The Imposter Syndrome: Why Singapore office ladies can feel like 'work frauds'

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Each time marketing manager Valerie* is tasked with a big project at work, she thinks: “Oh no, they think I’m good enough to do this.” Three years into the job, she still doubts herself – never mind that she’s received good appraisals.

When she’s told to make changes to a project, she berates herself for not getting it right from the start. And when she pulls off a project brilliantly, she calls it a fluke and thinks: “There’s nothing to be proud of. My colleagues could have done the project equally well.”

She even dreads receiving new assignments. The 26-year-old admits: “I’m confi dent on the outside, but deep down, I’m super-insecure.”

It’s called: imposter syndrome A Her World poll of 50 women showed that 34 per cent of them experience what psychologists call “imposter syndrome” half the time at work. This refers to the persistent self-doubt that causes you to question your abilities.

Jane*, a 27-year-old sustainability adviser who took our survey, says: “I work with a group of unbelievably talented, intelligent and passionate people… which makes me wonder how I got hired.” New manager Josephine*, 27, feels most insecure when briefing her team.

“I don’t have the paper qualifications and was promoted even though I didn’t have a lot of experience,” she shares.

Elsewhere, Heather*, 23, a market analyst, admits that she feels so out of her depth when advising clients that she sometimes googles for the answers she needs. “I don’t have the experience to back up what I’m saying … Plus, I feel like such a fraud when I present what I found online as my own ideas!”

This psychological phenomenon tends to come about when you experience a change in your working conditions. “For instance, if you’ve started a new job or have a new boss,” says Chris Mead, regional director of recruiting experts Hays Singapore.

Often, these feelings stem from negative beliefs we have about our abilities, instead of any real incompetence, says personal excellence coach Celestine Chua. For instance, you may feel that you lack the know-how to do your job. But the reality is that no one enters a job fully prepared – everyone learns along the way.

The problem? When you let these feelings sabotage your career. For instance, 30 per cent of the women we surveyed avoid challenging projects at work half the time because they don’t feel up to it. Th is, however, sends your bosses the message that you lack initiative or skills, and they’re less likely to offer you such opportunities next time, says Celestine.

Even fewer women – a miserable 16 per cent, to be precise – would ask their bosses for feedback to see if their fears are founded. If you constantly feel like a fraud, identify the triggers and decide if they are truly a cause for concern.

Here are solutions to four instances where that “fraud feeling” is most likely to hit.

1. “I’m not qualified for this job. I didn’t get the ‘right’ degree.”
Reality check: You didn’t get your job by luck, or because the hiring manager liked you. “It’s not all about paper qualifi cations or experience. Other ‘soft’ skills like your personality, situational and emotional quotients, also play an important role,” says Celestine.

When we focus on our limits, we often forget what we’re good at. Make a list of your strengths and put this in a prominent place such as your work cubby or on your desktop screen to motivate yourself.

Says Amanda*, 28, a civil servant: “I always praise myself when something is done well. When things go wrong, I try not to blame myself but focus on what I could have done diff erently.”

2. “I’m the weakest link in my team. Everyone else is a high-flier!”
Don’t be threatened by stellar colleagues. Learn from them. Observe how they think and work, and pick their brains – how do they deal with difficult clients? Benchmark your work against theirs.

Janice*, 26, a marketing officer, has this tip: “I’m the youngest and least experienced in my team, but I make up for that by reading through the fi les that previous employees left behind and observing my colleagues closely. I also ask them lots of questions.”

3. “I honestly think that my work sucks.”
Drill down and figure out what your weaknesses are. Start by getting feedback from your colleagues. For instance, if you feel that you are a terrible public speaker, ask the people who have seen you give presentations which specific areas you need to improve in.

Rope in your supervisor as well; tell her that you would benefi t from regular performance appraisals – this is a more professional way of seeking help, rather than admitting that you feel insecure, says Chris.

4. “I feel so shallow and uninformed when I go for networking sessions.”
Make it a habit to keep track of the trends and developments in your industry, whether you do this by attending conferences or reading reports, so you are constantly updated about what’s going on. And if your company offers professionaldevelopment courses, sign up for as many as you can. This way, your technical skills and know-how will be up to par.

*Not their real names

57 per cent of women feel insecure when working with more experienced colleagues.
47 per cent are anxious when they are assigned a project or new responsibilities.
24 per cent routinely describe their accomplishments as a “fluke” and “no big deal”, or put them down to people “liking” them.

** based on a Her World poll of 50 women

This story was originally published in Her World magazine March 2015.