“Imposter syndrome can make you feel like you are not qualified to represent your client or that you don’t deserve your accomplishments. It is estimated that at least 70% of successful people have experienced Impostor Syndrome.”
That feeling that you are a fraud and that, one day, people will find out you have no idea what you are doing has a name— Impostor Syndrome. It is common among young attorneys and inexperienced patent professionals and can strike when you get that first job, during law school, or during conversations with supervisors. One particular situation where imposter syndrome can be especially prevalent for patent prosecutors is interviews with patent examiners. Imposter syndrome can make you feel like you are not qualified to represent your client or that you don’t deserve your accomplishments. It is estimated that at least 70% of successful people have experienced Impostor Syndrome. So, don’t worry. If you are afraid someone will find out that you are an impostor, they are probably too busy worrying about their own fraud to care about yours. Chances are, the Examiner you are speaking with feels like an imposter too.
Here are six steps you can take to minimize the feelings of Imposter Syndrome during interviews with patent examiners:
- Let go of Perfectionism. A drive for perfectionism is a classic symptom of Impostor Syndrome. The more of a perfectionist you are, the more likely you are to fear being found out as an impostor. This is especially true for those who try to promote themselves as being perfect and/or those who avoid behavioral displays of imperfection. By lowering your expectations to a realistic level, the pressure of trying to be perfect is reduced. No one is perfect, so strive for realistic, achievable goals.
- Stop Self-handicapping. Another behavior related to impostor syndrome is self-handicapping. Behavioral self-handicapping occurs when people purposefully set themselves up for failure, such as by not practicing or reducing effort. This is seen as a way to preserve self-esteem—you can’t fail if you aren’t trying, right? Sometimes just being aware that you are self-handicapping is enough to stop the cycle. Preparation and effort are keys to overcoming Impostor Syndrome. Preparing a detailed interview agenda or script before an interview with an Examiner can help move the discussion in the right direction.
- Focus on Your Strengths. Everyone has a unique set of strengths and accomplishments that makes them uniquely qualified for different tasks and jobs. Realize that you worked hard to get where you are, and you possess qualities that you need to succeed. Make a list of your accomplishments, strengths and abilities and review it before your interview.
- Ask for feedback. Regular feedback on performance has been shown to reduce feelings of being an impostor. Be quick to give feedback when someone does a good job and don’t be afraid to ask for a review of your own work. Feedback or assessments can enhance feelings of confidence and self- efficacy. When you receive positive feedback, accept it and add it to your list of strengths and accomplishments. Ask a colleague to sit in on your interview and provide feedback and comments.
- Change your View of Failure. Fear of failure can be a cause of anxiety and often goes hand in hand with Impostor Syndrome. Small “failures” usually are not failures at all; but rather, they are opportunities to improve and learn. “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis. Not every interview is going to result in the outcome you are striving for. However, just making contact with the Examiner and establishing a working relationship can be helpful in advancing the prosecution.
- Help Another Impostor. Instead of focusing on yourself, shift the focus to those around you. There is a good chance you are surrounded by people who feel like impostors. Try reassuring the new person that they are doing a good job or talking with someone about their accomplishments… and don’t underestimate the value of a good compliment. Remember that many Examiners are also likely to feel like imposters at one time or another in their career. Shift the focus off of your own feelings and begin with some light questions about how the Examiner is doing or how they like being an Examiner. This can lighten up the mood and further build the working relationship with the Examiner.
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