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Imposter Syndrome at Work: 7 Tips to Build Self-Esteem

Business woman with a mask symbolizing the concept of imposter syndrome at work.



Imposter Syndrome at Work: 7 Tips to Build Self-Esteem

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Imposter syndrome is a genuine set of emotions and a recognized phenomenon. It can happen to anyone — at any time in their career — but seems to rear its nasty head most often after promotions, raises, or when we start new jobs. Ironically, it is especially common with high-achievers and otherwise successful people. If you’ve ever had feelings of inadequacy in your job or felt like your superiors have overestimated your abilities, you know what we mean.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at imposter syndrome. We’ll define it and explain how it manifests at work. Then we’ll provide you with seven tools — ideas to change your mindset, boost your self-esteem, and tackle imposter syndrome for good!

Let’s start with a definition.

Imposter Syndrome (IS) Defined

The term Impostor Syndrome (IS) was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. It describes an internal experience of believing you are less competent than others perceive you to be. 

It can manifest as:

  • Self-doubt, both at work and home
  • Fear of being exposed, excessive fear of failure
  • An inability to describe your skills and competencies, lack of self-confidence
  • Overachieving or overworking, excessive perfectionism
  • Intense internal pressure to compete at the workplace
  • Setting overly high standards and challenging goals and then feeling deep feelings of defeat when those goals aren’t met

How Imposter Syndrome Feels

Put plainly, imposter syndrome (aka insecurity syndrome or imposter phenomenon) is the experience of feeling like a phony or a fraud. You might worry about being “found out” or lay awake at night having negative thoughts about your work performance. It can affect anyone, regardless of work experience, education, or social status.

If you’ve ever thought that you got a promotion because you’re lucky or because your boss feels sorry for you, you’ve felt the barbs of insecurity syndrome. By itself, the imposter phenomenon is a common experience. It is especially common with high-achieving women. The good news is that IS isn’t a psychological condition that requires medication. Most people can manage their mindset and improve their feelings of self-worth. Here’s how to do it!

Woman in her 50s working with other employees.

7 Tips to Conquer Imposter Syndrome

1. Write a List of Your Favorite Accomplishments. They Don’t Need to Be From Work.

Most of your performance in the workplace relies on skills and personal attributes developed elsewhere.

  • Spend 20 minutes remembering your favorite achievements. Perhaps you managed to finish your degree while raising a family, or maybe you had perfect attendance in your senior year of high school.
  • Reflect on how you accomplished your goals and how those skills relate to your professional life. Maybe you’re a master of time management or proud of your punctuality.

Recognize that any employer would be lucky to have you! Now, let’s look for the source of your anxiety and banish it.

2. Identify What — or Who — Is Causing Insecurity Syndrome

Sometimes it’s a missed goal, a lost customer, or a blown deadline that causes you to feel inadequate at work. Just remember that everyone makes mistakes from time to time. And you didn’t get fired. So the offense was not a career-blower.

Perhaps you feel that a coworker is better suited to a recent promotion. That’s a common precursor to imposter phenomenon. Remember, your boss disagrees.

Insecurity syndrome is frequently a result of workplace sabotage. Perhaps your coworker has spent months putting you on a guilt trip for your promotion. Maybe they tout the black-and-white facts related to their higher sales numbers or more advanced degree. But remember, your supervisors see something in you that your coworker lacks. Trust their experience, and tackle the role.

3. Tackle the Role: Dress for Success

It’s no secret that we feel better about ourselves when we dress well. That confidence translates to better posture, improved eye contact, enhanced mood, and a significant boost in self-esteem. By dressing the part, you’ll send a signal to your coworkers that you ARE the “real thing,” and your superiors will notice, too. Best of all, you’ll feel empowered.

There’s no need to overspend on a new wardrobe, though. A good rule of thumb is to dress “up one level” from your previous position. If your team wears polo shirts and denim, step up with a blazer or a blouse and new shoes. Once you’ve stepped up your appearance, it’s time to challenge yourself.

4. Challenge Yourself at Work

Assuming you aren’t wholly overburdened at the moment with yearly inventory or tax time, or completely short-staffed for whatever reason, it’s time to take on a challenge. The key is to choose a challenge that’s achievable with hard work. It shouldn’t feel like picking cherries. That won’t do anything for your self-confidence. 

Stumped for ideas? You could try:

  • Topping last year’s sales numbers by 10%
  • Finding an entry-level employee who needs mentoring and helping them along
  • Vetting a new technology that might help your department or organization

Now that you’re feeling more confident about your abilities at work, it’s time for some further professional development.

5. Continue Your Professional Development: Take a Class or Join a Club

Ongoing professional development is crucial in the battle against insecurity syndrome. Distance learning is more affordable and appreciated in the wake of COVID-19, and online classes abound for practically any professional skill you’d like to learn. If academics don’t excite you, there are other ways to continue your professional development.

You could join a club like Toastmasters International, a group that gathers to practice public speaking. Or take an interest in your local Chamber of Commerce. These opportunities will build your marketable skills and fluff your resume, and they also provide excellent networking opportunities and professional connections. A career coach can also help.

Closeup up an employee looking for a new job on the computer.

Now that you’re enjoying the benefits of professional development, don’t forget to care for your mental health and well-being. 

6. Make Self-Care a Priority

Human beings are primates and herd animals. It’s genetically built into us to seek safety and social status. That’s why otherwise nice people can become catty or downright mean in the workplace, especially if they sense a weakness in others. Workplace bullying is another genuine phenomenon.

Low self-esteem is easy to spot among coworkers. An unkempt appearance, slouching figure, and lackluster presentations send unspoken signals to others that an individual is unwell or unhappy. Demolish monkey-like attempts to undermine your success by getting a good night’s sleep and some endorphin-boosting exercise regularly. Maybe you’d enjoy playing for an amateur sports league.

Imposter syndrome pales when we remember there’s more to life than work! And this segues nicely into our last tip for defeating imposter phenomenon in the workplace: put your mind in the right place by developing a growth mindset.

7. Develop a Growth Mindset

Finally, understand that your professional abilities are not set in stone. We can continue to learn and grow in countless ways — in both our personal and professional lives. From online classes to clubs, sports organizations to self-help books, the concept that you can always improve yourself is an excellent defense against the workplace imposter phenomenon holding you back. 

If you’re beginning this process of self-discovery and advancement, we’d suggest you try the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck for inspiration. And in the meantime, practice our seven steps against imposter syndrome in the workplace. You’ll be proud of the results!

Team Lensa
Team Lensa
Team Lensa is a group of HR specialists, career counselors, and tech enthusiasts dedicated to helping job seekers navigate the employment landscape through actionable tips and insights.

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