How to overcome imposter syndrome when changing sectors
Starting a new role – regardless of whether that role is paid or voluntary – can feel like putting on clothes that don’t quite fit. Therefore, it’s not surprising that it can lead to people experiencing imposter syndrome – especially when the new role involves getting to know a new sector.
As I’ve written about before, you are not alone if you are someone – or if you are supporting someone – who finds themselves facing imposter syndrome when applying for or starting a new position. For those starting a new position, imposter syndrome can sometimes be particularly front of mind when the new role involves a change in sector.
While it is of course possible to successfully move to a new sector, even after a longstanding career in an entirely different one, doing so can feel incredibly challenging.
Major John Cartwright-Terry is someone who knows how this type of career move feels from first-hand experience. After serving over eighteen years in the British Army, John became Director of The Stonyhurst Foundation in September 2022.
On the cusp of his first anniversary in this role earlier this month, John and I spoke about his experience of moving from the military to leading a foundation, and he had some helpful advice to share with others who are considering a sector swap.
Do, don’t just think.
It can be really easy to think about taking on a new role or changing sector for weeks, months, or even years before actually doing anything about it.
As John shared with me, you can explore new opportunities; run them by the people close to you, and draft as many applications as you want – but if you want anything to happen, it ‘comes to a point where you do have to press send. Someone will read it and either say yes or no, but there is nothing you can do about that other than have faith that what you’ve written was good work that you were happy to submit.’
Ultimately, though, if you never press send, you’ll never know where doing so could have led.
Getting the role is just the beginning.
Convincing yourself to do an application in the first place, going through a recruitment process, and securing the role you are going for can be challenging — accepting an offer is just the start of transitioning to a new sector. There will be new people to meet and systems to learn, not to mention that any role can inevitably feel different in practice than it did when you read about it on paper.
Having confidence where you are comfortable and knowing that with time you will become more comfortable in the areas that are new for you are both key.
At the same time, it is important to recognise that, as John pointed out, both you and the role you are in ‘will continue to adapt and evolve over time’. Therefore, it is worth asking yourself whether you are an imposter, or whether you are ‘simply someone continuously learning to adapt to a role and circumstances that present’.
Giving yourself time to adapt, and expecting that this will be necessary, is particularly important to keep in mind for those moving to work in an entirely new sector after many years in another one.
Be who you are.
You don’t have to become a completely different person to take on a new role in a new sector. According to John, he thinks he still speaks and writes like an army officer. Taking on a new title doesn’t mean you immediately change your approach to being at work or in the world. In reality, all of the skills and knowledge you already have can bring a lot of value to the organisation and sector you are joining.
The combination of your experience is what shaped you into the person who was given the role you have taken on. In addition, there is a fresh perspective you can bring as someone who comes from a different sector.
In short, repeat after me: Take action. Keep going. Believe in yourself. Regardless of where you are in your career, I think there is value for all of us in these words of advice.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Major John Cartwright-Terry for his willingness to share his story with us and, by extension, others. Sharing our stories can make such a positive difference to those who are considering or going through something similar.
To learn more about John and The Stonyhurst Foundation’s work, please visit the Foundation’s website.
Dr Jenn Allen is a Managing Consultant in our Not for Profit Practice. In addition to being a well-read scholar with both an MSc and a PhD in Education from the University of Oxford, Jenn has a wealth of experience working with foundations and trusts to recruit to both executive and board roles. With a passion for making a difference, Jenn works with her clients to find excellent candidates who are committed to the positive changes they seek to make in the world. You can connect with Jenn on Linkedin or send her an email.