Don’t let imposter syndrome stifle your career (with tips)

Victoria McLean our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 15 November 2022

Imposter syndrome is something that about 70% of people reading this article have experienced or will experience at some point in their lives.


It’s common, it’s prevalent…and we don’t talk about it as much as we should.


The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was first coined in 1978, when psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes discovered that intelligent, high-achieving women commonly experienced internal emotions of feeling ‘phoney’ or that their success was mostly down to external factors and not their own efforts or abilities. (We now know that men experience imposter syndrome, too, but they’re 10% less likely to experience it than women.)


So it can be a real hindrance in the workplace - but why does it exist, how do you recognise it and how do you deal with imposter syndrome?

Why imposter syndrome exists

What makes (70% of) us forget about our job titles, qualifications, experience and the successes we’ve achieved and convince ourselves we’re not worthy, able or capable?


Unfortunately, there isn’t really one single or clear answer as to why imposter syndrome exists. From your personality profile or family upbringing to gender stereotypes and belonging to a minority group, there are many things that make you susceptible to imposter syndrome. 


Life or big career events, such as a new job, a promotion or a lot of change, can easily cause it to rear its ugly head. 

Symptoms of imposter syndrome

Michelle Obama once said, “I used to lie awake at night asking myself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me, so I decided not to listen.”


Imposter syndrome rears its head in many ways, and it isn’t always the same for everyone. Some symptoms of imposter syndrome include:

  • Deep self-doubt
  • Negative self-talk
  • Feeling like a fraud
  • Consistent over-achieving
  • Feeling inadequate or incompetent
  • Fear that you’ll never meet people’s expectations
  • An inability to assess professional competence realistically or accurately

6 practical tips for dealing with imposter syndrome in the workplace

1. Build your personal brand

Personal branding is as much about skills and behaviour as it is about appearance and building your personal brand can include anything from wearing colours that make you feel powerful through to having a state-of-the-art website or taking regular time outs for self-reflection - anything that helps you harness who you are.


And the real point is to find a way to make the most of the real you - focus on your strengths and be your best self as much as possible. Make a conscious effort to remind yourself of these and you’ll start to overthrow your inner imposter. 

2. Maintain a positive attitude

Thinking of mistakes as learning experiences rather than something terrible or embarrassing makes a real difference to your outlook. When your imposter syndrome flares up, embrace and explore it - figure out how you can avoid feeling the same way again and what the trigger was. You can learn a lot from your imposter syndrome if you’re able to meet it head on and dissect it, whether that’s internally or by talking it through with someone else.


If you’re a leader, remember that a relatable leader is an approachable one, and an approachable leader is a good leader with a happy team, so don’t be afraid to ask for and learn from feedback from your colleagues.

3. Intentionally acknowledge your abilities

There’s no shame in owning your accomplishments and recognising your success. If you’ve had an alternative narrative drilled into you from an early age, take the time to rewire this approach. Track your successes and celebrate them - yes, even in the workplace. 


By tracking your successes as you go along, you’ll be able to identify your tangible input when the imposter feelings come knocking. Rather than shying away from the success with thoughts such as, “It was down to luck”, you’ll be able to look back over what you’ve tracked and recognise the input you made that contributed to the success.

4. Build strong relationships

Avoiding talking about your imposter syndrome is understandable, but it will just make it worse. If you talk to your colleagues about how you’re really feeling, you’ll often find that they harbour the same emotions as you.


Working with a mentor can also make a world of difference. Providing support and feedback, a mentor can help you navigate tricky situations that they have already had experience with. Remember that hindsight is 20/20, and that’s exactly what they have. 


Additionally, ask for feedback from your manager, because you’re probably amplifying your imposter syndrome. By having an open channel of communication with your manager, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s expected of you, what you do really well and where you can improve, rather than overthinking everything.

5. Be aware of your symptoms and triggers

Being aware of your imposter syndrome symptoms and triggers will enable you to be proactive in taking practical steps to deal with it. This could be breathing and grounding yourself, or looking back at your written ‘trackable’ goals to see that you have accomplished many different things. If you know your mind often goes blank, make notes and take them with you into a call or meeting.

6. Separate your feelings from facts

In moments of anxiety and overwhelm, it can be really useful to take a moment to look at the facts of a situation, without influence from your opinions, beliefs or feelings - having a colleague to help you with this can be really useful.


And remember, being nervous or anxious is often a good thing as it shows that you’re truly invested in whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. 


Above all else, remember that many people feel this way, and that many of those people are high-achieving and successful. If you consider that from another angle, that means you must be successful and high achieving, too. 

In cases of extreme and debilitating imposter syndrome, don’t ever be afraid to get some help should you be able to access it. Seeing a coach can make a huge difference, as it has done for many of my clients. I host a popular lunch and learn masterclass ‘Embrace your imposter’ for a number of clients - it’s interactive, empowering and enlightening. It helps all employees embrace their imposter.  Contact me directly if you’d like to find out more about our coaching or masterclasses.

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