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I am confronted with a problem that arises from something that is usually considered beneficial: my self presentation skills. I am good at expressing what I have done to this point in my career and to me honesty in an interview for a job I am applying for is exceptionally important. Since I graduated and started working as a software developer I was able to gather roughly about two years of work experience. Unfortunately my first employer got into some economic trouble which has led to massive job cuts and forcing me to look for a new job.

Recently I had a lot of job interviews with positive feedback and resulting job offers but each offer gets me the feeling of being overestimated. For example one offer included replacing another developer who has more than 10 years of work experience. And now I'm sitting here and I have no clue if I am up to those challenges. Is there some kind of mistake which I could unintentionally make in an interview that leads to some kind of bias? I somehow get the feeling that being able to express my skills in a professional way leads to overdrawn expectations which subsequently might put me into trouble when I can't keep up to those expectations.

Lying is never an option, especially not when you work in software development. I made extensive preparation for my interviews so I would be able to give a detailed and structured review of my previous work experience. Most questions asked went into details about specific practices and technology and I was able to answer them right away, so I guess I can exclude lying, both consciously and unknowingly

marked as duplicate by WorkerWithoutACause, scaaahu, gnat, TrueDub, Chris E Oct 12 '16 at 14:57

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  • 3
    Someone could have sat and rotted in their role for ten years. Not learned anything and not been very good. – Jeremy French Oct 12 '16 at 11:54
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    You want to tank an interview? Easy, tell them you are unsure about taking positions you have been offered because you are not sure you could handle them. – paparazzo Oct 12 '16 at 12:26
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    Well firstly I'm getting an obvious air of 'humble-brag' from this post. You didn't dupe anyone with your incredible interpersonal skills into giving you a job you're not qualified for. Evidently they weren't looking for someone with 10 years experience, as you specified the ad did not say that. There was a job ad, you applied, interviewed, and got an offer. I'm not sure there's any more discussion necessary than that. If you didn't fabricate qualifications then what's the issue. – pay Oct 12 '16 at 12:48
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    Just because a developer has 10 years of experience doesn't mean the position actually requires 10 years. I have 30 years experience and my last job could have been done by a competent person with less than 5. My current one by someone less than 10. – Chris E Oct 12 '16 at 12:58
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    There's developers with lots of experience who are not up on the newest technologies, and slack on a daily basis. Then there's young devs who learn new technologies on a monthly basis, and work through the night to get an important project done. You can't judge a person based only on how long they've been in a given field. Additionally, attitude, and communication skills are incredibly important for a good developer. If you're someone who can sit down with a layman and reliably extract a set of requirements, then translate them into business rules, you're worth your weight in gold. – AndreiROM Oct 12 '16 at 13:39
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Some job seekers and new hires suffer symptoms similar to those of impostor syndrome:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud" ... Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.

I would urge you to look on the bright side:

  • You have lots of job offers. One hiring manager might be wrong, but many hiring managers thought that you were the best candidate for the job
  • You've been honest in the interview process
  • You have good marketable skills, i.e. software development and self presentation

In conclusion, you haven't done anything wrong. You've convinced a lot of hiring managers about your worth. Well done!

  • 6
    Someone with 2 years experience who successfully talked his way through interviews for a 10-year role (assuming that number is accurate) is not suffering from imposter syndrome. He misrepresented his skills and is suffering the consequences. – Lilienthal Oct 12 '16 at 10:44
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    @Lilienthal I've seen it happen before, sometimes they want someone they can hand the reigns over to, who will stay a long time. Often in smaller companies. I don't believe it impossible. I don't think he misrepresented their skills either, if they did, they should have been caught out in one of the interviews, either that or they were all bad interview processes.... – Draken Oct 12 '16 at 10:48
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    @Lilienthal I guess they consider me an option because someone with ~ 2 years experience usually gets paid less than someone with ~10 years experience. But of course this does not take in account that there might be some kind of skill gap.... – TheLax Oct 12 '16 at 11:28
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    @TheLax It sounds more like they're just incompetent at hiring well if they don't even know what experience level they want. I know plenty of people with 6 months' experience who are more reliable than some 10-year veterans I've seen. What experience the person previously in the role is good to know but isn't always a reliable prediction of what the role actually needs, especially if the position is being adjusted after the previous person's departure. – Lilienthal Oct 12 '16 at 11:36
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    I used to call "Am I a good programmer or just a good googler" syndrom. However imposter syndrom does sound better. Atleast now I can give it the proper name. – Jeroen Oct 12 '16 at 11:45
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As long as you told the truth and didn't do any little white lies, you have nothing to worry about. Take the job, that you like the most, and be glad a company values you for your skills.

They obviously saw your talent in the interview and you sold yourself as you. As long as no embellishment happened, you have nothing to worry about. Don't forget, we all need to start somewhere and as long as you feel you can deal with the possible pressures that you might take on, then there is no downside to look at.

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The points @Draken made about "white lies" and "embellishment" are very important. Its easy to fall into this trap during an interview because you are under pressure. Be very clear about your experience, contributions and accomplishments. If there is an area you feel uncomfortable in, start getting familiar with it (reading, practicing, etc.) and let the interviewer know you are actively learning.

  • I think it's nearly impossible to trick people into believing you have skills which you do not have, especially when it comes to topics related to software development. Most interviews were held with the lead developers and contained a coding test which means there are small exercises to check your basic skills. – TheLax Oct 12 '16 at 12:14
  • @TheLax: True but a candidate can "talk up" areas that the interviewer doesn't have the time to probe further. Months later that may come back to haunt you. Your teammate could come to you with a specific problem - "Hey during your interview I remember you mentioned working on something similar. Can you help us out with this or take the lead on it?". I've actually seen that happen before. – SuperPomodoro Oct 12 '16 at 13:28
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The bottom line is software engineering is difficult and after 20+ years in the business it does not get easier.

Are you up to the task of any of these jobs? Probably not, but it might be that nobody is "up to the task".

For one, you may be overestimating the person with 10 years of experience. Perhaps your experience is more in line with what the company needs. Perhaps that person wants to move into project management or some other aspect.

In the words of Jackson: "Never take counsel of your fears". You will fail, but you might be the best hope for the position at the same time.

Very early on in my career (I did not have my BS at the time) I took the place of three senior developers. While there was no way one person could do such, my manager and I made it work.

It's scary, but I bet you can do it.

  • 1
    As a software engineer with 20+ years in the business you are absolutely right. I have numerous younger colleagues that are just as good if not better than I am. It's about what you know, not how long you have known it. There are certain things that come with experience, but I have seen with hiring that it's a lot more about knowing the right skills than your years of experience. This is even more true in startups. – Bill Leeper Oct 12 '16 at 15:17
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I see two possible approaches for the interview: either oversell your skills and remain in the running for the offer, or undersell and get passed over. In my experience, one of the main turnoffs for the interview panel is when a candidate highlights their own shortcomings, especially if such criticism is not directly requested (e.g. "what are your main weaknesses?").

We live in times of grade inflation, degree inflation (masters is the new bachelors?), resume inflation, and job title inflation. Whether we like it or not, the reality is when we step into the inteview room, we have already somewhat oversold ourselves. So has every other candidate...it is not a matter of if, but only a matter of degree. Considering the alternative, the issue is not whether you are perceived as capable of more challenging work...

It sounds like you are trying to walk the middle ground of neither over, nor under-selling yourself, but inevitably end up overshooting and getting more that you bargained for. Or so it seems -- to you.

Assuming your interview responses are an adequate reflection of actual ability, this suggests that the actual problem here is not the "problem" as you state it (i.e. "my self presentation skills"). The problem is that "I have no clue if I am up to those challenges" -- aka "cold feet."

One cause of anxiety about being able to meet expectations is insecurity which has to do with a personal tendency for perfectionism and fear of being perceived as someone less XYZ (competent, able, smart, experienced, fill in the blank) than you want to appear. This causes an anticipation of some type of conflict resulting from the unmet expectations, and/or "cognitive dissonance" from a tension between your self-perception and others' perception of you.

The responses to conflicts are on a spectrum with two ends: fight or flight. Digging in and confronting the challege, or avoiding it by escaping the situation. Talking about "sitting here and I have no clue if I am up to those challenges" suggests to me that you are leaning toward the latter. One consequence may be "premptive retreat," i.e. turning down an offer to avoid the anticipated future conflict.

Here it helps to keep in mind that someone else with an identical (or even inferior!) skill set to yours, who is more open to confrontations, will stay the course and give the job their best shot. Such individuals often end up persisting in a position far longer. Part of their strategy is counting on others' aversion to conflict, and using that to implicitly reinforce their position ("you think I suck? but you don't want to tell this to me? oh well too bad for you!"). They may not even be doing this consciously, but the result is the same: they get to stay in the role, while someone who cares more deeply about what others think of them take preemptive action and retreat from the role.

I encourage you to reflect on your past experience, background, and personality traits, to see if you can understand the root of your anxiety about your ability or how others might judge it/you. One key strategy here is learning to separate your professional identity from your real "self". We all put on a certain face on the job, act a certain role - nobody is hired to just "be themselves"; we are hired to do a certain job the best way we know how. That's the expectation.

If you honestly consider yourself a responsible, reasonably capable, disciplined, and conscientious individual who strives to self-improve, learn, and work effectively with others, then what others think of you at work rarely becomes a real and major problem for your success or career, unless you let it be one. Good luck!

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