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What is Imposter Syndrome and is it affecting your job search?

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Tips And Advice

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"I feel like a fraud! What if I'm found out?"

Feeling like you don't have a clue what you're doing; that you don't deserve to be where you are; that you only got the job because you got lucky; and that everyone around you will sooner (or later) start to realise it, is what's known as "Imposter Syndrome" or "The Imposter Phenomenon".  

Imposter syndrome is "the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills."

(Oxford English Dictionary)

Is Imposter Syndrome affecting your career?

If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome it can easily affect your job search and career trajectory. It can make you think you don't deserve your success and that you'll never get that dream job.

However, you don't have to let this monster win!

Don't self-sabotage!

Ask those around you - your boss, mentor or colleagues... even friends and family - what they respect and admire about you.  It's often surprising (and uplifting).  

Make notes of your accomplishments, track your efforts - and if you're ever feeling like you don't deserve to be in the kick-ass shoes you're wearing, just look at these notes and remember why you are where you are.  

Having your successes written down in black and white will act as a confidence booster - and can act as a fantastic resource for job applications!  

What are the characteristics of Imposter Syndrome?

Some of the common signs of Imposter Syndrome according to Very Well Mind include:

  • Self-doubt
  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Berating your performance
  • Fear that you won't live up to expectations
  • Overachieving 
  • Sabotaging your own success
  • Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short2

Types of Imposter Syndrome & how to quiet the beast

There are 5 main types of Imposter Syndrome.  Each one has its own character and can be dealt with in different ways.  It's good to take time to understand which tendencies you engage in so that you can stop, recognise and adjust your behaviour accordingly.  We're not saying it's easy, but it is important!

Most importantly, remember you're not alone. 

1. The Perfectionist

Set high, often unreachable, goals and are left feeling disappointed and frustrated when they fail to reach them. Have difficulty delegating. Experience major self-doubt - yet feel like they must do a task themselves to ensure it is done right. Can micro-manage. They will accuse themselves of not being 'cut out' for their job and these thoughts will play on their mind for days, if not longer.

This is not a productive way of working and can cause burnout.

How to Quiet the inner 'Perfectionist'

  • own and celebrate your achievements
  • accept your mistakes as part of the process
  • stop procrastinating over tasks - there will never be a perfect time and you will do a good job!

2. The Superwoman/man

Convinced they're a phoney amongst the 'real deal' they will push themselves to work longer and harder than their colleagues in order to measure up. They feel like they haven't earned their place (regardless of education, experience or expertise) so feel the need to prove themselves to others.

Their insecurities will often cause work overload and can harm their mental health.

How to Quiet the inner 'Super'

  • steer away from needing external validation
  • take the power back and give yourself a pat on the back
  • don't take constructive criticism personally
  • nurture your inner confidence
  • don't overwork

3. The Natural Genius

Can feel shame if they take a long time to master a task as they judge their competence to be based on how easy they find something, not how much effort they've put in. As with a Perfectionist, they can set an impossibly high bar for themselves, however, they will also judge themselves on getting something done the first time. They're very used to excelling without much effort, probably achieved very high grades in school/college/uni and dislike being offered help (and therefore avoid difficult tasks).

How to Quiet the inner 'Genius'

  • see yourself differently - you are not the finished product yet and there is still time for learning
  • try to set more achievable goals - there's nothing wrong with high standards, just make sure they are achievable
  • focus on the positives of perfecting your skills rather than feeling you're not good at something

4. The Soloist/Individualist

Dislike asking for help in case others 'see through them' and will often refuse help when it is offered.

How to Quiet the inner 'Soloist'

  • set yourself small goals such as "I will ask for help once this week" or "I will accept help when it is offered". You can attach these goals to a specific person or task to start with and move on from there. 
  • re-frame 'asking for help' as a strength rather than a weakness

5. The Expert

Think they need to know everything otherwise they cannot possibly be an expert. Worry that they will actually never know enough and fear being exposed as a fraud. Will seek out additional certifications to prove their expertise and will often shy away from applying for a job unless they tick every single requirement.

They can often procrastinate by seeking to learn vs just doing.

How to Quiet the inner 'Expert'

  • acquire skills when you need them, not all the time
  • ask for help from colleagues, a mentor or a coach - there is no shame in it
  • offer to mentor others - it's a great way to realise how much you actually know

If you're looking for a new job or a career move quieten the inner monologue which is telling you you're not good enough. 

Celebrate your successes and own your failures.  Look at things differently.  Reframe your thoughts. Take control. Make small changes. Find success.

"The process of cognitive reframing has been shown to improve resiliency, or the ability to bounce back from the many setbacks we encounter in the job search."


Related Articles

What is imposter syndrome & how can you combat it? (TED)

Why imposter syndrome hits women and women of colour harder (BBC)

Imposter syndrome - what is it and how you can address it  (Independent)

Michelle Obama opens up about imposter sydrome (Independent)

What Is Imposter Syndrome? (Very Well Mind)

How you can use impostor syndrome to your benefit (Mike Cannon-Brookes, TED)

Stephen Gates, Head of Design Transformation at InVision (WillowTreeApps)

5 Ways Imposter Syndrome Is Silently Killing Your Job Search (Forbes)



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