Last night at Hotels.com we hosted a panel event, with Circle Community, to discuss ‘Imposter Syndrome’. The reason we picked this topic is it is something that most people have experienced at one time, especially women. We thought this was a good opportunity to talk about it in a public forum and allow the community to share experiences and practical tips!
‘Imposter Syndrome’ most certainly doesn’t just affect women and that’s why we wanted to ensure we had a diverse panel for the discussion. The panel included Sally Shepard, iOS Tech manager at Hotels.com, Nik Crabtree, Principal Engineer at ASOS, Aurelie de Sainte Preuve, Chief Product Officer at SeenIt, Andrew White, General Assembly Instructor and Joana Wang, Data Engineer. This impressive panel was pinned together by a fantastic moderator who is an expert on ‘Imposter Syndrome’ — Kate Atkin. She ensured that as well as hearing about the experiences of the panel the audience also had practical advice to take away.
So why is ‘Imposter Syndrome’ the topic of the moment and what is it. Kate Atkin pointed out that technically it is a phenomenon not a syndrome. It can cause extreme anxiety. And it is not self doubt — the difference here is the person feeling the phenomenon has evidence of past success.
Kate started off the discussion by asking the panel to introduce themselves and share where they have experienced ‘imposter syndrome’. EVERY panellist had.. Andrew spoke of sleepless nights while he was at Google aged 25, Aurelie said she was experiencing it right then by being on the panel, Sally said she battled with it a lot in her career as often only women in the room. And my favourite example was Joana, who was in her 2nd day in a job as a Data Engineer, previously a Strategy Consultant — never been an engineer before! What a great story to start the evening with!
From the discussion it seemed a common time for people to have ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is when they are starting a new role or joining a new company. Aurelie said whenever she has changed jobs in the first 6 months she has always felt a need to prove they were right to hire her. It’s not just when starting a new role this can occur, Sally spoke of when she was interviewing and she was scared of completing a technical test even though she had prior success as a Developer. Sally’s advice before interviews is to focus on your previous achievements and be ready to share. And once you have got the job — remember you were also hired because of your potential.
A desire to be perfect is a sign of ‘imposter syndrome’ as it is showcasing the feeling of not wanting to get caught out as an ‘imposter’. Sally shared that she feels this when something seems too easy, so she spends longer to make it perfect as surely something can’t be that easy?! Along with the strive for perfection, procrastination can also be a sign of ‘imposter syndrome’. Putting things off as they seem too hard and then blaming that they had [JP1] to do last minute or didn’t put 100% in.
It seemed that most of our panellists had at times felt fear at the idea of failing and scared to ask for help. However from their experiences both Joana and Nik said how important it was to ask questions. Often it is the fear of how someone will react that stops you asking, but you don’t know how they will react. In fact Nik said to be asked is a privilege. Asking is not a weakness it’s an opportunity for someone else. Sally backed this up with failure is an important part of growing as a person. When you fail you should learn and its important to keep learning.
Questions from the audience brought out the importance of having a good manager and getting feedback — both positive and constructive. Most of the panellists said they found it difficult to hear good feedback and always focused on the negative. Common ways to respond to good feedback started with ‘yes but..’. Instead make sure you spend as much time reading the good feedback as the bad and why not have a happy email folder where you store all the good feedback you receive — something great to look back on when the ‘imposter syndrome’ is creeping in.
In terms of a good manager, there are always going to be times in your career when you don’t have a good manager but don’t let this stop your development. Find someone else in your company or industry who can offer you what your manager can’t — someone you can draw from like a mentor (great point to plug our next event Mentor/Mentee Speed Dating). And as a manger how do you deal with a team member who is experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’, Andrew shared his advice — don’t tell them ‘you will be fantastic’, this just adds more pressure. Reflect on their successes together. The panel also emphasised on creating a sharing, transparent culture where people can be vulnerable. Even if this isn’t the case for the whole organisation, there is no reason why you can’t create this for your team/department.
So what are my main takeaways from the panel? Learn the art of asking, take on feedback (both good and bad), and accept that sometimes you may feel ‘Imposter Syndrome’, but it’s just a temporary state of mind. Take a step back and don’t let it affect your day-to-day.