Imposter syndrome: How to overcome feeling like a fraud when leaving your career comfort zone

Imposter syndrome: How to overcome feeling like a fraud when leaving your career comfort zone
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Many Kiwis will be familiar with the irrational fear, particularly when starting a new role, that they're in over their head, a mistake was made and at any moment they'll be revealed as a fraud. 

So-called 'imposter syndrome' manifests in multiple ways but generally describes a pervading sense you don't deserve to be in your current position, are incapable of excelling in the job and simply 'lucked out' getting hired. 

And it's clearly top of mind for many of us. According to SEMrush, on average, 4,400 Kiwis search the term every month and Trade Me research shows that 4 out of 10 job hunters are unlikely to apply for a role if they don't match 90-100 percent of the requirements. 

Those suffering from imposter syndrome may be less likely to pursue opportunities outside of their career comfort zone, which is unfortunate since those opportunities abound in the current drum-tight labour market. 

Power is, for the moment, firmly in the hands of candidates, making now the perfect time to take the plunge. 

Plenty of job seekers already are, data from a Trade Me Jobs survey in April 2022 shows up to 7 in 10 Kiwis are planning to leave their jobs within the next two years, with nearly a fifth of respondents planning to leave within 12 months.

To make sure Kiwis don't hold back from taking the leap and push themselves into exciting new roles, Newshub and Trade Me Jobs have teamed up to bring you a guide on what exactly imposter syndrome is (and isn’t) and how to overcome it. 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Firstly, if you're struggling with feeling like an imposter, know you're not alone. According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, it's an experience an estimated 70 percent of people have at some point in their lives. 

Trade Me's Head of Customer Experience, Hannah Byrant, is no stranger to the phenomenon.  

"That feeling of self-doubt which holds me back from things like speaking up and contributing or from applying for roles and promotions or keeping me from doing my best work. I can waste time overthinking and feeling like I'm not performing."

While it might sound medical, imposter syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis and to some degree, feeling anxious about your abilities is a natural response when pushing yourself and taking on new responsibilities. 

The line between understandable nerves and a more potentially harmful imposter sensation is when those feelings are persistent, entrenched and start affecting behaviour. Once that happens, sufferers may end up holding themselves back from taking on challenges in the workplace. 

A particular fear of critical feedback -  a common aspect of imposter syndrome - might also cause workers to avoid asking for it which can be a major roadblock to career progression 

There's no universal experience of imposter syndrome and certain people are likely to feel it more strongly, such as perfectionists with already very high expectations of themselves who may fixate on small failures while ignoring all their successes. 

Luckily, whatever your experience, there are strategies to overcome it.

How can I beat it?

"It's about reframing negative self-talk,'' advises Hannah.  

"Confidence doesn't equate to competence. So just because something makes me nervous doesn't mean I'm not good at it."

One of the best methods for combating imposter syndrome is treating positive feedback as seriously as negative feedback. Instead of dismissing praise as just your boss or colleague 'being nice', trust they are being sincere and you deserve it. 

"I think pausing to celebrate compliments and wins without any 'buts' has been a really big one for me," reflects Hannah. 

"I used to always jump into a compliment with what could be better next time. If I achieved something, I'd respond with a reason why I disagreed." 

It's much more likely your workplace hired you for good reasons than you somehow fooled them all into bringing you on, and it's easier to see that when meaningfully engaging with feedback.  "I used to think people had quite an exaggerated view of my abilities but I learned that feedback often comes with specific examples and it's really hard to downplay those facts to yourself," says Hannah. 

Imposter syndrome also isn't inherently negative, a little self-doubt can be an important catalyst for personal growth, as long as you keep those feelings of doubt in perspective. 

"It's improved my own self-awareness and brought my team closer together because as a leader I value collaboration and other people's opinions. I'm always learning and dealing with imposter syndrome has taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable," says Hannah.

Imposter syndrome might never go away completely but changing how we respond can keep it from affecting our work and personal life. 

Overall, Hannah's advice is simple, feel the fear but take the plunge anyway. 

"I feel like imposter syndrome will always be there and it will always kind of appear at certain times or moments, it's just figuring out how to manage it."

"If you're excited about an opportunity, companies would still like to hear from you even if you don't tick all the boxes, you should still go for jobs you're excited about."

Ready to find your dream job? Head on over to Trade Me Jobs now to start your search or read through the full results of their Employer & Job Hunter Intentions Spotlight for more information on the current market.

Article created in partnership with Trade Me.