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Identifing and Solving for Imposter Syndrome in Early Career New Hires

Imposter Syndrome is a common experience from the new hire level all the way up the executive suite - eliciting a feeling of inadequacy or inability to do the job you’re expected to do. For professionals just launching their careers, Imposter Syndrome can be paralyzing; the associated feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can make it difficult for new hires to fully embrace their role and take on new challenges which then impacts the entire organization. Let’s dive into how to notice Imposter Syndrome, how to help an employee struggling with it, and how you can curb the worst of it before it happens!

The first step to identifying and solving Imposter Syndrome is to recognize the symptoms.  Common signs include: feeling like a fraud, downplaying accomplishments, self-critiquing, and harboring fears of being exposed as unqualified. Unfortunately, many employees might not have the tools or awareness to communicate these feelings to their manager, especially early on in their role. You may not be able to see into your employee’s head, but you can pay attention to their behavior. Some telltale signs that they might be feeling the burn of imposter syndrome:

  • Struggling to accept praise
  • Hesitance when describing their role or title to others
  • Excessive perfectionism
  • Overthinking simple tasks
  • Downplaying their abilities to team members

It’s tempting to think of Imposter Syndrome as something to solve, but realistically, the situation might require attention and work from both employee and manager. Here are a few key strategies to try:

  1. Face-to-Face Communication: If you’re concerned a new hire is struggling, start by getting regular 1-on-1’s on the books! A weekly cadence builds trust and accountability, and provides the professional with the ideal setting to open up about what’s on their mind. 
  1. Use your meetings to provide early career new hires with regular, clear and specific feedback. Giving them actionable feedback on their performance and acknowledging their progress at regular intervals can help them to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Not sure how to balance constructive feedback and praise? Try a compliment sandwich! Start the conversation by calling out something your employee is doing successfully to inspire confidence, then dive into something you’d like to work on with them. End on a positive note, to help them feel excited and capable of improving.  
  1. Another way to help early career new hires overcome Imposter Syndrome is to encourage them to seek out new challenges and opportunities. Nothing helps a professional feel more confident than the sense of accomplishment that comes with owning a big project, creating a high-impact deliverable, or helping a peer learn something they are skilled at. Another way to support active confidence building is by encouraging professionals to set realistic goals that directly connect to the role at hand, versus overly ambitious goals that will stress them out. In our Accelerate training, we provide new hires with the resources they need to set company-forward, confidence building goals that are within their scope. 
  1. Finally, it's important to remind early career new hires that everyone experiences some level of self-doubt and insecurity from time to time. It's normal to feel like an imposter at times, and it's important to acknowledge this and to remind them that these feelings are not unique to them. Try sharing a horror story from the start of your first full time job, or connect them to coworkers who might be able to mentor them and make the process feel less daunting. 

Imposter Syndrome is a common part of starting a new role, but you can limit its effects before it becomes a problem by working to create an actively inclusive and supportive work environment. Call out your employees’ big wins. Foster company culture, and include your new hires in the conversation. Ask for their perspectives in meetings, and make sure they know that their perspective is valuable and unique. Try to remember how challenging it was to launch your role, and approach your new hires with the same empathy. When these practices are the norm, new employees have the best chance of functioning at full confidence and engagement. 

Watch our CEO, Allie Danziger speak on how to deal with imposter syndrome with young professionals