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Combatting Imposter Syndrome at All Levels: Strategies for Self, Career Professionals, and Employers
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July 2019

Each month the MPACE Professional Development & Education Committee highlights trends in the profession from industry leaders and peer publications.

The following was written by Holly Lustig and Erin Doty from the Career Development Office at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.

 

Combatting Imposter Syndrome at All Levels: Strategies for Self, Career Professionals, and Employers

I. Introduction

Nearly 70% of people in the workforce will experience the phenomenon known as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at some point in their lives (Sakulku and Alexander, 2011). While there are many definitions to describe Imposter Syndrome, we often recognize things like self-doubt, not feeling worthy of praise, or thinking others around you are better suited for the position. Imposter Syndrome was coined as a psychological term in the late 1900’s, “referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud” (Dalla-Camina, 2018). While this may manifest differently for each person, the facts regarding who may experience Imposter Syndrome are non-discriminatory. Statistics show men and women experience this phenomenon equally in numbers, and it is our belief that other gender identities are no exception to this statistic (Gravois, 2007). When it comes to underrepresented ethnic identities, students and professionals alike will experience Imposter Syndrome equally if not more frequently than their white counterparts (Cokley, McClain, Enciso, Martinez, 2013).


Overall, there are no true indicators as to why people of all gender, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic identities experience Imposter Syndrome in the same volume. We do know it happens frequently and we as educators, professionals, and employers must take action to curb these feelings of inadequacy and failure. We must do this to produce better work environments, more productive teams, and overall healthier processes for the workplace.

II. Imposter Syndrome Experiences

From the application and interview process, to starting a new job or role, to being part of a new group project or in a new environment, Imposter Syndrome appears in all steps of a student or new professional’s career (Lane, 2015). Common behaviors include, lack of speaking up, inability to take compliments, negative speech and/or a downplay of accomplishments, dissatisfaction with the job, hesitation to seek out new projects, taking on too much work in order to feel adequate, social isolation, and not asking for help due to fear of looking incompetent (Abrams, 2018). These behaviors can lead into deeper mental health issues and as Dalla-Camina (2018) notes, “it can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame and in some cases, even depression”. 

 

While we may see these aforementioned behaviors in students and young professionals on a regular basis, we likely are not always aware of the deeper mental health impacts that Imposter Syndrome can have on the individual. In the following section we will break down some ways of best implementing strategies for coping with Imposter Syndrome, and how career professionals can intervene. 

III. Best Practices

How to cope with Imposter Syndrome on your own: Identify and become aware of what is creating these thoughts and feelings of imposter syndrome - narrow it down and think deep, reframe your negative thoughts with positive affirmations “I deserve to be here” and “my opinion is valued.” It may be helpful to create a list of personal achievements and strengths. Remember all your accomplishments and remember no one is hired on luck, you were hired on your expertise, skills, personality, etc. Additionally, in your organization or larger industry, find support systems/communities, whether that be affinity groups or individualized support networks of people with similar identities. Seek out these groups in professional organizations, meetups, etc. 

How Career Services can help students cope with Imposter Syndrome: Hold a safe space for students by actively listening, showing empathy, and conveying care and concern. Normalize their feelings and help students articulate their experience. Ask good questions such as, “What are you most worried about?”, “What do you credit your accomplishments to?”, “How has the transition into work been going for you?” In working with students the most common fears we hear are, “What if they realize they have made a bad decision in hiring me?”, What if I’m not what they expected?”, “What if I was their only option and they don’t really want me?” Most of these questions are simply ‘what-ifs,’ so challenge the student to combat those thoughts and dysfunctional beliefs with facts and reality. Make sure to coach the student away from perceived thoughts and projections. “What makes them believe those ‘what-ifs’ are true?” Encourage them to take a step back and remember their accomplishments and how they got to where they are now. Have them speak to their successes and rebrand their uniqueness.

How to provide a better work environment: A sense of belonging and community is extremely important as it “elevates the nature of work with a sense of purpose that brings people together for common cause and encourages them to bond with one another in the work they do” (Baldoni, 2017). Create communities for employees, such as a young professionals group, mentorship programs, or specific affinity support groups. Companies like Conga have recently implemented these with great success in their organization. Consider creating and presenting workshops that focus on individual strengths and how to use them in the workplace. Additionally, supervisors and managers should check in with their employees not just about work, also about how they are doing personally, either in weekly or monthly meetings. Ask questions such as, “How have the first few weeks been?” “What’s it like being part of the new project?”

Taking the small steps to reduce how frequently Imposter Syndrome appears in students and young professionals, can positively impact the sense of belonging and mental health of those we work with. 

References:

  • Baldoni, J. (22 January 2017). Fostering the sense of belonging to promote success. Forbes.
  • Cokley, K., McClain, S., Enciso, A., & Martinez, M. (8 April 2013). An examination of the impact of minority status stress and impostor feelings on the mental health of diverse ethnic minority college students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. 41(2), p. 82-95.
  • Dalla-Camina, M. (3 September 2018). The reality of imposter syndrome. Psychology Today.
  • Lane, J. (1 October 2015). The imposter phenomenon among emerging adults transitioning into professional life: Developing a grounded theory. Adultspan Journal. 14(2) p. 114-128.
  • Vengoechea, X. (Retrieved on 28 June 2019) How to banish imposter syndrome and embrace everything you deserve. The Muse.
  • Wilding, M. (Retrieved on 28 June 2019) 5 different types of imposter syndrome (and 5 ways to battle each one). The Muse.

 

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Want to get involved with MPACE? Write a Trends article for the MPACE blog! 

 

Please reach out to Heather Starr at hstarr@csusm.edu if you are interested in sharing your knowledge with the MPACE audience through a guest writing opportunity. The Trends Sub-committee has a list of topics that you can write about or consider suggesting one to us.

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