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This September, I will be going into the third year of my electrical & computer engineering degree. After first year, I applied for an internship at a local development company and was lucky enough to get the job. I did not misrepresent my skills on my resume, and I felt I gave my interviewers an accurate impression of what I was and was not capable of.

When I started working, I felt overwhelmed because there was so much I didn't know but needed to know to fulfill the responsibilities of my position. I felt like I was not qualified for the position, and had somehow "lucked out". But since I didn't want to just quit, I decided to learn the things I didn't know and get to that point where I felt like I was right for the position, as fast as I could. I was definitely a lot more qualified for the work at the end of my internship than at the start, but I still felt like I was unqualified on an absolute scale. I got a return offer though, and felt even guiltier, and decided not to take it.

Fast forward to this summer: new, bigger software company, same issues. My current manager and team are satisfied with my performance, but I am not. Even though I'm working hard to learn the things I don't know to get to a point where I don't feel guilty, results matter more than effort. Right now, I don't feel that the results I have produced are good enough.

I don't want to go through this sort of thing any more. What is the right thing to do in the future?

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    comments removed: Please don't use comments to answer questions as this may prevent others from providing full, complete answers that the community would vote on. Please see How should I post a useful non-answer if it shouldn't be a comment? for more guidance. – jmort253 Jun 29 '14 at 17:32
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    While I am a male, my name is considered a girl's name in North America. Due to the diversity hiring efforts in the software industry, I have no problem believing that's what got me an interview. Just have to comment this doesn't make sense to me. Suppose company is trying to fill a gender quota (conceivably) they could ring you up because you got a female-sounding name and they want more women. But when you show up to the interview and see you seem to be more masculine than expected why would they give you the job then if theyre trying to do that?? – Brandin Aug 22 '14 at 6:32
  • "I decided to learn the things I didn't know and get to that point where I felt like I was right for the position, as fast as I could. I was definitely a lot more qualified for the work at the end of my internship than at the start" - Sounds like a model employee! That company was lucky to have such a motivated, hard-working intern. – mhwombat Feb 27 '16 at 0:37
  • @Brandin because after HR tries to achieve it's goal, the interview may involve people who have more skill-oriented goals (and the interview might not even include anyone from HR). Well, that's a theory, anyway. The approach would likely not work with some organizations. That doesn't mean that the method can't work with any organization. – TOOGAM Apr 15 '16 at 2:42
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    FWIW, I'd much rather have an “under-confident” employee or colleague who worries that s/he doesn't know enough than an over-confident employee or colleague who thinks s/he knows everything. – Emmet Apr 17 '16 at 4:12
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Give yourself a break. Seriously.

This illusion of personal inadequacy is very common among highly intelligent and motivated knowledge workers. Your experience of not being able to know and do everything is true. But it's true for many people, not just you.

In school, often the expectations are designed to be achievable. That is, you can, by diligence, do everything that your teachers expect you to do. It's not so in business. Instead, you have the challenge of figuring out what you will spend your time on, and what you will blow off. One of the purposes of an internship is to give you this experience.

How can you cope with this sense of inadequacy? Here are a couple of things I do:

  1. Try to identify something that surprised me each day. Look for, and celebrate, things that I learn on the job. This takes my focus off ignorance and puts it on learning.
  2. Identify another person, possibly a peer or maybe someone more senior to you, who will be honest (and confidential) about what you do. Return the favor. This gives you experience at assessing behavior and being assessed. You'll gain a better perspective on yourself by offering your perspective to someone else.

I'd like to say "don't worry about it. Just have confidence!" But I, along with many others, know how easy that is to say and how hard it is to do.

Good luck!

  • The OP will develop that confidence when the OP will learn to like themselves :) Right now, from the tenor of the OP's post, it's clear that the OP does not like themselves. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jun 28 '14 at 18:20
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    Related: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome – Kik Aug 21 '14 at 22:53
  • @Kik That thing is overplayed. Not everyone who looks at their abilities and realizes they don't have the skills to do a good job is wrong about it. Frankly, I wish more people would come to the realization, since there's so much crappy work done. – jpmc26 Jun 12 at 21:42
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Welcome to entry level work.

I say that because in most situations entry level != expert level, as in your employer at this stage doesn't expect you to be an expert. They probably expect you to do exactly what you're doing and from the sound of it they are pleased with your performance so far.

It is good that you are aware of your shortcomings and are pushing yourself to over come them, just be careful not to burn your self out doing so.

I suspect that it is a fairly common practice to hire entry level workers at larger firms because their salary expectations aren't as high and they can be counted on to to have a strong desire prove their worth, this eagerness can make them a good investment.

Don't forget that. Your willingness to learn the trade and expand your skills is what makes you, even with your lack of experience, a good investment. This is probably why you were hired.


To more directly answer the question...

Keep doing what you're doing and you'll be fine.

Be honest about your skills in interviews, keep working hard, and keep learning.

  • One small thing to add to your last list: ask for help when you realize you're in over your head. – jpmc26 Jun 12 at 22:06
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In terms of performance evaluation, it's not what you think that matters but what they think. Apparently, they think highly of you.

You come across to me as some kind of perfectionist whose standards of performance are far more appropriate to positions that are much more senior to yours. You are way too judgmental on yourself. It's as if you're carrying some kind of baggage when it comes to you.

I suggest that you drop any further performance self-evaluations and let others do the performance evaluations since your self-evaluations are so far off the mark from others' evaluations of your performance. Focus instead on improving yourself technically, which apparently you are very good at, and stay away from evaluating yourself and let others do it until you develop some kind of competence in that area. As a critical first step toward developing this competence: learn to like yourself as you are, imperfections included :)

Unlike those who overestimate their competence - a curse be upon their banners, I believe that one you are one of those who underestimate yours, and in your special case, you badly underestimate yours. You need to face up to your condition and learn to be objective about yourself, because society needs people like you to fill in its most critical spots where being the best qualified does matter to its welfare let alone its survival.

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You should read the paper "Unskilled and Unaware Of It" by Kruger and Dunning. That basically explains that people who are no good at their job think they are great and people who others rate as good are critical of themselves. You are being highly critical of yourself which suggests that you can see that you have a lot to learn to be truly great at what you do. Thats called potential and means that your boss made a good hire.

Yes there are people who have huge amounts of experience doing mobile application development with many successful projects under their belt charging huge fees doing commercial apps for global corporations. The company who hired you either (a) cannot afford to hire them, (b) cannot hire them because there are too few of them, (c) wants someone more permanent and less likely to move to another firm after are short time, (d) doesn't know that such a 'better option' exists, or (e) thinks you have great potential to do the work and wants to invest in you. Any which way your job is to do the best you can and keep on learning more skills.

Computers have no favourites and tell no lies. If you are writing working software then you are doing a good job. You didn't study ComSci at uni so you (like me ten years ago) are teaching yourself programming. Take some online courses and certifications if you feel that would boost your confidence. Work on some opensource stuff to further improve your skills. Some day the worry just gets forgotten and you find that you did teach yourself to be a developer respected by developers who you respect.

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"When I started working, I felt overwhelmed because there was so much I didn't know but needed to know to fulfill the responsibilities of my position. I felt like I was not qualified for the position, and had somehow "lucked out". But since I didn't want to just quit, I decided to learn the things I didn't know and get to that point where I felt like I was right for the position, as fast as I could."

Welcome to every job I've ever had.

This is really how internship and entry-level employment works, as far as I can tell. The early stages are not just you doing work, they're extended training for the position. And since you say that you felt much more qualified at the end of the internship, the training worked exactly how it was supposed to, and all is right in the world.

For entry-level positions especially, employers will hire based on potential as well as current skill. They'll expect you to be a little out of your depth at first, and they'll give you the guidance you need to be 100% qualified. Employers aren't charities; if they say they're happy with your work, it's because they are. If they've seen your work and they're happy with you, then you're qualified for the position.

The only barrier is your own confidence. As @simbo pointed out, the people who feel the least qualified can often be the most qualified. Keep plugging away, and don't worry about how you think your work is. Your employer's evaluations will be far more objective (and more important). We are our own worst critics.

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