Career Articles

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.

By Elana Lyn Gross,

Monster contributor

“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.”

Sound familiar? It’s possible that while you’re navigating that new job, which you are totally qualified for, you might also be experiencing impostor 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.’”

Imposter syndrome symptoms are often in full force when you’re doing something new for the first time—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 in your entry-level job.

Antidote #1: Give yourself a reality check

The first step to combating 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.”

Antidote #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.

Antidote #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.

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