Skip to content

5 Signs You Have Imposter Syndrome in Your Career—And How to Overcome It

No matter how far you've made it, you might feel like you don't deserve your current job.

Imposter syndrome is characterized by self-doubt and the feeling that you don't deserve your achievements. At its most extreme, it's the unsettling feeling of being a fraud despite major hard-earned accomplishments. And while it can manifest in various aspects of our lives—like work, relationships, or friendships—dealing with imposter syndrome in your career can seriously hold you back.

"Imposter syndrome typically takes place in a cycle, whereby those who experience this syndrome feel unworthy and overachieve in order to elude discovery as a fraud," Steven Rosenberg, PhD, a psychotherapist and behavioral specialist with Quit It Now, tells Best Life. "They may achieve great grades or professional accolades, but then after that wears off, they revert back to the same overachieving behavior."

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone and "is fed by a lot of societal conditioning and other messages we often hear over our life," says executive coach Sarah Schneider, PCC, MBA, says. "The societal conditioning that feeds imposter syndrome can have us think that our experiences, skills, background, knowledge, etc., are a lot less than they actually are."

Imposter syndrome can lead to more than a feeling of not belonging: It can also contribute to depression, anxiety, and the feeling of overall dissatisfaction with life. However, there are effective strategies to combat the issue. Read on to learn more about the signs you're dealing with imposter syndrome in your career, and how to overcome it.

RELATED: 10 Resume Tips to Help Your CV Stand Out, Experts Say.

You're over-functioning.

Shot of a young business man frowning while using a laptop in a modern officee

Working hard can increase your chance of success, help you achieve your goals, and develop personal growth, but going overboard is a sign of imposter syndrome. High-functioning performers are driven by high expectations, which can cause problems for people with imposter syndrome.

"We can end up in this dance of over-functioning to compensate for gaps that we see around us because those gaps can impact our reputation as high performers," says Merry C. Lin, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Rebecoming.

She adds, "Managing our reputation is how we hide our insecurities and fears—rooted in our imposter syndrome."

How to Overcome It: "The first step of overcoming our over-functioning type of imposter syndrome is to build up our self-awareness of our own anxiety and how it motivates us to act," Lin shares.

She explains that it's important to recognize the over-functioning tendencies to jump in and control a situation. Ask yourself, "Where is this anxiety coming from? Why am I trying to control the situation?"

Lin notes, "By stepping back and asking ourselves these questions before we act, we become more aware of how often we over-function."

You're over-preparing.

man taking control of business project
fizkes / Shutterstock

Getting prepared for a project or work function is important, but people with imposter syndrome take it a step too far.

Stephen Greet, CEO and co-founder of BeamJobs, helps people format their resumes and move up in their careers. He notices how often clients obsess over tiny details, such as picking the right font and bullet points, which cause them a lot of anxiety.

"Many clients who come to me have very relevant backgrounds and clear qualifications for the roles they're pursuing," Greet shares. "Yet imposter syndrome has them thinking they need to spend weeks or months intensely preparing just to have a chance."

He explains even though they're strong candidates and already qualified, they don't see it.

"Unfortunately, feelings of inadequacy lead to this type of overcompensation through preparation," Greet says.

How to Overcome It: Separating facts from emotions is crucial to navigating over-preparing due to imposter syndrome.

"My goal in working with these individuals is to help shift their perspective from negative self-doubts to an accurate view of their true qualifications and experience," Greet explains. "We take time reviewing their career accomplishments objectively. By focusing on real facts rather than insecure feelings, clients gradually start to recognize their own competence more clearly."

RELATED: 10 Most In-Demand Jobs in 2024.

You're obsessed with overachieving.

Project manager and team

Constant pressure and stress to meet unrealistic expectations can lead to a pattern of discontent and imposter syndrome.

According to Dr. HermanSJr., MA, MMsc, MpsyD, founder of Platinum Sciences: Institute for Step-Change, a sign of imposter syndrome is when "the never-ending drive overtakes one's mind, lifestyle, and thus peace."

How to Overcome It: Identifying the cycle of overachieving to mask feelings of inadequacy and other negative emotions is vital.

"This is the best way to maximize the chances, as nothing is ever guaranteed, of freeing oneself from imposter syndrome," says Dr. HermanSJr. "The only way to have the grandest probability of proper and complete success is to deal with the underlying cause—just as with any problem-solving where the root cause must be seen, understood, and dealt with."

You're discounting your accomplishments.

Shot of a confident young businessman looking thoughtful in an office with his colleagues in the background
Mikolette / iStock

Taking credit for achievements is something you should do, yet people with imposter syndrome struggle to acknowledge their hard work.

"One of the biggest indicators of imposter syndrome is difficulty internalizing your accomplishments," says tech career coach Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES. "This might look like receiving a compliment or praise for something you did at work, yet attributing it to chance or luck."

How to Overcome It: Elliot says the key to overcoming this aspect of imposter syndrome is learning how to internalize your work successes, which requires more than documenting your experiences.

"You also want to practice sitting with and acknowledging your career wins, as well as developing a community that supports you as you relish in your victories rather than encouraging your imposter syndrome," he shares.

RELATED: 15 Best Jobs for Introverts.

You're too worried about others.

Office partnership, documents and business people collaboration on brand advertising, sales forecast or data analysis. Research insight, paperwork or teamwork review of customer experience statistics

While it's normal to worry about your colleagues and friends in the workplace, worrying too much indicates you have imposter syndrome.

When you're overly concerned for someone and take responsibility for those around you, whatever the cost, "That's when you know you are living way beyond your limits, and that is the only thing you feel is keeping you functioning as a superstar," Lin notes. "Even if it kills you, it's how you ensure you are seen as successful."

How to Overcome It: Learning how to let go and tolerate discomfort is a challenge but a necessary step to overcoming imposter syndrome in the workplace.

Lin advises, "Ask yourself, 'What am I worried will happen if I don't step in?'" She says to allow those feelings to bubble up and get comfortable with them.

"As you feel your anxiety, take time to take a deep breath, pray, or go for a walk—whatever you do to help you calm down. You can learn to tolerate distress!"

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
Filed Under