PAs and EAs, do you suffer from imposter syndrome in the workplace?

Workplace insights and culture
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Updated 12/6/2020

If you’ve ever looked around your workplace and thought ‘I really don’t belong here’, it’s possible that you’ve experienced something called imposter syndrome. It first appeared in the 1970’s and is now a broad term to describe when both men and women don’t believe they’re worthy of their professional standing.

Carole Ann Rice, one of the UK’s leading confidence coaches, explains that, “feeling like an imposter stems from a lack of confidence in your abilities, which can make you feel like you don’t belong in the workplace next to your colleagues”. She goes on to explain that it might be more usual than most people think: “It’s a common feeling, and can manifest in a person becoming closed-off and unhappy at work, which may further isolate you from those you work with.”

For business support staff, regardless of whether you’re in a senior executive assistant job, a personal assistant job or you’re a part-time receptionist, this feeling may come from a lack of confidence in your abilities when you compare yourself to those you support. If you’re the only assistant in the office, this can exacerbate the feeling, as there isn’t anyone else in a similar role for you to turn to for reassurance. As confidence is really important in making you resilient in the face of challenges or unexpected issues from your principal (as well as ensuring you’re able to hold your own in this client-facing role), it’s a good idea to work on any negative feelings or self-doubt.

As Carole Ann describes, “working on your confidence through practical steps can be the key to breaking this vicious cycle”, so if you think you might be suffering from imposter syndrome, we’ve put together a few strategies to combat these negative thoughts.

Recognise the feeling

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is recognising that you’re experiencing it in the first place. If you’ve just started in a workplace, it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed with the role. However, if those feelings turn from nervous jitters to serious self-doubt about your capabilities, it’s possible that you’ve moved into imposter syndrome territory.

Reframe your thoughts

The only difference between someone who experiences imposter syndrome and someone who doesn’t is the way they think about themselves. It has nothing to do with intelligence or ability! A great place to start is to analyse negative thoughts and actively try to turn them into a positive. Repeating a personal mantra is a great tool to changing your thought patterns too. By reiterating to yourself that you’re good enough, capable enough and smart enough to carry out your role successfully, you will inspire that belief in yourself and others. Thinking positively can help you out of any terrifying situation, whether it’s giving a presentation or networking with a room of strangers!

Woman with her head in her hands next to a laptop

Don’t take criticism to heart

Try to view constructive criticism as a positive thing, rather than a reinforcement of your incompetence. For example, if your principal asks you to pay more attention to detail when booking meetings, don’t interpret this as them doubting your ability as an assistant. These conversations are all part of the learning process, which allow you to grow in the long term.

Ask for help if you need it

If you feel like you don’t deserve your role, you may find it impossible to ask for help when you need it. Being unsure at work will mean that your colleagues will surely find out you’re a fraud, right? Wrong! It’s so important to recognise that even the most capable people in the office will ask questions. Your co-workers will be grateful that you’ve clarified the issue, otherwise the misunderstanding may have become a problem in the future. In fact, your colleagues won’t even give it a second thought. Remember, putting in the time to improve your weakest skills or areas will play a significant role in your day-to-day confidence.

Fake it ‘til you make it

This is a tried and true piece of advice, for good reason! It’s amazing the power the brain has in tricking itself into feeling more confident when you need it most. For example, you can actively pretend to be a more confident version of yourself in a nerve-wracking situation. It may seem silly, but your illusion of confidence will put others’ minds at ease, and in turn, your own.

Work on your body language

It may seem silly, but practising a strong walk will help you feel confident and powerful as you go about your day. To start, look at yourself in front of a mirror, making sure your posture is straight, your head is up, and your shoulders back. Then, practise striding across the room with purpose. Walking into the office or meeting room with strong body language and a smile will not only give you a boost of confidence, but it will also make other people see you as someone they can trust to get the job done, creating a positive feedback loop.

Share your successes with others

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than the validation you receive from your co-workers and friends. By letting them know you recently accomplished something you’re proud of, they will likely join in congratulating you for an excellent effort. You will therefore feel so much more confident in completing your next tricky task with the support from those around you.

Confidence is key

Carole Ann explains that, “imposter syndrome is really self-doubt as you compare yourself unfavourably to others and feel you’re lacking. When you understand that most people feel this way, you can then trust your own unique skills and grow your confidence.” So, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one who feels this way! Instead, take advantage of the fact that no one has your individual skills and experience. Whether it’s your bubbly personality when talking to clients of your principal, your intuition when completing a coffee order, or your creativity when putting together new office processes, your uniqueness is what makes you an asset to the team.

At Tiger, we know just how much time and consideration has gone into the recruitment of business support staff, so believe us when we say that it wasn’t just good luck that landed you the role! You were most likely hired because you’re fully capable of completing the job, and should feel confident in your ability to do so.

Tiger publishes regular workplace insights to help you with every aspect of your work life. If you need help finding a job in London, submit your details online today to start your job search!

Rebecca Siciliano Author Rebecca Siciliano Tiger Recruitment Team

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