Is impostor syndrome holding you back from career progression?

By Robert Half 29th October 2018

Are you introverted in team meetings? Too scared to go for that promotion? Perhaps you feel like the weak link in your team? If any of this sounds familiar, you might have a touch of impostor syndrome.

According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70% of us experience imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. In the UK, it’s thought that two thirds of women have suffered from it at work in the last 12 months. Learn how to identify impostor syndrome and how to work around it for better career progression (that’s guilt and worry-free!).

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a form of anxiety in which the sufferer finds it hard to accept achievements and success. This can manifest as downplaying achievements, an inability to accept praise, self-doubt and a fear of being exposed as a fraud by colleagues. 

Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck and Meryl Streep are all famous impostor syndrome sufferers, proving that even the best of us sometimes doubt our abilities!

How to tell if you have impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome can be experienced in a variety of ways, such as striving for perfection at all costs, pushing yourself too hard, finding it hard to ask for help, and avoiding challenges for fear of failure.

Many of us—from the shy to the confident—are likely to have experienced a touch of imposter syndrome. If you’re worried, you can also opt to take an impostor syndrome test, designed by one of the original psychologists behind the theory, Pauline Clance.

How to stop impostor syndrome from holding you back

1. Reassess your language

Impostor syndrome can manifest itself in something as simple as the language you use when articulating your ideas. Hesitant language like ‘might’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘I just’ automatically suggest that you aren’t confident in your assertion.

Before you make a response, remind yourself that your opinions are valid and that you wouldn’t have been asked to participate if your input wasn’t valuable! Swap your tentative language for more assertive phrases and see the difference it makes. For example:

Hesitant: “I feel this might be the wrong direction”
Assertive: “Would you consider trying it this way instead?” 

2. Become a mentor

Have you ever considered offering to mentor a more junior member of staff? Once you start sharing your knowledge and expertise, you’ll realise just how much you really know, and can make a difference to someone else while you’re at it. 

3. Request training

One of the most common worries for impostor syndrome sufferers is that they are underqualified for the position they’re in or that other team members are smarter or more knowledgeable. This can be easily countered by simply researching appropriate training programmes and requesting them from your team-lead. 

Upskilling will keep you on track to achieve career goals, makes you more competitive within your own industry and is a great way to help the entire business evolve towards digitisation—something which is high on the agenda for the coming year. 

4. List out your successes

Still can’t shake your imposter syndrome? It might help to make a list of all your achievements, so you can truly see how far you’ve come. If you find yourself devaluing them or passing them off as luck, try to ask for feedback from your colleagues, manager’s and stakeholders. This way you can receive the confirmation if your feelings are true, or if you are undervaluing your contributions to the business.

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