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Are you an Imposter in the Workplace?

Are you an Imposter in the Workplace?

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Last edited May 5, 2023

Are you an Imposter in the Workplace?

Imposter Syndrome was first described back in the late 70s by Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes and was originally researched as something which affected professional females. However, more recent research has found it to affect both males and females, with some studies finding women more susceptible to it in certain industries such as IT.Imposter Syndrome was first described back in the late 70s by Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes and was originally researched as something which affected professional females. However, more recent research has found it to affect both males and females, with some studies finding women more susceptible to it in certain industries such as IT.

Moreover, it has shown that it currently seems to be significantly affecting Millennials in the workplace with one third suffering from it.

What is it?

It can quite easily be summed up as a condition where an individual is unable to acknowledge any form of praise and instead, constantly feels anxiety surrounding their sense of belonging in the workplace. People with Imposter Syndrome normally struggle to accept any form of praise or acknowledgement that they are doing a good job, instead putting it down to luck or chance.

This is often felt by intelligent and successful people, with figures such as Melinda Gates experiencing it and speaking publicly about this issue which appears more prominently for women in the technology industry. Imposter Syndrome and its effects frequently appear in a cyclical form, perpetuating further feelings of being an imposter.

It will often follow these steps:

  1. A task is given to the worker
  2. They feel anxious with this work and over-prepare
  3. The task is completed and there is initial relief
  4. They deny their contribution and separate it from the completion of the job (often attributing it to others around them or luck)
  5. A new achievement related task is given to them and the cycle begins again

Why are Millennials feeling it more than most?

Millennials are part of a different job market and overall experience than others were used to ten or twenty years ago. With the gig economy, Millennials experience far less stable job opportunities and therefore, a lot more pressure to succeed financially. Moreover, recent research has found that millennials frequently change jobs, with a Deloitte survey revealing that 43% of Millennials plan on leaving their job within two years of joining.

Whilst many assume this is for financial reasons, the survey reported that more than anything else, Millennials were searching for a cultural fit. With Millennials feeling Imposter Syndrome more than other groups in the workplace, it’s clear why that search for a cultural belonging is more important than ever. Imposter Syndrome can therefore hit them harder than most, giving them more opportunities to not feel adequate in their job as they adapt to more changes as well as less stable opportunities.

Furthermore, in a world which is more focused with image and social media, undoubtedly, the pressure placed on the younger generations is larger than ever before. This is certainly feeding into the Imposter Syndrome cycle.

Are you or your candidates experiencing Imposter Syndrome?

If your candidates are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, or perhaps you are, what are the signs to look out for? Although it is not a defined condition, it is something which is consistently researched and felt by people in the workplace and therefore does have signs to look out for, such as:

  • The person feeling like a fraud with a fear of being “discovered”
  • Attributing success to luck or other circumstances
  • Belief that anyone can do their job and the skills aren’t unique to them
  • Claiming that the help they had was the reason for success
  • The use of minimising language such as: ‘Might’, ‘Kind of…’, ‘I was just…’, ‘I feel like I could…’

Whilst there are those not skilled or experienced enough for their jobs, Imposter Syndrome is very different. The people who experience this are quite frequently skilled enough for their work but are overwhelmed by this feeling of inadequacy. They frequently are able to complete a task given to them, but despite praise, feel it is not down to their individual contribution.

What can you do to counter it?

If you or your candidates are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, there are a few things which can help.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to become a mentor and engage in online discussions, as you’ll be surprised at how much you know – this should provide a boost of confidence.

It’s also a good idea to try and move any questions you have away from yourself and instead, ask about the knowledge/ideas behind it. Rather than questions whether you are suitable for the job, ask questions about the task itself and the knowledge behind it, as it’s okay to ask questions.

Track your accomplishments and keep note of significant things you have been able to do, as this will most likely surprise you when you look back at it.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Whilst this doesn’t mean fake your skills and entry to gain a job, it does mean that you should fake a separate confidence for tasks that you do. Confidently take them on and ask plenty of questions about it. When you pull it off, it should confirm to you that you are capable.

Recognise that those around you are not you. It’s okay to feel like an imposter, but those around you are most likely not able to do the task you have and that’s why it was given to you.

Adapting your strategy

As a result, Imposter Syndrome will certainly have had an impact on your recruitment efforts at some point. With a lot of Millennials feeling Imposter Syndrome as well as looking to change jobs more frequently, navigating this feeling is more important than ever. Firstly, appealing to a cultural fit appears to be the main priority for Millennial job seekers and is something you can quickly add more of to your strategy. Another easy thing to add to your strategy is to place emphasis on the past achievements/qualifications of the candidates as many who experience Imposter Syndrome have a sense that they are not suitable based on their own achievements.

Check Out this TED Talk on Imposter Syndrome:

A significant example of someone highly successful feeling like an Imposter is Mike Cannon-Brookes. In 2017 he gave a TED Talk on experiencing this, despite him running the highly successful software company Atlassian and his net worth being in the region of five billion dollars.

Check it out below:

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