Feel Like a Fraud? Here’s How to Ditch Imposter Syndrome in Your New Career

Switching careers can feel intimidating, and it's not uncommon to develop imposter syndrome. Here's how to overcome new career anxiety.

March 17, 2022 · 4 Min Read

Feel Like a Fraud? Here’s How to Ditch Imposter Syndrome in Your New Career

If you're feeling like a big phony at work, you're definitely not alone. That's imposter syndrome, something many people deal with but few talk about.

Does this sound like you? You feel unqualified for your position. You doubt your achievements (surely all your wins can be chalked up to dumb luck). You're just waiting for everyone to discover what you have known, secretly, all along: you're a fraud.

This pattern of beliefs contributes to what psychologists call "imposter syndrome." It can be a tough beast to tame. At least 80% of adults will experience it at some point in their lives.

The Psychology Behind Imposter Syndrome

When researchers first began looking into the imposter phenomenon in the 1970s, they focused on women in the workplace. But studies now indicate that men and women experience imposter syndrome at roughly the same rates.

Psychologists say that high-achievers who fear failure and tend toward perfectionism are more likely to devalue and undermine their achievements. That comes at a cost: Imposter syndrome can contribute to stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame, and depression.

It's important to note that while imposter syndrome is a near-universal experience, different people will experience it in different ways and for different reasons.

Women and people of color often feel unsure of themselves and their accomplishments because of systemic bias in the workplace, which can significantly amplify self-doubt.

Unmanaged imposter syndrome can even convince you that you don't deserve to reach for that promotion, or pursue work you truly love, or even go back to school for a higher degree

So What Can You Do?

If you are like many Americans, you may be in the process of making some major life transitions. That's because the pandemic really shook us up.

In what the media has dubbed "The Great Resignation," 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August alone, when the national "quits rate" hit a record 2.9%.

People aren't leaving their jobs to hang out on the couch: They are out hunting for more personal fulfillment, more flexibility, and better pay — whether that's through upskilling, going back to school, or switching careers.

According to one Monster.com report, 95% of American workers are currently considering a job change. With 9.2 million job openings that employers are competing fiercely to fill, now is a great time to do it.

But often, major transitions can trigger major imposter syndrome.

Maybe you're a mom who wants to break back into the workforce but feels insecure about the gap in your resume. Maybe you're a mid-career changer pursuing a dream job, but you're self-conscious about starting over. Maybe you're a new graduate and you're overwhelmed by how little you think you know.

We don't want imposter syndrome to slow you down.

So, we spoke to dozens of professionals across industries (including lawyers, marketers, entrepreneurs, electricians, teachers, career coaches, jewelry makers, writers — you name it) who have dealt with imposter syndrome in their own careers.

There was a ton of overlap in their responses. Here are their top five tips for getting through it.

How to Ditch Imposter Syndrome in Your New Career

1. Reconsider Comparisons

"It is important to understand that while comparisons can be useful — we can use them to improve ourselves — they can also do more harm than good," said writer Emily Applebaum.

It's not fair to compare yourself with others; you don't know them well enough for that. Especially if you only see the best in them."

Applebaum recommends comparing your present self with your past self instead, knowing that you've probably made great strides. "Remember, if you are invited to play with other exceptional players — then you probably deserve it."

2. Lower Your Expectations

Successful people tend to experience imposter syndrome because they hold themselves to impossible standards.

"I always set such high expectations for myself. That is why, even when I meet 99% of my goals, I still sometimes feel like a failure. A slight mistake can make me question my competence. It's important to develop a healthier response to failure! Remind yourself that there will always be room for improvement, and you'll know better next time," said Business Reputation Consultant Cayla Thurman.

Modifying your expectations can go a long way, agrees entrepreneur Arun Grewal. You don't have to be perfect; you do have to put a little faith in what you bring to the table.

"Right now, the creator economy is huge. As someone who creates YouTube videos, imposter syndrome is something I have struggled with mightily," said Grewal. "But you don't need to be an expert to help someone else. You just need to add your own unique perspective."

3. Embrace the Power of Humility

Imposter syndrome isn't all bad, says Assistant Professor of Business Law Nicolas Creel. It can keep you humble.

"I'm an assistant professor with six academic degrees, and I routinely suffer from imposter syndrome," said Creel.

"In my industry, I'm surrounded by insanely intelligent people who are literally experts in their fields. Being around that much talent makes me question whether I belong, no matter how many qualifications I have. But at this point if I really am an imposter, I must be a fantastic one!" he joked.

"My best advice is to use your insecurity to your advantage: stay humble, stay hungry. A little insecurity is a big part of my career success; it drives me to keep improving myself. And embracing that humility prevents you from becoming too annoying or intimidating to others."

4. Reprogram the Gremlin

Talia Dashow is a coach who specializes in imposter syndrome. She recommends a simple trick:

"Name the critical voice in your head in order to separate it from your inner guidance system, and then ask what it's trying to protect you from."

Dashow says imposter syndrome is kind of like a gremlin, and "Gremlins like to know you're taking them seriously. So reassure it that you will use the information — thank you very much — but that you can take it from here. The voice will quiet down."

5. Find a Mentor

If the voice in your head is too loud, it's time to find some other voices to listen to, says CEO and Founder Gabriel Dungan.

"Having a mentor is one of the best ways to do that," said Dungan. "When you are experiencing imposter syndrome, a mentor can nurture your confidence. An outside perspective of the work you are doing is sometimes all you need to squash those negative feelings."

A mentor is especially important if you are in a workplace that makes you feel like an outsider.

"As a Black woman — most often the only Black woman in the room — I always felt undeserving when leading new projects or speaking up in executive meetings. So I sought mentorship with a female leader who invested in my career and provided a sense of direction and belonging," said Greguyschka Félix, who eventually left her job at a Fortune 500 company to become a behavioral expert.

6. Track Your Wins

Lisa Swift Young, a consultant, is also one of the only Black women in her industry. She said that the isolation and microaggressions she often has to deal with trigger feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. To head off imposter syndrome in her professional life, she keeps a running list of her wins.

"Journaling is a great way to chronicle your success. Often, we feel that the work we've done doesn't add value. Writing down a weekly highlight list helps me reaffirm my importance — not only to myself, but to my organization and my wider community," said Young.

7. Invest in Growth

Finally, nearly everyone we spoke with emphasized the importance of continual, intentional personal growth.

"The more knowledge you have, the more confident you are," said Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd.

"When you educate yourself and update your skills, it becomes so much easier to squash those feelings of doubt: You know more, you make fewer mistakes, and you contribute more to your business."