Imposter syndrome: 5 ways to get over feeling like a fraud at work

Home Imposter syndrome: 5 ways to get over feeling like a fraud at work
7 Dec 2020
For job-seekers

Imposter syndrome is when someone has persistent feelings of inadequacy despite evidence to the contrary. People who suffer from imposter syndrome believe their successes and achievements are purely down to luck or the impact of other people, rather than the result of their own talent or hard work. It's very common and affects people of all ages, genders and professions. 

We live in a strange time when we're expected to sell ourselves aggressively, but with authenticity and vulnerability; we're supposed to achieve, but also feel free to fail. Our whole culture is set up to make us all feel like we're missing something important (that everyone else gets). There has never been a time in history when so many people have a 'voice' - the devices and technology at our fingertips mean we're all connected to each other, and hearing incessant stories of achievement and success. No wonder so many of us are suffering from imposter syndrome!

It can become particularly acute when you're job searching; questioning your qualifications, achievements, skills and abilities in relation to a job advert or person specification. And the more rejection we experience in this process, the more we start to feel we're not good enough.

So what can you do about it? Here are some helpful tips.

1. Keep an appreciation folder

Yes, we really think this one should be top of the list! It might feel a bit odd at first, but keeping a copy of all the nice feedback and comments we get makes a great tangible reminder of our worth. Every time someone thanks or praises you for helping, improving, delivering, supporting or whatever else they valued about your work, take a screenshot or copy the email into a specific folder. Name it something that feels motivating or encouraging for you - 'The proof', 'Feel-good folder', 'Fraud busters', 'Praise file', you decide! Curate your wins, testimonials and thanks and pop by for a visit when that sneaky imposter syndrome starts to rear its ugly head.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

As soon as you start to compare yourself to other people (especially those who are seemingly high achievers and effortlessly awesome), you're liable to fall into the imposter syndrome trap: 'I am nowhere near as good as them', 'They are so confident and assured', 'They know all the answers'. But if we only ever did things because we felt we were 100% certain we could, we'd most likely never do another thing. You aren't here to copy someone else, to compare your approach or ability to theirs, to rate yourself in comparison to someone else. You're here to do what you're doing, and it's a lot easier when you switch off all the noise. Get off social media, stop reading about 'successful' people, stop wondering what that amazing person at work would do in your situation, and learn to respect your own experience. You're not a fraud, you're just not those people.

3. You don't always need to be right to be successful at work

Being wrong or getting things wrong doesn't make you bad at something, or out of your depth for trying it. It means you tried and it didn't work out. But the best sportspeople in the world don't win every time (and they didn't even win most of the time when they were starting out), CEOs and other company leaders are wrong a lot of the time, the best financial traders lose money on most trades. Losing, mistakes and failing are part of the game, and they don't say anything more about you or your potential than you just didn't get it right at that time. Get back up, file it under 'experience' (it's the folder next to your 'Praise file') and crack on.

4. You're not supposed to know everything

It can be stressful when we're put in the role of 'expert' at work - in a meeting or a presentation, or even a job interview. It might cause some sleepless nights over being expected to know all there is to know about a subject. Except you're not. You're expected to know more than most in that context, but there'll still be plenty you don't know. That doesn't make you a fraud. If you don't know something you're asked about, you can admit you don't yet have the answer, but you'll find out. If a 'non-expert' suggests something that's actually a great idea, instead of beating yourself up for not thinking of it already, thank them for their suggestion and say you'll give it a try. Most of the time it won't make you look any less competent and it also gives the other person some public credit for their thinking, which they'll thank you for. 

5. Visualise your success

Bear with us on this one, we know it sounds a bit self-help-hippie-jargon, but there's a lot of science behind the concept. Professional athletes and actors do it. If you're worried about a particular event (a job interview, a meeting at work, a presentation, being filmed for a video, etc.), instead of thinking about everything that could go wrong, picture yourself doing it well, handling it with confidence and style. It's proven to lower stress levels and improve actual performance, so surely it's worth a try? How easy (or difficult) you find it to do might be an indication of how affected by imposter syndrome you are...

Remember three little letters

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, incompetence or a lack of confidence, try rephrasing your worry to add a 'yet' to the end. 'I don't know how to do that... yet', 'I don't understand that at all... yet', 'I have no idea what I'm doing... yet'. We're all a work in progress.

If you're looking for your next career move, please do get in touch. You can call us on 01932 355000 or email to arrange a time to register as a candidate, so we can find out all about you and what you're looking for. (If you're already registered with us and fancy a catch up, we'd love to hear from you too!)

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