Have you experienced the feeling that you don’t stack up to your coworkers and job competitors, that you landed in your position through pure luck or that you just don’t belong? Do you worry that others could find out that you’re a fraud? Have you turned down additional responsibilities at work out of fear that you might make mistakes and be perceived as incompetent? Does the thought of interviewing for jobs give you a paralyzing fear that you will be seen as a faker for even trying? If this pattern sounds familiar, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Psychologist and executive coach Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin (Curated Career Conversations: Imposter Syndrome with Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin) defines imposter syndrome as a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Psychology Today describes it as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common, even among highly successful people. It’s estimated that 70% of people suffer some form of imposter syndrome, which can leave people feeling that they don’t deserve to be where they are in life.
According to Monster Jobs writer Heather Boerner (Do You Really Deserve That Job?), people who identify with impostor syndrome feel they’ve somehow ‘fooled’ others into thinking they’re smarter and more capable than they believe themselves to be. Valerie Young, who does workshops on imposter syndrome, says this feeling of being a fraud causes people to hold back and not go after the jobs they really want.
If you feel that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, it’s important to realize that it doesn’t have to handicap your chances to advance your career or land your dream job. Instead, consider these tips to have — and enjoy – the job and career you deserve:
Look for triggers.
Start by thinking about what might be triggering your fraud feelings:
- Are there parts of your job you don’t think you do well?
- Are there parts of your dream job that you don’t think you’re qualified for?
- Are there parts of the job search process that scare you? Which ones?
“A lot of people will look at a list of job qualifications and even if they have eight of 10, they won’t apply,” Young said. “I used to work for a Fortune 500 company and have been on the other side of the interview desk. You don’t have to know how to do all of it. You just need to know 40 percent. The rest you can learn on the job.”
Evaluate your strengths and where you need to grow.
Take some time to evaluate where you stand on the skillsets required for each job before the interview. This process will help you be ready to face the most challenging part of the job interview: talking about where you need to improve. Workbloom blogger Sharon Elber (Imposter Syndrome and the Job Interview: Tips for Women) says it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to learn some new skills in a job that is a strong fit for your potential. Elber suggests that you ask a friend to role play with you until you gain confidence in how to respond to questions regarding areas where you need to grow and develop.
Prepare yourself to talk about your accomplishments.
Spend time remembering your accomplishments and preparing some stories of moments in your academic or professional life where you overcame obstacles, achieved your potential or received awards. Practice sharing your stories with a friend to help you get comfortable recognizing and talking about some of your positive achievements.
Check in with a mentor.
If you’re feeling like you can’t compare to coworkers or other potential job candidates, look for a mentor or coach who can give you an honest evaluation, says professional development writer Ximena Vengoechea (How to Banish Imposter Syndrome and Embrace Everything You Deserve). An objective, external observer can help you gain some perspective and put your fears to rest. A supportive mentor will most likely tell you that you are fine, you are qualified, and you need to go for it.
Try mentoring someone else.
Sharing your knowledge and supporting someone else can not only help you realize how much you know, but also likely uncover new strengths you didn’t realize you had. Mentoring can reveal skills you took for granted or mistakenly assumed came from luck, and it’s empowering to know you are helping someone else find his or her way.
Draw inspiration from failure.
We often hear about the rookie who made it big or the people who failed in one endeavor only to later achieve immense success. When we hear these stories, we tend to focus only on the fact that they eventually made it. We weren’t with them for their lowest lows, when their dreams felt out of reach. Often the ones who make it are the ones with grit, pushing through uncomfortable experiences of rejection or feeling like imposters and frauds. Be inspired by the knowledge that they were once where you might be now and allow that inspiration to fuel your own persistence. (see How to Ditch Imposter Syndrome and Apply for That Job at the Everygirl blog)
Recognize that perfection is an impossible goal.
The irony of suffering from imposter syndrome is that it may be more about your high standards than about low performance. If you consistently set your goals too high, you are setting yourself up for failure. Break your work or your job search into manageable tasks and take time to focus on the accomplishment of getting things done. This behavioral technique can retrain your brain to see yourself as someone who gets things done rather than someone who falls short.
It is helpful to remember that the feelings of “faking it” associated with imposter syndrome are common, and that even interviewers and hiring managers have likely experienced them at one time or another. Realizing that you are not alone can help you keep those feelings in check, and help you overcome self-doubt before it becomes paralyzing.