter syndrome play out when they least want it? Because, the stakes are high?
Sheenam: (9:25) Oh Yes! Very much. Very much. I think there are 2 things that you said here Brij.
One is – things can go just wrong. You are at a negotiating table and somebody plays to your opportunity areas. And pushes you to a corner.
The second is – you could just be under so much pressure of achieving something that you start to spiral downwards.
Both ways can happen in a very very important conversation.
I will take you back to something that happened to me in 2008. It was 2008 October. I was presenting to very senior leadership in my organization at that point of time. I was shit-scared. It was nervousness. It was possibly first time I was presenting to global audience. It was first time in that new organization that I was presenting.
I seriously messed it up. Exactly what you said! I went absolutely defensive.
I didn’t have enough data in my bag to fight what was coming my way. To debate, to defend what was coming my way.
Even today, before I go to an important meeting, I think about that meeting. Because, some people would say you failed. Yes! I did. From that one meeting, I realized several things.
However much you believe of that idea, 0k, you can not let your heart speak. You have to arm yourself with data. It has to be logical. It has to be data based.
And the most important thing is, assess your audience.
I failed to assess who was in that room. I failed to assess where they will come from. What are the questions they would ask.
By facing the audience, i would have had a dry run done in my mind of the conversation that could have happened in that room. I would have been far more successful than I was that day. If I had done that.
That is why I told you. It is a combination of both the things. One – I was absolutely nervous. Two – I was unprepared. It has to be a balance of both.
Brij: (12:15) I am thinking I am student, if that is the case, probably I have a dream job and let us say I am going for this high stakes interview because I badly want this job. What can I do by way of preparation Sheenam?
Sheenam: (12:35) If you were a student and you are going to a high stakes job, first of all you need to research the company.
I have a lot of young people who come into an interview saying, as recently as about 3 months back, ‘Dell is my dream company!’
When somebody tells me Dell is my dream company or XYZ is my dream company, first question that you will get asked is Why?
What motivates you? What inspires you about this company? If you do not have a well researched answer to that question, you have lost it in the first 5 minutes.
So my first advise who is going for an interview of any sort is (do) Research.
Research the company. Figure out what they do. What their goals are? What their purpose is? These are things that are available in magnitude on the net today. When you and I started working, we had manuals to look at. There was no internet. Today, there is no dearth of information for anybody.
Second, if you can, figure out who is going to be interviewing you. Do a lookup on LinkedIn for that person. Figure out what person’s passions are. If that person has written on a blog. What the person has liked. See a pattern out of that. This is information that you can use on your behalf. There is nothing more ego boosting than somebody telling you I researched you. Even if it is subtly telling, ‘I researched you’. That is the 2nd win.
The 3rd is – don’t fake it in an interview. Because you will get caught. If you don’t know something, say, ‘I don’t know!
Brij: (14:35) I think this is very very useful and insightful Sheenam. Nobody who hires at a dream job place I think hires any more just the techie person. They hire the whole human being. A person who can think for herself. A person who can reflect and be self aware. And you are showing the light to youngsters to become that kind of a person early on in college, so that when you come out and look for your dream job, you are ready for it.
Sheenam: I am hoping so! Yes.
Brij: Thank you very much. This has been very very useful for our young listeners. Thank you so much Sheenam. It has been a pleasure.
Sheenam: (15:00) It has been an absolute pleasure too! Thank you for that.