The feeling is as familiar as it is ugly. You’re sitting in a room of your peers and suddenly get a twisting feeling in your gut that you don’t belong there.
Does that sound like a situation you’ve been in before? You’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is something that every working professional will deal with at some point in their career.
There’s a misconception that advancing your career will eventually help shake those feelings of inadequacy. And while imposter syndrome does affect people of every race, gender, age, and class, it can be especially harmful to professional women looking to break the glass ceiling.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is an internal psychological experience regarding chronic feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, and feeling like a phony or a fake in an area of one's life, regardless of education, experience, or the success achieved.
There will be points in your career when you feel inadequate or in over your head – but thankfully, it’s not an experience you have to have alone.
Understanding imposter syndrome is the first step towards squashing it and continuing your career growth, which can be taken one step further with the help of career management software. These tools can better support employees' individual career development, enhance their skills, and identify career goals.
Types of imposter syndrome
There are five types of imposter syndrome an individual may experience. They are:
- The Perfectionist: When someone believes that, unless they were absolutely perfect, there's always something they could have done better. A person who feels this way believes they're not as good as others might think. This individual focuses on how they do things, often to the point where they demand perfection in every aspect of their life. They often criticize themselves for minor mistakes and feel ashamed of any failure, no matter how small.
- The Expert: Someone who feels like an imposter because they don't know everything there is to know about a topic or subject. Because there is always more to learn, they never feel they can be considered "an expert". Individuals with this type believe they should have all the answers and will consider themselves a fraud or failure if they can't answer a question.
- The Soloist: In this type, someone who feels like an imposter when they have to ask for help to reach a certain level of expertise. Because the knowledge wasn't gained independently, this person will question their competence or abilities. Sometimes called The Rugged Individualist, they believe they should be able to handle everything solo and achieve success.
- The Natural Genius: An individual will feel like a fraud because they don't believe they're naturally intelligent or competent. If they don't get something right on the first try, or it takes them longer than expected to master a skill, they'll feel like an imposter.
- The Superhero: This type of imposter syndrome centers around an individual believing they have to be the hardest worker or achieve the highest levels of achievement and success. If they don't, they're a fraud. These individuals will push themselves to the limit, expending as much energy as possible to succeed.
Characteristics and signs of imposter syndrome
If you think you may have imposter syndrome, here are some characteristics and signs to watch out for.
- Berating your performance or skill set
- An inability to assess your skills and competency levels
- Only attributing your success to external factors beyond your control
- Fear that you'll never live up to expectations
- Constantly sabotaging your success
- Setting extremely challenging or unrealistic goals and then feeling disappointed when you fall short
- Being afraid of being "found out" or that others will think you're a fraud, despite success
- Attributing your success to luck or describing it as a "fluke"
8 real-life tips to overcome imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome was around long before there was a popularized term for it. Feelings of self-doubt or self-consciousness are things that everyone can relate to. Thankfully, there are proactive steps you can take to help you recenter yourself and shake off your imposter syndrome.
of female professionals between the ages of 25-34 are currently experiencing imposter syndrome.
Source: Innovate MR
We’ve sourced advice from women across industries and career fields for their best advice on recognizing and dealing with imposter syndrome.
1. Become a speaker, mentor, or thought-leader
“The best way to shake off your imposter syndrome is to take the opportunity to teach and mentor. People are hungry for experiential knowledge, and you don't realize how much you have learned until you sign up to teach a 60-minute class or sit down to answer some questions one-on-one over coffee. You get to organize your lessons learned, and you get to help out others in your community.”
– Jessica Day, Co-Founder and CMO at IdeaScale
2. Write out your entire career (yeah, the whole thing!)
“A quick trick to overcome imposter syndrome: Write out your entire career history. I was interviewed for a podcast and thought, ‘I'm only 21, I don't have a great story to share’ until I wrote down three pages of stuff I'd done and completely forgotten about.”
– Elise Dopson, as quoted from her Twitter account
3. Keep compliments you receive for a rainy day
“If you’re prone to imposter syndrome, start keeping a ‘Love Me’ file on your desktop. It can be something as simple as Word document where you file notes from colleagues, managers, clients, customers, and anyone giving you 'props' for a job well done. You can also add projects you've worked on, and successes you've had at work. Every time you feel imposter syndrome coming on, go back to it, read the whole thing, and let it sink in.
Each of us are so busy in our day-to-day lives that we often forget to step back and take a look at the amazing work we've done to get to where we are in life.
My guess is there's no real 'fix' for imposter syndrome but to bravely challenge it on a regular basis until you begin to feel it less and less and it slowly fades away."
Executive Career Strategist, Promotion Career Solutions
4. Recognize that you don’t know it all, and that’s okay
“I try to focus on why I got the job – my skill sets, my experience, my capability, and the confidence of the people who hired me. I also enjoy talking with my peers because they are the best at helping put things into perspective.
Being willing to constantly learn on the job helps up my game and gives me a confidence boost. If I feel self-conscious for not knowing something, I’ll just go out and learn as much about it as I can.”
– Supriya Kumar, Vice President of Marketing at Vayana Network
5. Focus on your supporters, not your haters
“As a woman working in a male-dominated field, a Sergeant in the NYPD and a Director at NYC Emergency Management, I have to overcome not only my own self-limiting beliefs, but do that in a male-dominated world.
The first thing I do is listen to my inner voice and the stories it tells me. Centering myself on my truth and what I believe in important to me. The second thing I do is find people who supported the work I was doing and believed in me.
When I found a publisher for my book, I decided to be upfront with him about my learning disability. I had always believed it would hold me back with writing and publishing a book. It turns out being honest really benefited me. My publisher also had a learning disability. He had already published six books and understood my unique challenges. I chose to work with him because I knew he would believe in me when I didn't believe in myself.”
– Christine Maier, Author, Coach, and Speaker
6. Double down on learning and continued education
“I stepped into my first Director level role before I even turned 25. Needless to say, I sometimes wondered if I was supposed to be in the role I was offered. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that they had for me.
Whenever I had a moment of self-doubt or worry, I would channel that energy into learning anything and everything. I would read everything about my industry, business, management, and thought leaders because if you are not learning you are not growing. This helped get me out of the imposter syndrome. I would learn new things, adapt them to my role, and keep evolving to provide value to my firm, and then one day, I no longer felt like an outsider but a significant addition to the team.”
– Kelly Anderson, MBA, Marketing Director at Wealth Continuum Group
7. Recognize and accept that you are enough
“To deal with ‘imposter syndrome,’ you must accept that you are enough.
You must understand that you deserve to pursue your career even if you aren’t perfect. However, you must also understand that it is not up to you to endure a toxic environment that breeds chronic self-doubt.
By treating imposter syndrome as if it blossoms only in the recesses of the mind, we absolve ourselves of addressing sexism, racism, and the culture of overwork that may be causing the imposter experience. Imposter syndrome is not necessarily a disease of the mind, but perhaps a disease of the system.”
– Christine Liu, as quoted from her piece originally published on Quartz
8. When all else fails, just focus on your success
“Before I decided to take the leap into self-employment, it was so hard for me to shake the feeling that I was being judged during job interviews or even during a job while on a client call.
Even when I had dozens of clients and experience under my belt, I would often wonder, who am I to be running this program or giving this advice? What if it fails? Even when it was going well and even when I knew exactly what I was doing, it was hard not to feel scrutinized by those around me, and often led to moments of self-doubt.
I finally found that focusing on the success that I’ve had instills confidence in me. It's best to not put weight on others' opinions or your perceived judgment of their opinions since that will only end up undermining you and your work. Focus on being the best, and the confidence will follow.”
– Stacy Caprio, Self-Employed Business Coach
Tell your inner self–saboteur to beat it
The next time you’re feeling self-conscious about your success, remember that you deserve to be where you’re at today, just like these women in marketing, sales, business, and beyond. You worked hard and fought for what you have. Don’t be ashamed; own it!
Constantly feeling like an imposter in your career has serious repercussions, including experiencing burnout. Learn the types and causes before it's too late.
This article was originally published in 2019. It has been updated with new information.