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For graduates, imposter feelings are part of the journey

09:30am July 20 2023

Westpac graduate trainees gathered in Sydney in June for their mid-year conference. (Good Thanks Media)

Young graduates starting out on their career often struggle with the perception that they’re not good enough.

This feeling, now widely referred to as Imposter Syndrome, afflicts many of us over our working lives, but young people, thrown into an environment with older, more experienced heads, can be more vulnerable than most.

“I do feel like I'm a fraud at times. Actually, most of the time,” says Lenna Fu, one of 50 Westpac technology graduates to have joined the bank in its 2023 intake. 

But Lenna, who has a degree in biomedical engineering, says Westpac’s graduate program has helped build her confidence as she navigates the unfamiliar professional space of cybersecurity.

“The support infrastructure offered by the program has given me a strong foundation to lean back on if I find myself doubting my self-value.”

At a time of fierce competition for graduate talent, Westpac is looking to attract “uncommon minds” with the promise that they will make a meaningful contribution from day one, and be supported no matter their academic, professional or personal background.

Westpac technology graduate Lenna Fu. (Good Thanks Media)

Imposter Syndrome was first identified and researched in the 1970s by two female American psychologists, Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes.

Although not a diagnosable mental health disorder, Clance and Imes characterised Imposter Syndrome as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness” manifesting as feelings of anxiety about potentially being exposed as a fraud.

It can be fuelled by many factors, including language, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, religion, or any physical or learning differences. But the common thread is self-doubt.

Lenna is far from alone in experiencing these feelings. In fact, approximately 70 per cent of people will feel Imposter Syndrome in their lifetime, according to the Journal of Behavioural Science.

And the phenomenon extends across the corporate ladder, with a KPMG survey of 750 high-performing executive women finding three quarters had experienced imposter syndrome in their career.

Westpac Chief Risk Officer Ryan Zanin shared his own feelings of self-doubt with the bank’s graduates at their mid-year conference.

“I started my banking career in a training program and at some point found myself on a trading floor at an investment bank in the late 80s. I was a gay man without a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) who was surrounded by everybody who had MBAs,” he said.

“And certainly, there were no gay men, or at least I didn't know any at the time. And so I had multiple layers of senses of inadequacy, and that I couldn't be my true self and also didn't have the same fighting chops as the folks who I was surrounded with.”

Zanin said he was fortunate to have mentors willing to take a chance on him in the early part of his career.

“And their best advice to me was to show up, do your best every day, and be intellectually curious.”

Chief risk officer Ryan Zanin (centre) and chief mentral health officer David Burroughs (far right) spoke on a panel at the conference. (Good Thanks Media)

Speaking at the conference, Westpac Chief Mental Health Officer and practicing psychologist, David Burroughs, told graduates that feelings of self-doubt were normal.

“I just think that in high performing organisations, when you’ve got high expectations of yourself, if you don't have elements of self-doubt, I'd be worried,” he said.

“But really importantly, if it gets in the way of your wellbeing, and it’s not just a little bit of worry and anxiety around whether you are getting it right or whether you're fitting in, if it’s starting to impact your sleep, your sense of self-worth and those sorts of things, then seek assistance.”

Burroughs says, “effective people are good at getting support early.”

Applications for next year’s Westpac Graduate Program open in July. Visit the website for more information. 

Liam is a reporter for Westpac Wire. He previously served as a financial journalist for Money Management and as a regional journalist in Nowra for Australian Community Media.

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