impostor syndrome: when you might be a fraud

A reader writes:

I’m about to start a full-time, permanent position with a small non-profit in a marketing role that’s a tangent from my background but which I think I’ll enjoy. I’m excited, but I also have a case of new-job nerves and impostor syndrome.

This is my first full-time role after completing a PhD (loads of part time customer service and admin work on the way) and a few related internships, and I’m worried about how to be the “expert” rather than the student/intern. I know, logically, that I wouldn’t have been hired if they didn’t think I could do the job, but do you have any practical tips on how to settle my nerves, address these doubts and get off to a solid start? What would you (or your readers) love a new marketing officer to do/ask in the first few weeks?

Oh, impostor syndrome! I think you’d be surprised by how many people have it. I had an awful case of it when this blog started taking off — it was one thing to write it when no one was reading it, but when it started getting an audience, I was constantly thinking, “Who am I to be presenting myself as an authority?” (Weirdly, no one has ever asked me that but me.)  For a while, it felt like a house of cards that might come tumbling down at any minute.

The same thing happened when I quit my job and started consulting. Having people pay me just to sit there and give my opinion?!  I felt like a complete fraud at first, like it was only a matter of time before I was found out.

Then I started talking to people who I admire and discovered they all knew that feeling too. It’s normal, apparently. And it’s especially true if you’re conscientious and an over-thinker. It’s just incredibly common, even among — maybe especially among — people you’d never imagine: Sheryl Sandberg has said she’s struggled with it! Tina Fey too!  Lots of other awesome people too. (In fact, research says that the higher the standards you tend to set for yourself and the more self-critical you are, the higher the likelihood that you’ll feel impostor syndrome at some point.)

Anyway. Three things help:

1. Fake it. Act like you feel confident. Not cocky or crazily smug, obviously. Just act like you imagine you’d act if you did in fact deserve your position. Eventually it will start becoming real.

2. Don’t be shy about admitting when you don’t know something or that you made a mistake. Here’s the counterintuitive thing about this:  It makes you look more confident and in control. If you can’t do this, you signal that you’re insecure and battling to protect your standing — because you don’t really trust it and feel it’s precarious. People who are truly confident in what they have to offer have no problem admitting they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. And it makes them a lot more credible.

Think about experts who you really respect. I bet they have no problem announcing when they don’t know something, or asking for other’s input. Real experts know they don’t need to have all the answers; people don’t expect them to. Model yourself after them.

3. Just stop thinking about it. Seriously, just push this feeling out of your mind and focus on your work. At some point, you’ll look around and the evidence will have piled up that you are in fact not a fraud, and that’ll make it easier to accept it.

Now, as for your question about what to do in your first few weeks as a new marketing officer: Tons of information gathering. I would be alarmed if a new marketing person came in and immediately had all the answers — they need to put in some serious time getting to know the organization and its challenges first. So an early priority should be to collect information — what’s been tried, what’s working, what isn’t working, what baselines are you working from, etc. And you also need to talk with your boss to get really clear on your goals — both for the near-term and the longer-term. Once you start diving into all that, your path is going to become pretty clear.

Anyway, who else feels like or has felt like an impostor?  I bet it’s a lot of people.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    Impostor Syndrome! Yes! I so feel this every time I start a new job. Especially one that comes with a huge jump in pay or responsibility. The good news that the feeling does eventually wear off.
    Supreme Blogger Green has said everything that I do to get over it, so I have nothing to add there.

    1. Kathleen*

      I got my new job with help from Alison’s advice. I’m a month in and haven’t received the training I dearly need, so last week I had my first, real, serious PANIC attack! I thought I was going to have to be hospitalized, but I made it to the restroom and stuck it out. Then I got so angry at being thrown into the job with no training that I had a serious chat with my boss, who expressed total confidence in me, and pledged support. I don’t feel like the Imposter anymore.

  2. Laura*

    I had a wicked case of this when I was hired for my current job (answering customer questions via email and phone about knitting and crochet for a yarn company). All of what Alison says above is true. What’s really cool is the moment you realize you really *are* the expert — even now, 2 1/2 years on, I occasionally sit back and think, “Duuuude. I am an expert in my field. That’s pretty awesome.”

          1. Laura*

            :-) Unfortunately, since I write for my company’s blog sometimes it would probably be a conflict (for instance, I now do almost no technique blogging on my personal blog, because I keep those articles for work).

    1. Simple Simon*

      Laura, that is seriously awesome. I would love to have read your cover letter for the position.

  3. Jamie*

    It’s more acute when I start a new job, but I have this all the time.

    I remind myself I’ve never lied about my skills and they hired me and keep me on anyway, and that puts it back into my personal neurosis room I have locked in my psyche (that room? Very crowded with crazy.)

    Seriously, it ebbs and flows – but this has never subsided for me. It was worse when I was new, though. They’d ask me about the technical side of projects and part of my brain would be wondering, “why the hell are you asking me?” and then I remembered – oh yeah, that’s my job.

    I’ve been really ashamed of this thought process over the years, because it’s not logical. This is actually a tremendous relief to know it’s a real thing that other people deal experience as well.

  4. Sparky629*

    Lol. 6 years into my current position and I still have occasions of imposter syndrome.

    It usually only happens when we are implementing a new software program that I will have to learn from scratch. I also have to become the resident expert/troubleshooter in a really short time.

    It always sends me to the job boards because I always think, “this is it they are going to find out that I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing” so I need to find a new job before I get fired/forced to resign.

    But I will say that with the help of this site and a LOT of self reflection, I have been able to identify the source of my anxiety and develop a strategy for conquering the fear.

    That’s my long way of saying that you should follow AAM’s advice and it will be fine. :-)

    1. Nicole*


      The thing about feeling confident in saying freely that you don’t know the answer to something is so true. Anyone who is asking you the question doesn’t know, either! And it can often be gratifying to the question-asker, provided someone else weighs in with the answer – “See?? Expert So-and-so didn’t even know! I am not dumb for not knowing!”

  5. Heather P.*

    I am in the music field and have definitely definitely felt this as have many colleagues. You can always have more expertise, that’s the thing. With music it’s never-ending. There’s always someone who plays six instruments instead of two, who’s studied more years than you, had more training, is also a proficient sound engineer.

    This is a very specific example but the point is, you can always play with the definition of what you consider to define “an expert” in your head and psyche yourself out thinking that you don’t yet have enough expertise to really be an expert no matter how many others think you do or come to you for advice.
    Alison’s advice is awesome. You are definitely more than capable or you wouldn’t be where you are. Remember that and all will be well :-)

  6. Your Mileage May Vary*

    This is a great clip from The West Wing where Jed Bartlet is running for president and is worried that he’s not ready and his chief of staff summarizes Alison beautifully:

    I’m a graduate teaching assistant and I’m teaching my first course in reading this semester. I’ve had no training in education and this isn’t remotely my field, even though I’ve done one-on-one reading tutoring in the past. You don’t think I felt like a fraud the first day of class? Those students paid good money for a “real” teacher and they get me, who is having to read the textbook ahead of them so I know what to teach next.

    But I have a great support system of other graduate assistants who have taught this class before and who very generously gave me their notes and lesson plans from previous semesters. And I have a background where I had to do all sorts of things that contribute to this moment.

    So, even though I’m standing up there in front of the class feeling like a fool, I know that I’ve prepped the hell out of the class, I have good time management skills, and I’ve got good boundaries between me and the students. And I keep telling myself that it will all work out. And maybe by mid-term or so, I’ll be up there feeling as though I belong there.

    And the same thing will happen to you, OP!

            1. Heather P.*

              Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was created by Aaron Sorkin as well and he got together a lot of the same actors from The West Wing. It was cancelled after one brilliant season. Watching that was one way I recommend combating West Wing Withdrawal. If you haven’t yet.

                1. Kelly O*

                  So are we just making a list of great shows that got cancelled too soon? But we got like, twenty seven years of According to Jim?

    1. John Quincy Adding Machine*

      You don’t think I felt like a fraud the first day of class? Those students paid good money for a “real” teacher and they get me, who is having to read the textbook ahead of them so I know what to teach next.

      I’m going through the same thing right now! I just got hired by a language school, and although I do have some education training, I still feel like a fraud the vast majority of the time.

  7. Adam*

    This happens whenever I’m around a new crew. People make assumptions, positive and negative, and so whenever they are positive I think, “Whoa – I better watch myself. I don’t really know as much about early church fathers/hostage negotiation/geo-political chess tactics as they seem to be assuming.” It’s just like you said, admit when you aren’t confident or have made a mistake. Insecure people will double-down when they’re not sure, and that comes through.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some hostage negotiating to read up on!

  8. Anonymous*

    Oh, I love this post. I’m 27 and went straight through high school, undergrad, and grad school. I had a smattering of part-time jobs, internships, and the like – but when I started my first Big Girl job at 23, I had no idea how to not be the student worker. It was weird to me that someone else in the office made copies and took care of the mail (frankly, it still is – I can make copies myself!). I still can’t believe I haven’t been ‘found out’ as some kind of phony. I am extremely self-critical and why would anyone ever want to come to me for advice or problem solving? Why would I know how to do anything? I am extremely relieved that this is a pretty normal phenomenon.

    1. ARM2008*

      You have someone that makes copies!? My manager, and my manager’s manager make their own copies. The next level up might get copy service! Sounds like you work in an era gone by :-)

  9. AnotherAlison*

    IMHO, imposter syndrome is more common in women and increases with education. I have a really hard time being wrong (because, you know, it never happened when I was a dorky school nerd who studied all the time growing up). Now, I really have to work on giving my opinion and doing my job and not worrying about whether I’m right or wrong.

    Whenever I’m particularly overwhelmed by imposter syndrome, I think of the epic fails by others, who likely did not feel like imposters. How about all those “experts” who missed the financial crisis in 2008? We will make mistakes (and recover), even if we’re experts.

    1. Pam*

      Actually, studies shows Impostor Syndrome is equally prevalent in men and women, and is a pretty steady phenomenon throughout a person’s career.

  10. Ask a Manager* Post author

    If you haven’t already, read the article that I linked to in the post. It has these two great anecdotes in it:

    Every year, the incoming class at Stanford Business School is asked: “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Every year, two-thirds of the class immediately raises their hands.

    This feeling is one you’ll hear echoed at every stage of success. Michael Uslan, producer of every modern Batman movie, told me that he still gets that feeling occasionally when he’s in the studio. “I still have this background feeling that one of the security guards might come in and throw me out.”

  11. Jennifer O*

    I was at a conference for my professional organisation earlier this year. Although I am relatively new in the profession, I am friends with people whom I consider to be truly outstanding (both as people and in their field).

    At one point near the end of this particularly great conference, I was standing with a group of such people, which included a friend/former colleague of mine who is now the head of her organisation. She commented how amazing it was to be surrounded by so many talented, intelligent, and inspiring people. When I agreed with her, she turned to me and said, “We should start a support group for people who feel like imposters.”

    I couldn’t have been more surprised. *She* felt like an imposter? She’s amazing and is the head of her organisation, for pete’s sake! Even more surprising was that almost everyone I was standing with agreed that they also felt like imposters at times.

    It was an interesting conversation which led to a general consensus that all intelligent, competent people probably feel like imposters at some point. And that, in fact, the person who doesn’t feel like an imposter is probably the one who actually is.

  12. -X-*

    I have a different version of this. I don’t feel less smart or less well-informed that most other people – that is I don’t feel intimidated. But my problem is I often don’t feel especially productive or that I’m contributing real insight. Part of what I know a lot about I think is obvious or simple, so I often don’t feel like I’m adding much at work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Same thing, I suspect. I think people with impostor syndrome always feel smart and well-informed (obnoxiously so in my case), but it’s more about “I’m not really good enough for this success I’ve stumbled into, and it’s only a matter of time until people find out that I don’t belong here.” It’s weird.

      (With me when I started consulting, my big thing was, “There’s no way that me just talking to these people is worth what they’re paying for it. A real consultant would be giving them a lot more value.”)

      1. -X-*

        Yeah you’re probably right.

        I was contrasting this mainly to the Stanford example – I feel smart and never felt not smart enough in school.

    2. Malissa*

      This. I don’t know how many times I thought, “They are paying me for this?” I know that some things like creating spreadsheets and analyzing data are some how just natural to me, but it seems like it’s so simple that anybody can do it.
      I’ve gotten over this after having to explain my sheets to my engineer boss.
      What seems easy to one person is often Greek to another.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        As an admin assistant, I can relate to you, Malissa. My boss knows what needs to be done, but I’m the one who knows how to do it. And it seems so simple to me.

        Sometimes I feel like I have an invisible tatoo on my forehead that says “IMPOSTOR!” I know it’s there even if everyone else is fooled.

      2. Anonymous*

        Imagine instead you’re in communications — a field that too many people think is obvious and simple — and you can understand my predicament.
        Somehow I was born with a natural affinity for writing and editing. Just because it’s not a natural affinity for mathematics or chemistry or foreign language doesn’t make it any less of a talent or any less valuable. (If I keep repeating this, maybe I’ll start to believe it.)

  13. khilde*

    Wow!! I had no idea such a thing had a name–what a relief. I have been an employee trainer now for nearly 6 years and feel like an imposter much of the time. We have to teach a wide variety of supervisory and professional development classes. Some I’m naturally very good at–understanding behavioral styles, emotional intelligence stuff, etc. But there are some classes that I just don’t feel like I’m speaking with any credibility on: Time Management, in particular. I don’t use any of the suggestions we give and I have really sucky time management. So I hate that class and have to stop myself from being apologetic and out myself as I teach it.

    I used to be a supervisor in the Air Force and got some really valuable experience for a few years doing that. But now I’m not – yet a large part of my job is to teach managers how to be better managers. I often wonder if anyone questions that in their own mind. That’s why I consider time spent on AAM and reading the comments to be so integral to what I do.

    1. LibKae*

      Ditto on the “thank heavens this has a name” sentiment (and why does knowing that other people are suffering through the same thing feel so reassuring?)

      I’ve been in my dream job since December and I still don’t feel like I’m really supposed to be here. Part of it, to be brutally honest, is probably lack of ego stroking — I’ve had 4 jobs post-degree before this one and in every one I was following a nightmare of an employee (I work in a field that’s notorious for difficult personalities). Without someone saying “oh, thank you for not throwing your coffee mug at me” (real conversation) I don’t really know how I’m doing. I’m hoping that this is something I’ll grow out of in time … if for no other reason than that refusing to hold a job where the last person wasn’t awful is a strange way to structure one’s career :)

      1. khilde*

        It is hard to know how things are flowing when you’re not getting feedback. One sentiment I’ve noticed among many of my employees/supervisors in my classes that are over 45 or so is that many of them believe that “no news is good news” is a default (and acceptable way) to operate in terms of providing feedback on performance. It’s maddening to me becuase I believe that EVERYONE wants to know how they’re doing (or they apply their own preference for receiving feedback to other people expecting them to value it the same way).

        Another thought as I read your post: perhaps your current employer is still shell-shocked and damaged from previous rotten employee that throws coffee mugs. Not that it’s an excuse on their part to not be giving you more feedback. But maybe that person’s reactions to feedback rendered them impotent when it comes to being constructive in this area. Just a thought. Good luck – I always tell employees in my classes that if their boss isn’t giving them feedback then they should ask for it and see how it goes.

        1. NewReader*

          Oh how true. I am one of those 45 plus something people.
          When I was 30, I got a decent paying job but NO feedback. I was worried. The boss informed me ” No news is good news.” What the heck?
          This lack of feedback let to interesting situations such as people doing things incorrectly for years. They had never received any news otherwise, so they believed they were handling tasks correctly. After all, no news is good news.

          1. khilde*

            That’s a good point about people doing things incorrectly for years because they never were told any different. And I imagine that, unfortunately, those supervisors that are so hands off are the first one to jump down their employees’ throats when they finally realize something is going wrong. Dysfunction and bad communication all around.

  14. Aimee*

    I’ve felt this way many times. Like others have said, it does go away.

    I’m new to managing people and I felt that way when I first started my job several months ago. We got a new group of interns a few weeks ago and one has several years of experience in our field. She’s doing this internship to transition into another area of communications. I work for a communications office doing public relations/marketing.

    While this intern shows a lot of enthusiasm, she is also very aggressive and wants to take charge of the office. Whenever I give her an assignment or feedback she is quick to counter me and challenge my decisions. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate feedback and I’m open to discuss issues but she has a habit of saying “I’ve done it this way in my previous jobs” or “that’s how I’ve done effective marketing.” The problem is she only has a few years of experience while myself and my coworkers have significantly more.

    Whenever I’ve dealt with her I keep reminding myself that I’m in this position for a reason. I have the background to do the job.

    Just keep that in mind whenever you feel like you’re doubting yourself!

    1. Camellia*

      There was a phrase someone used here lately that handles this situation well. It is, “Be that as it may…”.

      So, for example, you can say, “Be that as it may, this is how we are going to handle it here.”

      Try that and let us know if it helps!

  15. Blinx*

    “2. Don’t be shy about admitting when you don’t know something or that you made a mistake.”

    This is so true. I’ve been in project meetings with colleagues 2 or 3 levels above me, and they had no qualms about asking for further explanation of unknown terms or acronyms. It really did make me look up to them even more.

  16. Kelly O*

    Totally, even in mundane things.

    Every once in a while I find myself saying something and wondering “oh god Kelly why are you saying that? Do you KNOW for 100% sure that’s true?” at which point I tack on, “to the best of my knowledge” and start praying.

    I have honestly met a lot of people who feel that way. One of the women I have most admired in my career, who seemed like she truly had it all together and was the very epitome of the well-educated, well-connected, well-compensated executive. She told me once “if they knew how terrified I was that someone would stand up during this speech and call BS on me, they’d never let me speak.”

    That still comforts me, and it’s been ten years. She wouldn’t even recognize my new last name probably, but I carry that with me.

  17. Blinx*

    Question for Alison — How do we determine that these fears are true? That perhaps we’ve been hired for a position that is too much of a stretch, or promoted without adequate training or guidance? What would make the difference between “I’m in way over my head” vs normal insecurity?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, good question! I think you have to take an objective look at the evidence. Do you get great feedback? Do your results seem good? Those are two pretty strong indicators that you’re in the right place, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

      1. Jamie*

        But what if the people evaluating you are great at what they do, but not an expert at what you do?

        I know it sounds weird, but sometimes people make a very big deal about accomplishments that aren’t even accomplishments – they are just tasks that if someone in that position couldn’t do they should be fired.

        It seems like sometimes feedback comes through a skewed prism where praise comes for things that are basic based on not knowing the specifics – and having no interest in the specifics.

        I’m not being contrary – but I think being evaluated by people who have a different area of expertise can take away the security that you’d normally get through a feedback loop. I think this is an issue for a lot of people at smaller or mid-sized companies where they are the only one in their role and it’s technical enough to not be intuitively evaluated.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Try asking yourself how you’d know if you were doing well or if you weren’t. What kind of results should you be seeing? (You could also ask yourself what evaluation you’d give yourself if you were someone else, but that’s harder to do if you’re really self-critical and can’t separate like that.)

          For me, I’ve paid attention to things like hearing from lots of readers that what they’ve read here has helped them get interviews/job offers/raises and do better on the job in general, and seeing with clients that they’re better managed and getting better results because of it. For you, I’d ask, what are the goals are your job? How well are you meeting them?

          I’ll also reprint advice here that I printed in the comments section of a different post — this is obviously a lesson I learned in periods when I was not suffering from impostor syndrome:

          “I’ll tell you my secret: Have a bigger ego. I’m not kidding.

          You don’t remember the stories of awesome things you did because you’re not impressed enough with yourself.

          You have to get more impressed with yourself. Convince yourself that these various stories demonstrate your true awesomeness, bask in that awesomeness, and sit around marveling over how competent you are — how perfectly you handled X situation, how amazing you were when you needed to do Y, how you came up with the most impressively perfect response to Z. If you’re downplaying in your own head how great you are, those stories are harder to grab when you need them. But if you actually have a strong ego and aren’t shy about feeling fantastic about these sorts of details, they’re more accessible when you need to talk about them.”

          1. Jamie*

            This is excellent advice, but this…

            “I’ll tell you my secret: Have a bigger ego.”

            I’ll try, but I’m not sure that’s possible :).

            1. Sarah G*

              I meant that as a reply to Alison’s post, not as a reply to the reply, but I guess that’s probably obvious.

        2. Sparky629*

          I think this is an issue for a lot of people at smaller or mid-sized companies where they are the only one in their role and it’s technical enough to not be intuitively evaluated.

          I think that’s why I’ve struggled with my current position for so long.

          To me, what needs to be done is very obvious and very much a high level administrative position but to others it’s termed ‘technical’ (the job grade is technical).

          But I always feel like an imposter because I don’t have the traditional technical background and was never a computer geek.

          I’m just really good at organizing/managing information and systems. So I always feel incredibly anxious when people think I know really really technical stuff.

          I mean, I know enough technical stuff to understand the problem with my system and how to fix it but outside of that…well, I just don’t have a clue.

          It also doesn’t make me feel any better because I am the ONLY one who manages the system that my department is centered around so there’s no one to compare myself too. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m awesome, average, or just horrible.

          It’s all so gray to me. :-(

        3. Blinx*

          From Jaimie: “people make a very big deal about accomplishments that aren’t even accomplishments…”

          Grrr, this one really gets me. Like the director, when watching me do some on-the-spot changes for him, was SO impressed that I could do touch typing. I wanted to through the keyboard at him! (I’m a graphic designer. Doesn’t matter if I hunt and peck or fly at the keyboard.)

            1. Blinx*

              “through the keyboard” ??? What in the world has happened to my brain? Throw. I meant throw.

              1. Long Time Admin*

                Actually, I read “go through the keyboard” and thought you meant you were going to explain the keyboard to him.

                I’ve had to start at ground zero in training some people, so that statement would have made perfect sense to me.

          1. Jamie*

            I had my stapling complimented once – in a previous job of course.

            I apparently stapled better than anyone who had ever had that job before – and better than anyone who worked in the entire office.

            Apparently other people were just firing staples into the air or through their fingers and not using them to fasten pages together. At least I would assume that to be the case if it warranted such high praise.

            But then this was the guy who liked to sniff my hair because the smell of my coconut shampoo made him happy…and had very definite preferences for which socks I wore – so I considered the source.

            1. Sara*

              “Apparently other people were just firing staples into the air or through their fingers and not using them to fasten pages together.”

              I nearly spit my coffee onto my keyboard.

            2. Lore*

              I had a temp job the summer after graduating from college in a small law office; I think it was a maternity leave cover, or else for whatever reason they were being slow to hire. Apparently they’d been through four temps in two weeks before me, and the main reason I succeeded where they failed was because the attorney I was working for really, really cared that staples were put in vertically rather than diagonally or horizontally, and no one else had cleared that bar. (This was in the days before sorting and stapling were standard copier features, I should add!)

            3. Your Mileage May Vary*

              You know, I remember the college entrance speech the college president gave (and that was in 1988!). Everyone on our campus had a campus job as part of the tuition and he was talking about that feature of campus life. He said that if we were assigned to the mail room to put stamps on outgoing mail then we should dedicate ourselves to putting the stamps on the best way possible. That’s how one was remembered.

              That guy would have praised your staples and I would have to. But I draw the line at smelling your hair!

            4. Long Time Admin*

              This is the funniest comment I’ve read in a long time!!

              I’ll be laughing all day about your prowess with the dreaded stapler.

              1. Jamie*

                I have some kind of Mummy’s Curse in effect now…I’ve broken three in the last six months. I’m currently using a broken one because I’m too ashamed to admit I killed another one.

                I am so gentle with them, so I can only attribute the constant breakage to witchcraft.

            5. H*

              Ha! My colleagues do the opposite: They still comment on the previous persons (~2 years ago!) stapling method as it was so unusual (and made paperwork awkward to use)!

        4. Nicole*

          I have felt like this, and my response has been: accept the compliment. If they’re going to think you’re praiseworthy for doing something that literally did itself, you might as well take credit for it.

  18. ChristineH*

    I think Imposter Syndrome might be part of why I’ve struggled so much with my job search. I trained in direct social work, but want to do nonclinical work (grants, research). Even when I was doing direct social work, I sometimes felt like an imposter because I am so, so shy and awkward. But then whenever I make a really good connection with the client/patient, I felt good about what I was doing.

    Right now, I’m volunteering on a grant proposal review committee (served on a similar committee this past spring). I love it, but even here I’ve got a bit of the syndrome because I have so little experience beyond directly working with clients and some entry-level administrative jobs.

    1. Phyllis*

      Not to get too off-topic, but this is a darn good way to get important grant skills. Good on you.

  19. Anonymous*

    oh gosh. Hell yes! I feel like an imposter too and have in every role I’ve ever been in (my own company, consulting, during grad school; while up on stage presenting a paper) despite evidence to the contrary: being published; unsolicited verbal feedback from co-workers and managers; results for clients.

    I hate it and wonder, given the starts and stops of my career, if it has held me back.

  20. Anonymous*

    Uuuuuuugh. I’m starting a new job next week and I’m totally sunk in Imposter Syndrome right now. The job is big: launch a new organization (or rather, launch one region’s work in a new organization, as others around the country are simultaneously launching work in different regions). My job is to, like, think up what we should do and do it. Um.

  21. Catherine*

    This is what I do every day:

    And people think I’m an expert/genius/peach (I’ve been called a peach so many times it’s freaky). For this reason, I feel like a fraud. A lot of people come to me for guidance, both coworkers and clients, and I just don’t get it. I’m not doing anything special except trial and error and some problem solving. I guess my one advantage is that I have had lengthy exposure to the particular product I support (5 years), so I’ve just seen more than others. But I don’t see why that makes me an expert. It’s nice to be complimented and treated as an expert but I feel guilty about it.

    1. ARM2008*

      LOL I really am good with computers and applications, but 75% of my brilliance is in this chart. Logic, random poking, Google, and help files. I’ve been at my current contractor position for just 6 months, but I have direct employees who have been there 2-5 years coming to me for help on their proprietary system.

      1. Jamie*

        I will confess that I solve an inordinate amount of problems and have no idea how. Just kind of meandering along some seemingly random path and all of a sudden stuff starts working and I’m scrambling to figure out why so I can document it.

        That feeds this phenomenon.

        1. Catherine*

          Yep, that is my life, day in and day out. I work at a university and so the impressiveness of my magical computer wizardry is doubled.

      2. Lynne*

        It seems to me that some people are a little scared of trying the random poking – like there’s a little voice in their heads saying “what if this blows the computer up?!?!”

        Whereas the little voice in *my* head has, um…pyromaniac tendencies. It says, “Won’t it be cool if this blows the computer up?” Because then I’ll learn something new and how to fix it. :)

          1. Lynne*

            Ooh. Very cool. :)

            …Occasionally I get to go in and try to break stuff when we get an upgrade or a subscription to a new product – I want to know about any issues before our end-users do. It’s fun. :) (Although less fun when I report a bug to the vendor and it never seems to get fixed, sigh. I very much heart the vendors who are responsive and on top of fixing things.)

  22. Michelle*

    Another thing that can help ease your mind is to spend time getting to know the other “experts” in the office and who is particularly good at/knowledgeable about what. As a novice in my field, I don’t always feel confident that I’ll know the answer to a caller’s question, but I do feel confident that I can either a) direct them to someone who does know the answer or b) admit that I’m not sure, find out myself, and get back to them. Feeling like you have an invisible “safety net” of knowledgeable people around you can reduce some of the anxiety.

  23. Pam*

    Oooh! One of the professional organizations I’m a part of did an EXCELLENT webinar on this topic, and it was so well received, they had the speaker do a follow-up Q&A webinar. I typed notes as fast as I could while listening. They shared some lines that are symptoms of impostor syndrome:

    Well I’m successful BUT:
    – “I lucked out” or “Right time, right place”
    – “If I can do it, anyone can.”
    – “I had help”
    – “Someone made a mistake”
    – “They just like me” (It’s not my intellect or ability, they like my personality, etc.)
    – Other creative excuses. (“I just look good on paper”, “I dress for success”)

    I have so many other great notes from this webinar, I wish I could share them all! But it truly is a fascinating topic…awareness is key.

  24. Anonymous*

    I suffered from impostor syndrome terribly while I was doing my PhD in engineering.

    Here’s a confession —

    Objectively I knew it was “impostor syndrome,” but I honestly couldn’t stomach living with it anymore. It was one of the reasons that it was a relief for me to leave my career, at least temporarily, and turn to full-time at-home mothering. Not the only reason, but the lifting of impostor syndrome was very freeing. I mean, I’m definitely an expert at being my kids’ mom, and I like that I don’t constantly question myself.

    Maybe it’s proof that I couldn’t hack it (and demonstration that I really was an impostor!) Have to say, though, I sleep better at night.

    1. Kit M.*

      That actually surprises me, because I feel like the field that has the most instances of impostor syndrome is parenting.

      But sometimes when you’re good, you just know it. ;)

  25. CatB (Europe)*

    Ten years after going freelancer I still suffer from this syndrome. Every training I deliver starts with with this huge nervousness (my wife knows and lets me to my own pain the day before) and ends with “I could have given more in class, for Pete’s sake!”.

    Truth be told, I feel this syndrome helps by keeping me on my toes. So much so that I decided the day I won’t be nervous before a training I will quit.

    1. khilde*

      CatB – I agree about the nervousness keeping you on your toes. I have finally relaxed about my own personal style being mine and knowing that it works for me and that my participants enjoy my classes. But I still get the anxious feeling at times (before a brand-new class; with a group I don’t normally work with, etc) and have come to realize the anxious feeling is because I care deeply about what I do and want it to be right and a good experience for them. I think that if I stopped being (to a degree) anxious/nervous/self critical then it means that I personally have stopped caring about what I do. And I agree with you: when that happens it’s time to hang it up.

    2. khilde*

      Oh – and I admire freelance trainers because “you” are all you have to stand on. I have the comfort and security of knowing that I work for a training department so if I screw up I know there’s going to be another day of work for me. The thought of striking out on my own scares me becasue what if I suddenly start to suck and no one wants to hire me?!

      On the other hand, when a freelance is getting business it’s because they are genuinely seeking YOU to provide the service. Being in a training department, sometimes I’m all they can get on a particular topic whether they like me or not.

      So….there’s a couple different ways to look at that, I guess.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        khilde – thanks, you made my day! I was sure that I had a gear missing some cogs in my head, to behave like that. “I care deeply about what I do and want it to be right and a good experience for them” – that describes me also.

        Being a freelancer can sometimes mean low tides – periods when I literally had to save bread for my son, in the beginning. But it also has its honey moments (like a multinational cancelling a whole project if I wasn’t available, to brag a little). And, after so many years, I wouldn’t trade my independence for any wage whatsoever.

        I don’t know about you, but for me NLP worked wonders; the sharpest improvement ever (in the “quick fixes” department) came when I replaced SMART objectives (a huge pet peeve of mine, since I’m more of a dreamer than businessman) with “intentions”. Since then I often (not always, but often) get students who say my classes were life-changing. Touching something deep inside them and bringing about insights that otherways might have never come is what keeps me going in spite of everything the economy can throw at me.

        1. khilde*

          I am intrigued by the NLP (not familiar with that acronym) and replacing objectives with “intentions.” Do tell if you’re willing to direct me to a resource. Objectives and SMART never ever made sense in my head. I think I am like you in that I’m more of a dreamer than business minded.

          Sounds like you found something that clicks for you in terms of a framework to build your training. I recently had that happen for me when I discovered the 4Mat4Business info (I’ll not include a link so this comments gets posted easily, but if you just google that you’ll find the info). I always felt like something was missing in my classes: I’m really good at the getting people to talk, connecting to the materials, etc. But I am not very good at giving them concrete skills to practice. This model helped me identify my own learning style and how that influences my delivery style. It’s been so liberating for me.

          Oh, and I think you should brag on yourself a little bit. If you can remember those really outsanding and flattering moments, it carries you through the times that are not. :)

          1. CatB (Europe)*

            khilde: NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a collection of models about how human beings take in and process their world. It’s (kinda) applied psychology. Google it, but beware, there’s a lot of hype and some small nuggets of good out there. It doesn’t work for everybody (it also depends on the coach), but for me it was like a second Big Bang. A very good/informative site is nlp-mentor (add the triple-w and dot-com for the actual address).

            In this context, “intentions” are for “objectives” like “inner motivation” is for “coercion”. The aim is the same, but the approach is so much more soft and natural.

            I’d very much like to keep in touch, maybe even bug you with a question now and then (I still have a world to learn about teaching…), but your LinkedIn profile has connections blocked. Is there any way I can contact you, outside AAM?

  26. fposte*

    I have it big time. One of my consolations, in calmer moments, is to remember that there’s a touch of narcissism in it–that people aren’t thinking what a mistake it is to have me do something because they’re not thinking of me at all, really.

    There’s also a difference between “somebody else could do this job better” and “I shouldn’t have this job”; even if the first is true, that doesn’t translate to the second.

    1. Catherine*

      “…to remember that there’s a touch of narcissism in it…”

      That is such a great point and a good reminder. It is rather egocentric to think that people are scrutinizing me day in and day out, looking for a way to demonstrate my incompetence. No one cares THAT much. If there is someone out there like that, they have serious problems, and you are not the issue.

      1. Jamie*

        This isn’t always the case. When I get like this I’m fully aware this is an issue that exists only in my own head. I’m not projecting this onto other people.

        That would be easier – because if you’re looking for external validation you just get it and you’re good for a while. If the need is something you have to find internally that can be a lot harder to find.

      2. Occasionally Anonymous*

        “It is rather egocentric to think that people are scrutinizing me day in and day out, looking for a way to demonstrate my incompetence. No one cares THAT much. If there is someone out there like that, they have serious problems, and you are not the issue.”
        Catherine – I am very grateful for this comment today. I had a surprise-to-me hour long meeting yesterday with the head of my department detailing everything I’ve done wrong for the last 4 months. While I admit some concerns were legitimate regarding my approach and will work on being less direct in my verbal communication, I thought I was very successful in the work produced at least and certainly didn’t realize how I was being perceived by him (and others? I don’t know, he didn’t say). It does feel like no matter what I did, he was seeing me through a newly negative lens and everything I did reinforced that view for him. I’ve been here 8 years, promoted multiple times, haven’t had a raise in over 2 years, and yet, I’ve gladly taken on big, new challenges, completed all my projects, worked 60 hours a week, and previously have nearly always had glowing performance reviews. But now I have no idea what my ratio of awesomeness to suckiness is. And it’s really uncomfortable knowing that every single thing I say and do is under a microscope.
        I know it’s probably time for me to move on and I’ve thought about it for well over a year. It has been very hard for me to find work in my field. I know it may be time to give up on this industry, at least temporarily. Now that I’m back down to 40-hour weeks, having gotten two huge projects out the door just days ago, I will have some time to start looking. But that imposter syndrome comes back and I feel like I’m under-qualified for every job posting!
        It’s so great that there is this intelligent, supportive community of commenters, in addition to the fabulous blog. I’m extra appreciative of that today.

    2. Jamie*

      “One of my consolations, in calmer moments, is to remember that there’s a touch of narcissism in it”

      As I said below, I don’t think it’s always narcissism, but after I hit submit on that I was thinking about it…I would say there are times when there’s a fair bit of arrogance involved.

      It’s arrogant to dismiss other people’s feedback as irrelevant as in, “yeah, but if they really knew or really understood they would see the issues I see.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s right. They are telling you that they see value in what you offer. You are dismissing that assessment as them not knowing any better!

        1. Jamie*

          Yep, although “You aren’t smart enough to know how much I suck” would be a catchy bumper sticker.

      2. fposte*

        Crazy comes in many flavors :-).

        When I’m really mired, I can consider a “You’re doing a good job” statement to be not just uninformed but pitying, like I’m bringing in my first-grade art for the refrigerator.

    3. Ellie H.*

      This is a great point. I don’t experience impostor syndrome much (though I was really interested to read that article and certainly identify with it) but I constantly imagine that others always notice my mistakes and are highly critical. I try hard to remind myself that they really just don’t notice very much or care nearly as much as I do. Hearing that constantly reiterated on this blog has been really helpful for that actually!

    4. TheLetterWriter*

      There’s also a difference between “somebody else could do this job better” and “I shouldn’t have this job”

      This is very helpful. Thank you!

  27. Bridgette*

    I found recently where this feeling really gets me into trouble is when asking for a raise/promotion. I followed Supreme Blogger Green’s excellent advise about asking for a promotion, and my supervisor responded well, and told me to rewrite my job description to how I would like it to be, submit that and we would meet again. Have I done that? No. I’m terrified that he will laugh at what I have written and say that it’s WAY above my qualifications and shoot me down, even though the whole point of this exercise is to update my description to what I’m already doing, not come up with wild, crazy ideas of what I could be doing.

      1. khilde*

        Can I second that even though I have precisely zero experience in a situation like this? I’d say that if your manager was going to “laugh at you” and “shoot you down”….he’d have already done that. It seems like if a supervisor is open to you rewriting your job description and exploring the process, they are open minded on the whole thing–start to finish. The scenario you’re imagining is probably not a reality with the type of supervisor yours appears to be.

        1. Bridgette*

          You are exactly right. He is a good manager and willing to work with me and I have no reason to fear him. He’s just an imposing sort of guy that speaks plainly and doesn’t mince words. The other part of my (irrational) fears is coming from the fact that even though he wants to help me out, the higher-ups the control the purse strings in our dept will probably say no, so I keep thinking, why bother at all? But yes, Alison, you can order me and hopefully I will get over myself. :)

          1. Jamie*

            Ah – but if you have a frank conversation with your boss who better to help navigate a way to get the purse strings to open a little bit?

            Believe me, I feel for you – I’ve had these conversations and also procrastinated having them because I was so nervous. I’ve totally been there. But it’s like anything else you’re dreading – the longer you put it off the more you over think it and the worse it gets in your head. Prepare, have the meeting…and then come back and update us on how awesome it was and how much better you feel. Because I have a strong feeling that’s what will happen.

  28. PuppyKat*

    “(In fact, research says that the higher the standards you tend to set for yourself and the more self-critical you are, the higher the likelihood that you’ll feel impostor syndrome at some point.)”

    *Big sigh of relief* This is one of the reasons I read AAM: to find out I’m normal after all. Thank you!

    I’ve got 35 years of experience working in one profession (technical theatre)—and there are still times when I think that by the end of the week, my boss will have decided that I’m a fraud. Fortunately, those times are fewer and farther between these days.

    The weird flip side is that I feel professional and confident, too. It’s a strange dichotomy at times.

    But when I start feeling like an impostor in my job, I just circle back around to the job at hand: review what needs to be done, figure out the best way to do it, break it into manageable tasks, put my head down, and start doing it.

    Oh, and I also keep a file of thank-you notes and gushing e-mails from bosses, co-workers, and clients. They quickly help to re-balance my perspective. Plus they come in handy during performance review time to remind me of past achievements. :-)

    1. TheLetterWriter*

      But when I start feeling like an impostor in my job, I just circle back around to the job at hand: review what needs to be done, figure out the best way to do it, break it into manageable tasks, put my head down, and start doing it.

      Thanks, this is very practical and sensible advice. I know from experience that when I’m actually doing tasks (and doing them well) I feel fine.

  29. B*

    Yes yes yes.

    I just started my dream job (first legit job after law school) this month, and I find myself feeling terrible about lots of little things:

    Am I taking up too much of my coworkers’ time?
    Am I keeping my supervisors in the loop enough or am I bugging them too much?
    Should I know more than I do? Should this be easier by now?

    Super agonizing. I hope this tightness in my chest wears off.

  30. Danni*

    To echo everyone else – what a RELIEF!

    I have gotten much better at this in my job, but I CONSTANTLY feel like an imposter in my graduate program. I feel like everyone is thinking I’m an idiot, I’m constantly in awe of everyone’s comments, I procrastinate assignments because I assume they are too hard, etc.

    Oddly enough, I have a 4.0 and get great feedback…but I just cannot shake the feeling that I am in WAY over my head with the material and that everyone is more ambitious and qualified than I am.

    1. Malissa*

      You just described my whole graduate school experience. The good news is that you will eventually graduate and be done with it.

  31. Henning Makholm*

    This is strange. I feel the idea of impostor syndrome resonates deeply with me, though normally I feel quite secure in my professional worth. So reading through the comments I thought that I couldn’t possibly add my voice to this choir of true sufferers. (Does writing this make me an impostor impostor, then?)

    But I do remember one part-time job I had once upon a time, which I quit after one season, fully convinced that I was in far over my head and a walking disaster in the position. I remember my boss asking me if it was more money I needed to be able to stay, because he might be able to bend the budget in order to keep me on. But I was miserable and just wanted out.

    Today, though, I can look anyone into the eyes, claim that I am a damn smart and competent software developer in general, and mean it. Even so … there’s this particular tricky thing our product does, having to do with efficient use of certain network features, which the head honchos of the company claim we’re world leaders in. And we might actually be, seeing how salespeople who defect to us from the competition tend to cite it when they introduce themselves in all-company emails. Except that I personally invented large parts of the thing and I know it is really made from equal parts coin tosses, inspired guesses, unscientific anecdata, and common sense applied to public information. No magic sauce here, and I just know any month now the market is going to wise up and put their money with someone who know how to do this properly, and the company will tank, and I’ll be out of work. I’ve suggested to my boss that we hire someone with actual experience with this stuff, but he just claims to doubt there is anyone on the market who’d be better than me. It’s maddening! Luckily we have a sales organization to do the faking-of-competence for us; I don’t have to.

    (In my less neurotic moments I remind myself that “unscientific anecdata” is another term for “experience”, and that “common sense applied to public information” can stand for any number of brilliant acts of rare genius).

    So, perhaps it’s not so much a question of having impostor syndrome or not, as whether you end up with it applying to a topic (and scope) you need to confront on a daily basis. That part-time job I fled from in my youth was in a quite different career direction than my current one, which I could escape completely because there happened to be something else I am both good at and able to convince myself I am good at. But if I hadn’t had that lucky coincidence …?

    1. Jamie*

      “Except that I personally invented large parts of the thing and I know it is really made from equal parts coin tosses, inspired guesses, unscientific anecdata, and common sense applied to public information.”

      I’m totally stealing this, with a slight rewording for context, to put add to my job description. That’s IT in one sentence.

      I have been thinking a lot about this concept of imposter syndrome today – because it’s been particularly chaotic and my brain needed a fun place to rest between gateway and DNS settings.

      Anyway, my conclusion is that it doesn’t stem from a place of insecurity – at least not for me. I’m insecure about some other things and this is very different. I’m also in a really weird place right now where this impostor feeling is co-existing with my state of careening wildly toward burnout. Usually when I’m burning out it I vacillate between mild panic at being trapped and resignation with a little self pity because my self-determined awesomeness feels unappreciated.

      I do think some of the impostor thing comes from unrealistic expectations – of ourselves and the position. I successfully hit my metrics and they are based on objective standards. My bosses are happy with the job I’m doing, my network uptime is perfect, and my end users are getting taken care of. So on paper everything is great.

      But I’m measuring myself against standards we haven’t implemented. What the job would be if performed by someone with stronger networking (computer, not people) skills. Or someone with a background in mechanical engineering who would be able to assist with the engineering software in a more significant way than licenses and config settings. Basically, if the job was done by someone who is everything I’m not it would be WAY better…so that’s where I set the bar in my head.

      I’m totally rambling – sorry. This post came at a time when my head was in a weird place so it’s making me think about it instead of just working to keep from thinking about how freaking weird I am.

      1. fposte*

        The thing is, we often take other people’s apparent competence at face value, so we’re comparing our backstory of kludgey cobbles and making-stuff-up with somebody else’s lovely PowerPoint end product.

        1. Jamie*

          You may be absolutely right. Other people’s accomplishments seem effortless – therefore mine aren’t as real because I had to build them from scratch.

          I’m also one of those people who really admire that which I cannot do. So when I don’t have a skill I’m kind of in awe of it, then if I learn it I’m happy for about 2 minutes until I realize it was never a big deal and anyone could do it.

          I think I’m going to print out my comments from this thread and share them with the as yet unknown person who will become my analyst. It will give her a place to start.

          1. Henning Makholm*

            Immediate reaction: What would a newly hired network/systems analyst do with a chronicle of her new boss’s professional regrets and imagined or real shortcomings?

            1. Jamie*

              Ha – I meant psychoanalyst – like therapist.

              But a system analyst may be a better way to go for me at that.

  32. Tekoa*

    I’ve just started a new job at an emergancy homeless shelter (first week!) and I’m feeling the imposter syndrome. A part of me is surprised I was hired and I can’t believe they think I have the internal fortitude to handle the job. I expect someone to say “You are a highly expressed introvert with social anxiety disorder! You can’t do this!” But I am doing it. And enjoying myself. When I feel the Imposter Syndrome I focus on my body language so it says I Am Not Afraid, even when I am. Or laugh at my seemingly perpetual surprise.

    1. KellyK*

      Between the social anxiety disorder and the introversion, you’ve probably learned a lot more about “faking it” through uncomfortable situations than most socially comfortable extroverts have, because they haven’t had to do that nearly as much. It might actually be an asset in this kind of position.

  33. Student*

    I think it has a lot to do with something very simple: you care. You care about what you are doing. You are introspective about your performance because you care about the results.

    If you ever get to a point in your career where you just don’t care anymore, then that’s a sure sign that you really are an imposter who shouldn’t be there.

    1. TheLetterWriter*

      Thank you – this comment has really helped loosen the knot of anxiety in my chest.

  34. fposte*

    Wasn’t there a post here not long ago where somebody made the excellent suggestion to pretend you’re the kind of person who can do [whatever]? Maybe that’s the impostor syndrome solution–if you think you’re not, pretend you are anyway.

  35. dmc*

    I’ll pile on here with a “Yes! Me too!”
    About 18 months ago, I got hired into a very specialized job. I had some experience (mostly student internships) in a related field, but knew next to nothing about the specifics of this area. Because this area is SO specialized, my now bosses figured they weren’t going to be able to find anyone willing to work for the salary they were able to offer who would actually have experience in the field. So they decided to go with me because they thought I was eager and would learn quickly and had a good head on my shoulders. And I HAVE learned quickly. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I know until I’m talking about my work with a friend or family member and I’ll see their eyes glaze over and realize “I have over-informed this person on a subject that I knew NOTHING about 18 months ago … bad for social etiquette, but that’s kind of awesome.”
    But other times I feel like there’s still so much I don’t know and I’m still just scraping by on eagerness and common sense. And of course, when I’ve made a mistake the self-flagellation is, in hindsight, perhaps overblown but at the time I feel like the biggest idiot, why did I take a job in an area I know nothing about, they’ll never trust me again, I should turn in my resignation letter today, and I’m a terrible person for accepting this job that I should have known I would be no good at.
    But my bosses love me, and I try to have a tape in my head of my boss saying nice things about me that I can play to stop the self-flagellation hate-spiral.

  36. anon o*

    I get this all the time! What I do sometimes to combat it is pretend I’m someone else looking at me and wonder what I’d think if I were that person (if that makes sense). So if I’m at a conference walking around with files and a blackberry an a business card with a good title on it then I think “If I met me I’d be impressed and think I have a good job.” Maybe that’s more true than I remember!

  37. Rana*

    Is there such a thing as inverse imposter syndrome? When I’m doing a job, I have no problem recognizing my own expertise and feeling awesome about my skills… but when I’m applying for, or talking about my work, then… ugh. Suddenly I’m Dr. Ms. Loser of Loserville or something. It’s like I know I’m cool, but don’t think anyone else does.

    1. NewReader*

      I get this, waaay too well.

      I thought I was just too visual and not enough verbal. With the work in front of me, I do much better. But to sit around and discuss the work… not so hot. It takes me a while to pull words together to match the pictures in my head.

      Which is a hop/skip and a jump away from Impostor from Loserville.

    2. H*

      My favourite phrase related to this problem “….if that makes any sense?” I feel like I’m talking gobbledegook and no one is going to understand me!

      I think its more “extroverted imposter syndrome” rather than “introverted imposter syndrome” which I see more as wondering to yourself about why people trust you with all this stuff. You know you can do it but you are not sure you can talk about it!

  38. Snow*

    I so suffer from this! I feel like such an impostor sometimes; partly, because I dropped of of college my senior year and everyone around me is highly educated. I work with incredibly talented and smart people, and sometimes I get a little insecure. However, I’m often comforted by the fact I’ve been told several times I’m a top performer. At this point, I should just relax and keep doing what I’m doing!

  39. Anonymous*

    I feel that way when my boss asks me to work on certain projects that I think other people on my team are more capable of doing, and inside, I’m like “really, you actually want me to work on that for you?” Looking back, I find that if I seem insecure to my boss, she will stop asking me to work on challenging stuff, so I completely agree with AAM that you have to be confident in what you do. After all, youre boss thinks you are.

  40. BL*

    I am so relieved to know that this happens to other people. I experience this all the time and I was certain that it was because I haven’t been out of school very long. My problem is I knew I was good at school. I had been doing it for years and was very successful in all of those objective things like grades. When I started my first “grown up” job, I immediately felt like I was in way over my head and two years and new position later I still do. I know I have to get over this because I am always so excited to be offered a job that I don’t ever negotiate salary. Then I am embarrassed about that later. Someday that will cause more of an issue than it does now.

  41. TheLetterWriter*

    Thank you for your advice, Alison. The bit about being confident enough to admit not knowing something is especially useful. I feel like my natural curiosity about how things work/are done and why is one of my best assets, and I think I was getting worried about not being able to use it. As you point out, people don’t expect – or want – a new hire to know everything about everything. Thanks for reminding me!

    Thanks to all the commenters, too. I realised impostor syndrome was a thing (hello, postgraduate students around the world) but didn’t realise so many people felt this way about their jobs! It seems I have good company here in impostor syndrome land.

  42. Vee*

    I got a sizeable pay rise yesterday, and about 30 seconds after the initial reaction of “oh my God that’s fantastic”, I had an influx of “oh my God I’m not worth that much money”. It’s insidious, especially if you’re a) female and b) a non-professional staff member in a professional organisation.

  43. Cori*

    When I started my current position, my trainer kept going over the same rules. She never called it by name but she often acknowledged how lost the new trainees felt. (I provide support for a very complex software application.) It took more than six months for me to stop getting the shakes when I was asked really difficult questions – even when I knew the answer! I was so afraid that my customer would suddenly say, “Aha! I knew it! You aren’t good enough, smart enough and doggone it I don’t like you!” Well, okay, some of them still do say that last part!

    Thankfully, I’m doing a lot better now when it comes to my job. I know I know my stuff, I feel great about my abilities and it’s helped me advance in my position. (Always being willing to ask questions, even if you look “stupid” helps a huge amount. Doing that helped me get over my imposter feelings because I realized I was secure enough to be willing to take the hit.)

    Now I get hit by it hard when I look for work. I’m finishing grad school in the spring and I feel like such a fraud. All the feedback, all the praise, my grades, past work experience, none of it is enough to stop the cycle of thinking that whoever reads my cover letter will immediately throw it in the trash for being so obviously not capable.

  44. Lisa*

    The times I feel like an imposter are when there is some new kid who thinks he knows everything comes in and can spout off the latest technology or industry way of doing things.. It makes me feel outdated, even when I have been the expert and successful doing the work the way I do it. It makes me feel like a fraud if I missed the latest thing in my industry, even though I read 1-2 hours of blogs per day to keep up … I am still working on clients and its easy to miss something and then suddenly the old way is obsolete. I feel like a fraud when I miss something and the new kid knows about it before I do.

  45. Anonymous_J*

    I felt this just last weekend, when I resigned from an orgainzation for which I was volunteering (a Pagan news organization,) and they asked me to stay on and consult with my former bureau chief to help him improve processes for the bureau! I was told the national organization felt my leaving was a serious loss.

    I was FLOORED at this, and I thought, “Ah, it’s all flattery—that, or they are delusional. I don’t know nuttin’!”

    He and I had our first phone meeting the other night, and now I feel great, but at first, I was like, “Oh, sh**! I’m going to screw this up!”

  46. Steph*

    thank you so much for this! I start a new job in about a week and totally have been feeling out of my league. Like the OP, I just finished a degree in the field and have practice as a student, but I haven’t done it full time yet. Everyone I’ve mentioned my apprehension to has told me not to worry and that I’ll be fine, and I know in my rational mind that they wouldn’t have chosen me if I wasn’t qualified, but I still have that fear that once I get there I’ll prove them all wrong! Makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that it’s an actual documented “thing”!

  47. Shawna*

    “Pam August 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm
    Actually, studies shows Impostor Syndrome is equally prevalent in men and women, and is a pretty steady phenomenon throughout a person’s career.:

    It’s a little dis-heartening to hear I’ll probably have these feelings the rest of my life… BUT!! I’m so very glad to read I’m not the only one. I know this feeling has held me back. Financially at the very least.

  48. David*

    Thank you for your article, it’s actually helped to settle my nerves somewhat. I recently began my academic career in one of the most prestigious law schools in my country. I know I would not be there were it not for mu own capabilities but I have still somewhat felt completely like an imposter during my brief time there so far.

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