2020 has been one of the toughest years for people in all industries. The global pandemic has not only impacted those in the working world, but especially fresh graduates who are striving to up-skill during multiple lockdowns to prove that they are ‘worthy’ of an employer’s approval. More often than not, we see ‘entry-level’ jobs being posted on LinkedIn by recruiters or job search websites that have contradicting pre-requisites. These job postings made little to no sense to me. How do employers expect applicants to have 2 years of experience in a certain field for an entry-level job? An entry-level job can simply be defined as a job that is suitable for beginners, requiring minimal professional work experience. What is even more baffling is that employers expect years of experience but are only willing to pay incoming employees a minimum salary, some of which, are barely enough for an employee to pay bills and get by.
As an aspiring barrister who has just completed the Bar component of the course and is now moving on to the master’s component, the reality of entering the job market isn’t very far away. I spend my mornings looking through job postings on LinkedIn and those that get sent through the hundreds of emails sent by recruitment websites. It comes as no surprise to anyone that looking for a legal job suited to your interests is extremely difficult, given the quality of other applicants that you will have to compete with for the role. Pupillage applications have also been just as daunting! This has been something that has bothered me, not only at this stage, but ever since I was a university student. I am an international student hailing from Malaysia and I attended a university that was not in the Russell Group. I was not aware of such classes of universities and the impact it had on legal job applications.
Let’s be honest, diversity is a very big issue in the legal industry. Personally, I’ve always felt that I was disadvantaged as I not only graduated from a non-Russell university, but I am also of BAME background and an international student. I felt that on paper, I was nothing compared to other people who have done outstanding things, achieved impressive grades and awards. At some point, I almost gave up trying to find a job here due to my circumstances. I thought that all my qualifications were almost pointless and that I should just find a non-legal job.
Soon, I realised that it is completely normal to feel this way and that people experience this at all stages of their career. After doing some research and speaking to a university counsellor, I was made aware that I was suffering from ‘Imposter Syndrome’. ‘Imposter Syndrome’, in simpler terms, can be defined as believing that you are inadequate or incapable despite being successful and competent just as you are.
This experience has brought me nothing but anxiety in the last few years. A clear example would be when I joined the Bar course and was allocated a teaching group. I was allocated a group of people from Russell Group universities, some of which were even Oxbridge graduates. I was worried about not being competent enough to keep up in class, as the first few weeks were extremely overwhelming. Everyone seemed to have answers to everything, and I was still trying to find my pace on the course!
I am here to remind all aspiring lawyers that if you do face this, it is completely fine so keep going! Always look at how far you have come and give yourself credit for it. If you have managed to get through a year in of university or even graduate during the pandemic, you need to give yourself a pat on the back! You were made to quickly adapt to online learning and examinations, and you successfully managed to do that (this is definitely something to add to a cover letter or bring up in a job interview).
Here’s a few practical things you can do if you feel like you’ve got the notorious ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
- Talk it out!
It is important for you to start addressing how you feel. Sometimes, all you need is someone to lend you an ear and you might feel better after expressing what is running through your mind. You could speak to someone in the same position as you, a relative, a counsellor, a tutor, or just anyone you feel comfortable with. You will find that some people may even resonate with you, and this will show you that you are not the only one in that position. I managed to not only speak to a counsellor, but also some tutors and barristers. I found this very helpful as I managed to get some very helpful advice from them and even a lot of affirmation. Affirmation is something that will help you push on! Sometimes all you need is that one person to say that you’re good at what you do and you will go far.
- Push on!
Whatever it is, you MUST NOT allow this to overcome you. I will admit, it is extremely easy to give up, but that does not mean you should give up without trying! You will undoubtedly face a lot of rejection when it comes to job applications, but remember, you only need that one yes! You either walk away with the job,or walk away knowing that you are worthy of the job (which is why they looked into your application/interviewed you in the first place). So, keep putting in all the applications you need until you get that one yes!
- Stop thinking like an imposter!
There are times when you will feel incompetent, that doesn’t mean you are. If you have made a mistake or failed at something, try to develop a healthy response to this. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for falling short, do what players on the losing sports team do and glean the learning value from the loss and move on reminding yourself, “I’ll get ’em next time.”
- Visualise success!
Always bear in mind what lies ahead of you. Personally, I like to read success stories of barristers and solicitors to see how far they’ve come. Some of them have experienced similar encumbrances in life and their stories are very inspirational. I would highly recommend speaking to your friends and family about what you’d like to have in the future. This is a very easy way to visualise success. You could either speak of what you aim to achieve in the short term or long term, and it does not have to be something to do with your career i.e., being promoted to a certain position in a firm. I recently expressed my interest in getting myself a black show cocker spaniel dog with my third pay slip!
- Reward yourself!
This is pretty much self-explanatory. Treat yourself to that lovely steak at that expensive restaurant, or a nice soak with a luxurious bath bomb you were eyeing at the Highstreet. You deserve to celebrate every milestone, no matter how big or small it is. This really helps in validating yourself, instead of seeking validation from others.
I hope that this article will help some of you overcome ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It will take some time to rid of it, but just know that over time, you will learn to stop feeling like an imposter. You are most definitely where you are meant to at the moment, and will eventually get to where you want to be in the future!