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Blog>Trends>How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect the Job Search Process? Job Seekers and Employers Weigh In

How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect the Job Search Process? Job Seekers and Employers Weigh In

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Key Points

  • One in 4 managers reported experiencing imposter syndrome.

  • Imposter syndrome caused job seekers to accept lower-than-expected pay.

  • 60% of employees with imposter syndrome worried about losing their job in the next six months.


Have you ever felt like an imposter in your professional life? Trust us, you’re not alone, and there’s actually a name for this feeling: imposter syndrome. A recent research publication by the University of St. Andrews describes the phenomenon as occurring when people “feel that their external markers of success are unwarranted, and fear being revealed as a fraud.” NFL coach Jerod Mayo expounded upon his own experiences with this mindset, explaining in a Forbes expose how he’s felt like an imposter ever since he can remember, and how he uses these feelings to become better.

Imposter syndrome is common in the job search process, and we wanted to know what exactly causes a candidate to hold back when applying to jobs in their field. How much was due to actual lack of eligible skills, and how much was a perceived lack of competence? How many people accepted being underpaid because they felt like a fraud during an interview?

Our survey asked over 800 job seekers and more than 200 employers a wide range of questions on the issue. The results were very telling, to say the least. A perceived lack of competence is causing many job seekers and existing employees to feel like a fraud or an imposter. This is true not just for the unemployed, but also for high-performing employees. Read on to find out what we uncovered.

Caught In Between the Top and the Bottom

To begin, we wanted to assess the correlation between various levels of employment and the experience of imposter syndrome. Our research revealed the top three industries experiencing imposter syndrome, while also suggesting that work location matters.

Infographic on imposter syndrome by type of employment

According to our survey, a quarter of managers or those in similar positions had experienced this particular kind of self-doubt. The percentages tapered off as we moved to upper and lower levels. Senior managers and executives had the lowest rates of imposter syndrome, but the disparity was very slight compared to the other end of the spectrum with entry-level employees. As managers were found to suffer from imposter syndrome the most, we decided to dive deeper and learn about their strategies when dealing with it.

Infographic on strategies managers use to combat imposter syndrome

We found that managers were working on owning their achievements, setting realistic goals, and reminding themselves of their achievements in order to combat their imposter syndrome. Building up confidence in their skills, and reminding them of their previous success can help to curb the feeling of inadequacy. Additionally, being kind to themselves was another strategy often used to help ensure that the imposter syndrome did not take over.

Percentages of employees on ways to combat imposter syndrome

When looking at gender differences, men were more likely than women to own their achievements and avoid self-criticism. On the other hand, women were more likely than men to set realistic goals for themselves to combat imposter syndrome.

Staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has made some people feel like a fraud at work. Since most people feel they are the only ones with these feelings, in addition to being alone in their remote workplaces, there is often a lack of social support that might otherwise naturally occur at offices or in other social settings.

Percentages of employees on losing or quitting their job

Furthermore, over 60% of those experiencing imposter syndrome were worried about losing their job, compared to 30.6% among those who weren’t experiencing this mindset. This could be due to the fact that those experiencing imposter syndrome were less confident in their job performances, and thus more worried about being let go.

More than 7 in 10 employees who felt imposter syndrome reported contemplating quitting their job in the next three months. The top industries reporting the highest number of people experiencing imposter syndrome — and therefore the sectors that may see a mass exodus in the near future — were education, health care, and information technology, respectively.

Top industries with employees that experience imposter syndrome

These industries are known for generating a large amount of information at a rapid rate and demand that professionals stay up-to-date while maintaining productivity, and continue doing so on a daily basis. This kind of pressure can often cause burnout.

Outside of those who are currently part of the workforce, we wondered about imposter syndrome’s impact on the actual job search. Respondents provided more insight into the depth of how self-doubt can alter the search process for individuals experiencing it.

From Imposter to Self-Saboteur

Our survey data indicates that individuals suffering from imposter syndrome are more likely to self-sabotage. More than half manifest this in various ways, such as using an outdated resume or canceling a scheduled job interview.

Infographic on job seekers with imposter syndrome reported feelings

A majority of employees experiencing imposter syndrome already felt its effects before starting a job. 64.2% of them felt unqualified for positions, and 59.3% believed that there would be more qualified candidates, keeping them from applying at all.

One way to combat any anxiety that can come from the uncertainty of how you stack up among other candidates in the hiring process is to simply ask, “How does my background compare to other candidates you’re interviewing?” That way, you can move forward in the interview process knowing which aspects of your background to emphasize. Asking hard-hitting, yet thoughtful, questions during your interview can set you apart from others and ​​help maintain realistic expectations for both the position as well as your ability.

But how about those forging ahead with the interview process? We were curious how imposter syndrome might affect these candidates and whether they exhibited any behavior patterns that made them less likely to succeed in landing a job.

Facing the Questions

The interview can often be the most challenging part of the job search process for individuals looking to make a good first impression. Moreover, this can be compounded by the feeling of being a fraud or under qualified.

Infographic on job seekers with imposter syndrome lying during interviews

Those experiencing imposter syndrome were twice as likely to be nervous during a job interview, and nearly 73% of those job seekers reported lying in their interviews, compared to only 45% of applicants not suffering from imposter syndrome.

If you experience negative feelings about your ability, it can translate into negative behavior such as lying about your experiences. However, a simple reference check could expose such lies, making it more likely that potential employers would not hire someone. Additionally, lying during a job interview could also lead someone to question their own skills, potentially keeping them from succeeding in their job search, or keeping them from reaching their full potential as an employee. Maintaining a positive attitude and sticking to the truth is essential for impressing a potential employer.

Impressing an employer is one thing, but actually getting the job is another. The data shows that all job seekers got a similar amount of job offers, whether they felt like imposters or not. However, over 64% of those with this mindset took an offer that was lower paying than they wanted, compared to roughly 46% of those without imposter syndrome.

It’s evident that imposter syndrome has the ability to instill such a negative attitude in the job seeker that they voluntarily receive lower pay as a result.

Extending a Helping Hand

Finally, we wanted to get a perspective from the opposite side of the table. We asked employers for their experience dealing with imposter syndrome. Have they noticed it in their employees? And if so, how have they chosen to address it?

Infographic on best measures to help employees with imposter syndrome

An overwhelming 71.1% of employers reported noticing signs of imposter syndrome in their high-performing employees. As discussed earlier, the objective success of the employee seems to make no impact on their inner belief about how competent they are at their job.

Most employers seem to respond to this situation by offering some form of support. The most common being praising the employee, followed by giving them more autonomy, offering check-in meetings, and allowing for flexible hours.

Almost 7 out of 10 employers also said they were more likely to hire someone if they were honest about gaps in their experience or skill set. This is another point to consider for those who find it difficult to speak up about their experiences in the job search process, whether it’s an actual lack of ability or simply a perceived deficiency.

It’s Acceptable to Be Human — Flaws Are OK

The data suggests that imposter syndrome is highly pervasive in the job market and seems to affect high-performing individuals more than others. The good news here is that almost all employers are ready to offer help somehow. After all, no one wants to lose a high-performer to self-doubt and burnout.

The reality is that competency is highly subjective, and honesty is a highly-valued attribute in an employer-employee relationship. Thus, job seekers can take heart knowing they don’t have to be a perfect fit to get hired, and employees are better off being true to who they are.

One of the best ways to ascertain how much is truly a fair market salary is to use the Joblist search function to look for jobs that mention salary ranges. We try to make the process as smooth and simple as possible! Choose from jobs in various industries across the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Mentioned In This Article

Methodology and Limitations

This report surveyed 806 job seekers and 204 employers. Efforts were made to create a sample demographic representing the real-world population accurately. Checks were in place to ensure questions were being understood before the respondents answered them. The survey asked attention-check questions to ensure proper engagement and accuracy of data.

Self-reported data have limitations that include, but are not limited to, selective memory and lying.

Fair Use Statement

We are making this information on imposter syndrome available to all for sharing. Do send this to your friends and family members so they might benefit from it. In return, all we ask is that you link back to this article whenever you share the information presented here and that your purposes are noncommercial in nature.

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