Self awareness

Increase your career confidence – 5 top tips

Many highly capable, intelligent (often) female students do not necessarily fulfil their potential, either as students or when they enter the graduate labour market. Students at top Universities represent the intellectual elite. However, it’s one thing to know this and something else to believe it.

Mind the gap sign painted on train station's platform edge

Lack of confidence can hold you back and can prevent you from:

  • Making valuable contributions in seminars
  • Asking questions and challenging opinions
  • Applying for graduate jobs you feel you mightn’t get
  • Putting yourself forward for positions of responsibility in clubs and societies
  • Ultimately applying for promotional posts once in employment

Gender stereotypes can be deeply ingrained and can make it difficult to overcome implicit family or peer beliefs such as:

‘I don’t deserve to be here and someone will find me out,’ otherwise known as Impostor Syndrome – a feeling commonly experienced by students.  Also perhaps ‘my deeds should speak for themselves without me needing to draw attention to them,’ the belief that being quietly diligent will ensure your work stands out without you having to.These beliefs are unlikely to help you make the most of your university experience. So- what can you do to prevent such self-limiting beliefs from holding you back?

1. Know yourself

Self-awareness is key. Many of us don’t spend time reflecting on what’s truly important to us. By having a clearer understanding of our values, motivations, qualities and preference, it becomes easier to identify what matters to us and how to prioritise what we really want, rather than what is expected of us. There are a number of self-awareness resources on our webpages designed to help you do this, where you can assess your skills, values and preferences.

2. Be yourself

Success is not about becoming an extrovert if you are a naturally quiet person. If you are an introvert by nature, consider instead how you can harness your unique strengths and preferences in order to succeed. When your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and values are aligned, you will feel comfortable with yourself and the decisions you make. Your friends will appreciate you more as they will experience the ‘real’ you. You will become more confident, more assertive- able to say ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do and more honest with yourself and others. The authentic ‘you’ will command more respect and over time your confidence will grow. You can complete a free online Strengths profile by registering with and selecting ‘your abilities and fit’

Everyone has a sweet spot of combined strengths. When you discover and own yours you will see the world differently and, crucially, the world will see you differently. Self-knowledge + Ownership = Influence.

Clare Mcnamara, Global Executive and Team Coach

3. Be brave

The emotional, as opposed to the thinking part of our brain is hard-wired to keep us safe -so anything we perceive as risky will automatically generate a chemical ‘fight/flight’ response. It takes mental courage to decide to push past these feelings when our hearts are racing and our instincts are to avoid a scary situation. When you know what you want and why you want it, however, you will be more inclined to take risks and to step out of your comfort zone and ‘have a go.’ You will have less need for others’ approval and you’ll automatically develop in confidence. As you become more used to pushing through your fear you will become better at this.

I can do it

You’ll recognise your body’s automatic response, pause, breathe and press on. We need to step out of our comfort zones in order to learn and grow. We learn through failure not success. Over time, we become better at speaking up in seminars, applying for jobs and challenging others’ opinions. Despite the fear we may feel as we step outside our comfort zone, the fact that we survive the experience can make us more inclined to  stretch that bit further next time.

Without discomfort there can be no learning.

Brenee Brown, ‘Daring Greatly.’

4. ‘Just do it’ (Nike)

It’s very easy to procrastinate on making decisions and come up with a dozen reasons why you  shouldn’t do something. You might be waiting for the perfect job to appear before you apply. Perfect jobs are rare. However plenty of jobs that would be a pretty good match, do exist. Many graduates won’t stay in their first jobs for more than a couple of years- just attend any talk to hear from Warwick alumni as their stories will support this. Often the best we can hope for is a job that broadly feels right. From there we can navigate to something more suitable. There is much to be gained from doing a job that’s wrong for you as this will swiftly help you decide what you do need from a job for it to be more fulfilling.

5. Be open to opportunities

business woman celebrating

When your inclination is to stay away from something unfamiliar or scary- try saying ‘yes’ and push through the resistance you feel.  Saying ‘yes’ can open up some amazing doors and opportunities. Once you step beyond your comfort zone and succeed you will find you gradually build your confidence and then become willing to take bigger steps until stretching out of your comfort zone becomes the new normal.

Confidence is all about your state of mind and self- belief.  If you have a “can do”attitude, think about the positives and believe that you are good enough, then with each step you take you will grow in confidence.  Self -doubt can be destructive and hold you back.  It’s okay to be nervous about putting yourself forward but once you have taken that initial step, you will feel a huge sense of achievement.

Sandra Garlick, Business Consultant at ‘Women Who…’

Watch our videos for further help.

Useful further reading:

‘Presence – Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges’ –  Amy Cuddy
‘The Confidence Code – The Science and Art of Self-Assurance- What Women Should Know’ –Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
‘The Chimp Paradox’  –   Dr Steve Peters
‘Quiet – The power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’- Susan Cain


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