What is imposter syndrome and how to overcome it
It can happen to us all, that nagging feeling that a job is just a little bit too much.

What is imposter syndrome and how to overcome it?

Imposter syndrome - don’t let it take over

It can happen to us all, that nagging feeling that a job is just a little bit too much for you, and that you’re really not good enough to deliver what is expected. It can happen at the bottom of the career ladder and at the top – in fact, imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy at work are likely to happen the more you progress. It can even happen to the most confident people or those with years of experience in their jobs. 

Do you think you might be suffering from imposter syndrome? Here’s what it is and how you can overcome it.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is when someone doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a fear of being exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome often strikes shortly after someone starts a new job, when an existing role changes, or when a new project is introduced that the individual finds challenging

It’s very often the case that there is no external reason for this fear, but for those experiencing it, imposter syndrome is very real and can seriously hinder their prospects of achieving their potential.

It can go hand in hand with other mental health issues, but it’s not considered a formal mental disorder.

How does it manifest itself?

Signs of imposter syndrome are low self-esteem and/or a lack of self-confidence at work. This often stems from a fear of failure and an imagined scenario that, in time, everyone will see through you and realise you have no right to be in the position you are in.

This self-doubt can, in itself, affect your ability to do your job well, leading to more doubt and lower confidence. Not being able to overcome imposter syndrome can prevent an individual from having the confidence to put forward ideas or take calculated risks to improve their performance.

What can help alleviate imposter syndrome?

If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, a simple task is to sit down and list the reasons you think you are not up to the job. From there, to counterbalance those feelings, make a list of the things you have done well. What are the strengths you think you have? Think about occasions where those strengths have been praised, or where you’ve seen success from a project or idea coming to fruition. 

When trying to deal with imposter syndrome, it’s also helpful to consider the way you’re being spoken to at work and whether there is any genuine negativity about your performance. It’s often the case that when you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, you tend to ignore the positives and only see the negatives, rather than being able to take a balanced view.

Be open with your line manager and ask them what their thoughts are. This can alleviate doubt and also, if there are any concerns, you can work together to put action points in place to help

What employers can do? 

From an employer’s point of view, although it is very likely they are not aware that someone is suffering from imposter syndrome, efficient appraisal or performance review procedures will help employees to see what areas of their work are going well and whether there is room for improvement. Regular interaction will also help to identify those individuals who do have doubts or express a lack of confidence, and this can be used as a marker to ensure they are reassured and performance-managed in the appropriate way.

Clear performance goals will help measure an individual’s contribution and provide regular assurance that things are going well, and offer a chance to address things that are not going well.


Action plan for sufferers

  • Try to be pragmatic: find evidence of where you received praise or positive emails or messages from colleagues and managers. Keep a diary of your achievements, no matter how small and use it to remind yourself of where things went well.
  • Decide to change: yes, it sounds easy, but these feelings need to be seen as temporary. Unless feedback from above tells you otherwise, remind yourself that no one else seems to think you are struggling, so you should believe it for yourself.
  • Harness it: everyone feels pressured by work at times, if we didn’t we’d either be doing something that didn’t challenge us, or we’re being overly confident. Knowing you need to keep working hard to be good at what you do, stops you from becoming complacent and helps you focus on improving. A touch of imposter syndrome can even be a good thing if you find a way to deal with it.
Hannah Hewitt
November 15, 2022
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