Stefanie Hoover on the Imposter Syndrome in Forensic Interviewing

Have you ever woken up and looked in the mirror and said to yourself, “I look like Keanu Reeves today?” And it’s not even young Keanu; it’s Keanu after his comeback!

Maybe you don’t have a Keanu moment. Maybe it’s someone or something else like Hootie from Hootie & the Blowfish, or just a blowfish. Whatever or whoever it is you see in the mirror, we can all be hard on ourselves at times. I’m not sure why these feelings come and go. Maybe it’s a bad night’s sleep or worry over a work project or stress in general, but we all have good days and bad days.

Some days you are on fire, some days you have to “fake it ‘till you make it.” At several points in my career when I was doing employee interviews every day, there were times when I had an overwhelming feeling that I should run screaming for the hills; there was no desire, no want, no internal push to talk to one more employee. I was at the top of my game, but I would have this feeling that I wasn’t really that good and that this was going to be that interview where everyone—my boss, HR, my coworkers, and especially the subject—were going to find out that I really sucked! I was a fraud!

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If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced imposter syndrome, or a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. According to the Harvard Business Review, imposters suffer from “chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” Highly successful people often suffer from imposter syndrome, so it’s even more common than you might think.

We’ve all heard about performers who have incredible stage fright, and it always sounds like BS because they can stand in front of thousands of people and pull it together. How do they get through it? How can they be scared to death on the inside and exude confidence on the outside?

From my limited Googling, I found that they practice their trade over and over until they can do it in their sleep and run on autopilot when the fear starts to come over them. They have preshow rituals that help them to calm down and focus on the task at hand. They have totems to comfort them during the performance so when they start to feel the doubt closing in, they can focus on that totem instead. It might be a bedazzled microphone or a lucky rabbit’s foot or a special person on the side of the stage—whatever it is, they associate comfort and confidence with that totem.

I don’t think what those performers and I experience is uncommon. In talking to colleagues, many of us have these moments of imposter syndrome. Speaking at meetings, giving speeches or presentations, and doing interviews can all cause anxiety and bring out insecurities. Sometimes it hits me when I’m getting ready in the morning to go to a meeting. These moments drive my husband nuts. He’ll walk into the room and see I have on a third or fourth outfit, and he’ll just sigh heavily and walk out. I’ll try on multiple outfits or spend too much time with my hair and makeup because my need to look confident outweighs my actual confidence level. I get to the point where I compromise with myself and say, “This is going to have to be good enough today.”

So, knowing how I am, as I’ve lived with myself for a while and have a pretty good idea of how I operate, what do I do to get through my Keanu moments? Here’s a list of tips I’ve found personally useful.

Prepare the night before. If I have a big meeting or presentation, I have my clothes picked out the night before. I may even try them on ahead of time to see how I’m feeling about the outfit. Sounds crazy but again, through years of research, I’ve found myself rejecting perfectly good outfits from the night before because I didn’t try them on and finalize the outfit in my head.

Do some breathing exercises. Before the presentation, I go to the restroom and take a few deep breaths or find a quiet hallway or sit in my car and just breathe.

Exercise helps. When I’m working out, I feel more confident in general and this carries over into my job. Exercise helps me work out some of my stress and feel relaxed afterwards.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Before walking into an interview, I rehearse the WZ method and introductory statement until I know it backwards and forwards. The chances of me forgetting anything are slim if I have the method down pat. Confidence booster!

Visualize. I think about what ifs ahead of the interview and practice my response. I rehearse my soft accusation and practice my response if I get a denial. Basically, the entire interview is mapped out in my head, just in case I start to panic during the actual conversation.

Bring comfort items. For me, it used to be my leather-bound WZ folder. When I would feel my confidence level dipping, I could look over at my binder and remind myself that I had all the training and tools that I needed to be successful and think, “You got this!” Now when I’m in a business meeting, it’s my favorite briefcase or even a pen I love.

Ask for advice. It’s OK to admit you’re nervous and seek advice or input from others. Back in the day, I would call Wayne before every interview and get his advice. He offered help in my WZ class, but I had no idea that very few people actually took him up on it! He was a great calming influence and would talk me through the possible scenarios during the interview.

If you get stressed or if you start feeling a bout of imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. We all have coping mechanisms, we just need to try to use the healthy ones, and these are what has worked for me. I’d love to hear from others about what methods they use to calm and focus before an interview.

Next time you look in the mirror, if you see Keanu, just know it’s temporary, and there are some things you can do to “fake it ‘till you make it.” Actually, I hate that phrase because you’re not faking it. You really are good at what you do, you’re smart, you’re special, and gosh darn it, people like you!

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