Imposter Syndrome at Work – Overcoming Fear

Mockup computer laptop on wooden table

In psychology, there’s a syndrome called Imposter Syndrome and it’s characterized by fear and self-doubt. Lately, I have been having a very personal relationship with feeling like a fraud and a lot of it comes from being afraid that I don’t know what I don’t know. And it’s a fear that is shared by many job seekers or career focused individuals.

At any given moment, HR has multiple laws that affect the practice and business. It starts at the Federal level where major laws are passed (these change rarely but every time there’s a change, it takes years to interpret the change), then you can California, the most “special” HR state laws, and just to make life more complicated, at the City-level we have San Francisco ordinances. Keeping up with the changes that are consistently coming out is like going to school for 4 years for computer science only to graduate to realize what you learned in school is obsolete.

That fear, prevents employees from achieving their full potential, from speaking up in a meeting, and from being willing to admit there are just things that they know.

How it Affects Blogging

When I first started this blog, I treated it as something that needed articles that needed the most accurate information every moment. Am I able to deliver on that promise? Probably not… I’m still early on in my career, about 7 years in. There will always and forever be things that I don’t know. And I think that’s the beauty of being where I am, I can finally admit that I don’t know something. So instead of fearing that there’s something I don’t know, I can finally admit that I don’t know it and go looking for answers.

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned this past year, starting a new position is there are a million things I don’t know. Which HR person of seven years knows straight off the bat, all the IRS definitions of fringe benefits? Nobody (and please don’t tell me if you do, it will just make me feel bad). IRS and taxes are primarily a Finance issue with a little bit of crossover into HR. In small companies though, there is definitely overlap especially if you are wearing multiple hats.

Feeling Like an Imposter Too?

So, what do you do if you feel like you are dealing with imposter syndrome?

The first step is to identify if there are areas of weakness where you are not completely informed.

For example, if you’re working in HR and you feel like you don’t know all of the 2018 laws that were passed, do a quick scan of online blogs and resources to see if any of the information sounds familiar. And if you identify that there’s an area you’re weak in, go to a conference, take a class, read a book on the subject, or seek guidance from a professional.

After identifying the weakness, seek more information, there is a wealth of information out there that is available for HR professionals.

Feel like you’re missing some crucial information about benefits? Ask a fellow HR professional, attend a conference/workshop, or consult an insurance broker.

Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and say, “I don’t know this, but I will figure it out”

Pitfalls to Avoid

Guessing the Answer – One of the things I’ve learned early on (especially working in insurance), is if you don’t know something, don’t pretend you have the answer. Say you don’t know, and then go look for the answer. Giving your boss the wrong information could be worse than saying “I don’t know, let me go find out.” And if you give someone the wrong information, it reflects badly on you as a professional and it weakens their trust that you’ll provide the correct answer next time.

It Wasn’t Me Syndrome – Made a mistake, be like the Robinsons and “Keep Moving Foward” because everyone makes a mistake. Own your mistake and take steps to rectify the situation, then make sure that the same mistake never happens again. A lot of new professionals are scared to make mistakes. Don’t be! Make the mistake but learn from it.

Never Asking for Help/Feedback – Sometimes the project is too large in scope. Get feedback on it. Sometimes people who are viewing it from a different perspective will be able to provide a different view of why things should be done a certain way. For example, if you’re implementing a leave policy, why not talk to someone who’s gone on leave to see what information they felt was lacking. Incorporate that feedback will make your leave policies that much more helpful for the employee.

My Mistake

I’ve been captivated by a million things every day of what I could do, should do, and how a blog should be written. I think it’s time to put that aside and actually start writing and I’m hoping that all of you (my dear readers) will help educate me on my mistakes along the way. Here’s to overcoming imposter syndrome!

But what do I know? I’m…

~Just the HR Girl