How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Have you ever felt completely unqualified to do your job? Have you ever worried about being exposed as a fraud at work? Maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “If I make one mistake, I’m definitely getting fired.”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is an intense feeling of self-doubt and anxiety, usually felt at work. These feelings literally make you feel like an “imposter” doing the job you were hired to do. Common symptoms of imposter syndrome may include:

  • Downplaying your accomplishments or praise received at work.
  • Attributing any personal success to luck or the input of others.
  • Believing that you were hired by mistake, or that you somehow “tricked” your employer into hiring you.
  • Waiting for the day your boss “finds out” that you’re incapable of doing your job.
  • Feeling constantly burnt out because you always try to deliver perfection.
  • Feeling like a failure despite having no track record of ever being unsuccessful.

Feeling like an imposter at work is extremely common among adult workers in the United States. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that 70% of adults have felt like an imposter at some point during their careers. More recent studies point to the rise of remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for increased symptoms of imposter syndrome among employees.

A Brief History of Imposter Syndrome

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

The term “imposter syndrome” was coined in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in their co-authored paper: “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.”

The impetus of this paper came from Dr. Clance’s own personal experiences. As Dr. Clance explains on her website, she struggled with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness while in graduate school.

Later, as a professor she recognized that many of her students felt the same way she did. She then teamed up with her colleague Dr. Imes to conduct extensive research and eventually publish their groundbreaking paper.

Some years later, Dr. Clance developed the Clance IP Scale, which is a simple quiz that can help determine if you how intensely you may experience symptoms of imposter syndrome at school or work.

5 Types of “Imposters” 

Dr. Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned expert on imposter syndrome. She continued the work pioneered by Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes, identifying 5 “types” of imposters:

  1. The perfectionist feels like they could have always done something better no matter how much praise they’ve received or how successful the outcomes. They focus on minor errors rather than large wins.
  2. The expert is concerned primarily with how much they do (or don’t) know at the start of a project. Any lack of knowledge on their part at the start of a project makes them feel like failure is inevitable.
  3. The natural genius wants to perform any task quickly and easily the first time. Any struggle to accomplish a task feels like failure.
  4. The soloist believes they need to accomplish everything on their own. Asking for help is a sign of weakness and signals their incompetence.
  5. The superhuman believes they should be able to juggle all roles in each project. For example, they may take of the role of project manager, digital media strategist, and copywriter on a single project. Falling short in just one of those roles—even while delivering a successful outcome overall—is interpreted as a failure by the superhuman.


13 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

If you’re struggling with symptoms of imposter syndrome, try these tips:

1. Recognize when imposter syndrome may arise

You’re more prone to experience imposter syndrome when you’ve started a new job, have been given a promotion, or have been assigned a task that’s outside of your comfort zone. If you can anticipate the times that you may be more susceptible to imposter syndrome, then you’ll be better able to take steps to prevent it from creeping up.

2. Separate feelings from facts

Imposter syndrome makes you feel like you’re failing or making mistakes—even when the facts don’t support those feelings. Remind yourself of what the facts of a situation are.

For example, you may think you absolutely bombed a presentation.

But think about the observable and verifiable facts of the situation. Did the audience look engaged? Was there a lively discussion at the conclusion of the presentation? Did your boss or co-workers praise you for a job well done?

3. Embrace a growth mindset

An imposter mindset will send you into a panic if you’re given an assignment that you’ve never had to handle before. You may think you’re going to fail even before you start the assignment.

A growth mindset means that you’re open to new challenges and learning as you go. In addition, you’ll accept the mistakes or bumps in the road along the way as opportunities to improve processes or enhance skills.

4. Clarify goals and set milestones

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

At the start of each project, talk to your manager and stakeholders to get a clear sense of what you’re expected to do and what a successful outcome looks like. Then, set up milestone “check-ins” with your manager to ensure you’re progressing as expected. You’ll have the confidence of knowing you’re on the right path through the duration of the project, which should help quell any imposter thoughts.

5. Talk to your manager

It’s a good idea to tell your manager that you’re experiencing symptoms of imposter syndrome. It’s more than likely your boss will be able to relate to how you’re feeling.

Simply talking to your manager about it should help alleviate some symptoms of imposter syndrome. Then, you can discuss strategies to help reduce your anxiety even further—such as more frequent feedback discussions, additional training, etc. 

6. Find a therapist

If you have the resources to access one, a licensed professional therapist can help you overcome any symptoms of imposter syndrome and reduce your anxiety at work. In fact, it may take just a handful of sessions to get to the root of your imposter thinking and become more confident at work.

Check with your employer to see if they offer mental health resources for employees.

7. Wait it out

Sometimes, the best way to overcome imposter syndrome is to simply wait it out. As you put time into a new job, you’ll learn and grow. After a while the job will probably become second nature and you won’t feel like an imposter anymore.

8. Flip the script

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Did you ever hear the phrase “crazy people don’t wonder if they’re crazy?” It means that crazy people don’t have the mental clarity to wonder if they’re crazy. So, asking yourself “am I crazy?” only proves that you’re sane.

Likewise, true imposters don’t ever wonder if they’re imposters. The fact that you feel like an imposter is, in fact, evidence that you’re not an imposter. It takes a minute to get your head around this concept, but once it clicks, you’ll realize it actually makes a lot of sense. 

9. Be a mentor

Find an opportunity to mentor someone at your office or in your industry. You can also look for opportunities to mentor local high school or college students.

When you share your knowledge and experience with others, you start to realize how smart you really are. Plus watching someone progress and succeed under your guidance can be a real confidence boost.

10. Attend industry events

Take the time to attend conferences, webinars, and networking events. Soak up as much knowledge as you can and share it with your manager and co-workers. There’s nothing like gaining actual knowledge to keep those intrusive imposter thoughts at bay.

11. Fake it

Sometimes, when all else fails, you just must fake it until you make it. This is especially true if you’ve been given a promotion with new responsibilities or landed a new job.

Accept the fact that you’re just going to feel a little lost for a while and a few imposter syndrome thoughts may creep in. They are just thoughts. Acknowledge them, then let those thoughts go and put your best foot forward.

12. Trust the faith others put in you

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Remember why you were given the promotion or landed the new job. It’s not because you fooled anyone. It’s because the hiring manager saw something special in you and wanted you on the team. Believe that you do have the skills and talent that others see in you.

13. Check your track record

Look back on successful projects you’ve done in the past. Recall how you felt before the project started. Were you scared? Were you feeling like an imposter? Did you convince yourself that failure was imminent?

Then, recognize how you were able to succeed despite those insecurities. Chances are, you’ll find that you’ve got an excellent good record of rising to challenges and succeeding despite doubting yourself initially.

You Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome

When it comes to feeling like an imposter at work, you’re definitely not alone. Imposter syndrome is something that almost everyone experiences at some point during their career.

Try following the tips above to combat impostor syndrome and regain confidence at work.

If you’ve confident that you’re not an imposter but your company doesn’t value you as it should, then consider finding a new job. You’ll need a compelling resume that clearly showcases your value to hiring managers in the 10-seconds or less they’ll spend reviewing your resume.

Contact Empire Resume today to find out more.

Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.

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