What are the main causes of imposter syndrome?

Apr 23, 2022

Imposter syndrome is thought to stem from our childhood experiences, our feelings of not being good enough, feelings of unworthiness. This post is not about going back to our childhood, it’s about the kinds of things that can trigger these imposter feelings in us.

Imposter Syndrome Triggers

Returning to work

Returning to work after a long period of absence - which can be for various reasons like returning from maternity leave, sickness leave, unemployment, travel, caring for relatives - is one of the biggest triggers of imposter syndrome. We feel like things have moved on without us and we no longer belong where we once did, or are no longer capable of doing a job we previously excelled in.

I recently wrote a blog all about this, you can find it here.

New job

Starting a new job can be another trigger. Maybe you’re not getting the support you need from your boss, or you completely doubt your own abilities, the abilities of the HR team/ hiring manager and feel you completely bluffed your way into this new role (unless you lied on your CV and interviews, this is not the case!).

Some people try to ‘escape’ from imposter feelings by resigning and starting another role in a new company, seeing this as a way out. But the feelings usually surface again.

Remember, when starting a new job you’re not expected to know everything straight away. Give yourself some time to learn, ask for support where you need it, and choose to believe they made the right choice by hiring you.

Also, don’t let the fact that you don’t satisfy all the criteria stop you from applying for a new job. Women tend to not apply even if they have 9/10 criteria satisfied, while men who have 6/10 think they can learn the rest on the job!


Sometimes we can stop ourselves from going for a promotion if we feel like an imposter in our current role. In some cases, receiving a promotion can silence our inner critic, safe in the knowledge that we deserve the success. But mostly, and for women especially, our imposter feelings can be exacerbated. We sense there is an even bigger gap between where we are and where we think we should be, performance-wise.

Trust that whoever promoted you made the right decision. There will always be a period of adjustment starting a new role. You didn’t get to where you are because of luck, and they didn’t have anyone else for the job. You’re where you are today because of what you did yesterday and all the other yesterdays.

First time manager

One of the biggest changes in anyone’s career is when they become a manager for the first time. Suddenly you go from being an individual contributor, to being responsible for other people’s deliverables, development and personal stuff. These days, it seems to be the holy grail of “making it”; what most people aspire to for the prestige and pay packet associated with it.

Perhaps you’re leading people who were formerly your peers, maybe they’re giving you grief and hassle and making your work-life hell. Stand your ground, don’t let them get to you, this time is tough but it will pass.

There’s nothing like this to feel like we are playing dress-up, that we’re totally out of our depth, and we look around the room to find the ‘adult’. Hint: you are the adult!

Being a first time manager is really tough. You will definitely feel like you’re swimming against the current. But the best way to learn is by making mistakes. Be open and vulnerable and honest about what’s going on for you. Ask for support where you need it, whether it be resources or additional training.


All of the above have one thing in common - some sort of change has happened, and change makes us uncomfortable. Whether it’s a new role or a new project, the shift we feel can give rise to feelings of not belonging, like we’re out of our depth and total imposters.


At times there are environmental causes to use feeling a sense of imposterism. Are you a woman working in a male dominated industry, or a mostly-male leadership team. Any sort of under-represented groups can feel like outsiders, like they don’t belong, and this can cause feelings of imposter syndrome.

Great strides have been made to identify and address this type of issues in the workplace. But acknowledge whether you really feel like you’re not capable of doing the job, or if it’s the pressure of being “the only one in the room” and that you’re representing your entire group, that makes you feel like an imposter. Get support from mentors and sponsors at work, and other representative groups outside of work.


Can you think of any more imposter syndrome triggers? Is there anything you would add to the list?


If you want to know more about identifying, managing and overcoming imposter syndrome, join my Imposter to Empowered® programme. Find out more here.

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