How to overcome imposter syndrome at work

Scared you’ll be found out as being utterly unqualified at work? You probably have imposter syndrome—but there’s a cure.

How to overcome imposter syndrome at work

The imposter phenomenon affects people at all career levels.

“I have no clue what I’m doing and everyone is going to realize it. I don’t deserve to be here. I only got the job because my uncle recommended me and I interview well. I feel like a fraud.” Sound familiar? It’s possible that while you’re navigating that new job, which you are totally qualified for, you might be experiencing imposter syndrome, also known as the imposter phenomenon.

Here's the truth: Hiring managers aren't fools. You got the job because you have the skills to do the work—the company believes in you, otherwise you wouldn't be there. Still, overcoming imposter syndrome takes time. People at all career levels (yes, even executives) can fall victim to the belief that they don't deserve to be in a particular job. In fact, an estimated 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science

Read on to understand the root causes of imposter syndrome, plus ways to combat it.

How to define imposter syndrome

“People with imposter syndrome have a sense of inadequacy, dismiss their achievements, and are very critical of themselves,” says Dr. Pei-Han Cheng a psychologist at the Center for Counseling and Consultation at St. John’s University in New York City. “Most of the time, they don’t have an accurate understanding of how competent they actually are because their mind is clouded by this belief that ‘I am a fraud.’”

First studied in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, impostor phenomenon typically strikes high achievers who are unable to reckon with their success. Imposter syndrome symptoms are often in full force when you’re doing something new—like working at your first job—so Monster spoke to experts to find antidotes for this destructive syndrome to help you gain the confidence you need to be successful.

Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

#1: Give yourself a reality check

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to pay attention to your negative thoughts. You know, the ones where you assume that your co-workers think you’re clueless and interpret their every frown or lack of lunch invitations as confirmation of said reality.

“When this type of thought surfaces, it is important to recognize it as a thought, instead of a fact,” Cheng says. Instead of getting sucked into negative thought quicksand, make a self-affirming statement.

Cheng recommends telling yourself something like: “I am having this thought because I am not feeling so confident of myself. The reality is that I have tons of education and experience. I also put a lot of effort into my work.”

She notes that our emotional state affects our perception. If you’re anxious about a tight deadline or a challenging project, your go-to emotion might be anxiety and self-doubt. He highlights the importance of accurately observing your emotions and triggers so you know the appropriate coping mechanisms to use. “If you are anxious about the project, remind yourself that your anxiety may trick you to believe that you are a fraud—but you are not.”

#2: Keep track of your strengths and accomplishments

It’s easy to stay so focused on your to-do list, overflowing inbox, mistakes, and weaknesses that you neglect to focus on your strengths and accomplishments.

Try making another list, one that lists all of the skills and accomplishments that make you uniquely qualified for your job, so it’s at the top of your mind when you’re having a bad day.

“Create a vision board with goals and a list of what makes you different than those you work with,” says Tyler Butler, founder and principal of the Arizona-based strategy and corporate responsibility firm, 11Eleven Consulting. “By focusing on small goals and celebrating your uniqueness early in your career, you’ll have greater awareness of what you want to achieve and what makes you special already.”

Another way to inoculate yourself against those negative thoughts is to keep a work journal where you write down any positive feedback you’ve received. Steve Pritchard a human resources consultant for the clothing brand Ben Sherman, recommends making an email folder or label for organizing all of the positive emails you get from colleagues and clients.

“This may help you to see a pattern where you are succeeding and where you may need to focus on developing within your role,” he says.

#3: Create a support network at work

“The worst thing that people with imposter syndrome can do is to isolate themselves from receiving accurate and validating feedback from other people,” says Cheng. Work hard to build relationships with your co-workers, so you have people to go to lunch with and lean on for support, especially as you navigate being the newbie.

“People can often normalize your experiences and reassure you that your belief about yourself isn’t accurate," she says. You’ve got this!

Another relationship you’ll want to nurture? The one with your boss. Don’t wait for an annual performance review to get your boss’s assessment of your work. “Ask for feedback on what you’ve done well and ask for what you could improve upon,” says Paula Jenkins, a California-based life and career coach at Jump Start Your Joy.

“When you're starting a new job or a new career, it's expected that you don't know everything. Managers very much appreciate someone who is inquisitive and is wanting to grow, and asks good questions,” she says.

Once you’ve built a trusted network, you won’t be afraid to ask your coworkers for guidance if you’re unsure how to tackle an assignment. “Instead of getting stuck in feeling like an imposter, ask for help if you are not sure what to do,” Jenkins says.

#4 Build your knowledge bank

Overcoming imposter syndrome won't happen overnight, but there are concrete ways you can prevent it from sabotaging you. You know the phrase "knowledge is power"? Well, it's true. The more you learn about your job and your industry, and the more you focus on your professional development, the more power you have at the ready. Want easy access to that kind of info? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice, job search tips, and workplace insights emailed right to you. It's a great way to get your hands on the kind of practical knowledge that you'll return to again and again throughout your career. Don't let imposter syndrome get in the way any longer.