Combating Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like you’re in way over your head in your career? Or maybe read a job description and thought, ‘there’s no way I’m qualified for that’? If so, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome is the appearance of anxious thoughts and feelings that lead you to believe you’re out of your depth in a certain situation or like you’re a fake that may be discovered at any point. You might feel like you’re not deserving of success, praise, or even a new job or promotion. 

A scientific study explains how imposter syndrome manifests within professional women: “Despite objective evidence of success, these women had a pervasive psychological experience believing that they were intellectual frauds and feared being recognized as impostors. They suffered from anxiety, fear of failure, and dissatisfaction with life.” 

Imposter syndrome is a common underlying fear in many professionals. That same study also estimated that nearly 70 percent of people will experience it at some point in their lives. Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent in those looking for new jobs. Read on to understand the root causes of imposter syndrome, how to detect it, and actionable tips on how to combat it during the job search process.

Identify Ways to Spot Imposter Syndrome

These feelings of inadequacy can be insidious and not altogether apparent. You may not even realize that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. 

As Jessica Bennett, author of Feminist Fight Club, explains in her FastCompany article, imposter syndrome comes in many flavors. Bennett outlines the most common ways you can identify that you’re experiencing it: 

  • Feeling sure that you’re going to fail or embarrass yourself.  
  • Feeling like you’ll be exposed at any moment, that you’ve tricked people to get your position.
  • Devaluing your worth or minimizing your accomplishments, even if others are actively championing you. 
  • Underestimating your expertise, like thinking you’re not qualified for a new job (more on that in the next sections).  

Understanding the Impact on Minorities

Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is more common amongst women and underrepresented groups. Studies show that female entrepreneurs experience imposter fear to the degree that it hinders career growth. Even prior to entering the professional world, college students found links between imposter feelings and certain ethnic groups, leading to mental health problems. We recommend Sheryl Nance-Nash’s BBC article for a deep dive on how oppression, systematic racism, and unequal representation leads to more instances of imposter syndrome for women of color.

Defeat Imposter Syndrome in the Job Hunt

Imposter syndrome may manifest itself within your jobsearch. If you’re on the hunt for a career change, but find yourself doubting your experience, abilities, or strengths, it may keep you from applying to certain roles. You might look at a job description and think there’s no way you could measure up, even if you have both the preferred proficiencies and experiences listed in the description - that’s imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. 

This is even more common for women. For example, we’ve all heard the stat that men will apply for a job when they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, compared to women who apply when they meet 100 percent. 

Below you’ll find our tips for countering feelings of inadequacy and gaining the courage to confidently apply to more positions.

Keep a “Wins Folder”

Cataloging your accomplishments and milestones is a great way to reinforce your worth. Start a “Wins” folder, either on your desktop or in Google Drive. The idea is to organize and track your professional achievements. If you’re ever feeling unsure and incompetent, open the folder and scan some entries. As a bonus, you likely need some of this information for job applications, so it will be easy to access.

Ideas of the collateral to save:

  • Collect any positive feedback from colleagues, supervisors, clients, or customers, i.e., performance reviews or project assessments. You could even screenshot encouraging emails as a PDF. 
  • Keep track of benchmarks and goals you hit in your previous roles (sales quotas, effective campaigns, etc.). 
  • Notate any promotions you’ve received and that positive evaluation that may have accompanied it.

Set and Track Achievable Goals

Setting small, realistic goals, allows you to identify tangible accomplishments and celebrate meeting them, effectively bolstering your self-esteem. As the productivity experts at Hubgets explain, “without specific, decisive goals to point you in a clear direction, it can be a challenge to find motivation and purpose... Establish your main target each day and set out to achieve it before working hours are over. The thrill of pursuit and the pride of success are excellent motivators.”

When job hunting, your goals can be small tasks like, update my resume, or apply to three positions this weekend. Then make sure to recognize and celebrate when you meet those objectives. This consistent reinforcement can help to boost your self-confidence and keep you motivated during the job search, especially when feelings of doubt or low self-worth pop up. As we all know, looking for a new job can be a discouraging process. This practice will help!

Network With Peers

Comparison can be a dangerous habit on the job search. Keep in mind that the goal of networking isn’t to measure yourself against others in your industry, it’s more so to give you perspective. When you join new groups or attend events, you’ll receive a broader sense of the current job landscape. Additionally, you’ll create invaluable relationships with folks that may be outside your current organization but still understand what you’re going through. As such, you can receive support, positive reinforcement, and validation.

Also, look for those who’ve successfully completed a job hunt and ask about their experiences. You might be surprised how many others felt imposter syndrome during the process only to end up in a role they rightfully deserved. 

Fill Up Your Tool Box 

There are many tools you can incorporate into your daily life to reaffirm your worth.. You just need to understand them, experiment with them, and see what works for you. 

To get started, try these practices recommended in the guide, The Power of Self Discovery for Female Entrepreneurs:

  • Meditate while asking yourself questions to gain clarity. For example, “What am I trying to achieve? What am I doing that works?”  
  • Focusing on abundance by listing what you’re grateful for in your life and career.  
  • Take self-assessment tests to better understand your personality, strengths, and weaknesses, i.e., Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, PATH Assessment.  
  • Ask close friends for feedback. 
  • Journal to dig deeper into issues or release your negative thoughts. 

Avoid Imposter Syndrome and Find the Perfect Role

Imposter syndrome can rob you of your confidence and make you doubt your unique skills and experiences. Even worse, it might make you second guess applying for a new position that’s perfect for you. And regrettably, this problem is more likely for underrepresented groups and women. 

Instead of beating yourself up or getting lost in negative thoughts, take action against imposter syndrome. Use the above strategies to reinvigorate your mindset and banish thoughts of skepticism and worry. Know that you’re not alone when you feel doubt, and remind yourself of your qualifications. 

Happy job hunting! 

Tracy Ring is a freelance writer and content marketer. She brings a real-life perspective to her writing from 10+ years of diverse experience, including HR, project management, customer and client relations, and admin roles. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter

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Tracy Ring