A person with impostor syndrome does not see themselves as a skilled or able person – even though they be managing their work and life just fine.
A person with the impostor syndrome feels they are incompetent and a fraud. They are riddled with the fear of being caught out at any moment, and that others will see they are not as proficient, clever, or skilled as they first thought. They believe that others think too highly of them.
The “impostor phenomenon” is the crippling feeling of self-doubt, intellectual inadequacy, and anticipated failure that haunts people who attribute their success to luck or help from others rather than their own abilities (Nelson, 2011). These feelings, often undetected by others, manifest as anxiety, self-deprecation, or an irrational fear of failure in light of previous success. (Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah, 2002; Langford & Clance, 1993; Leary, Patton, Orlando, & Frank, 2000).
The Impostor Syndrome is a Common Phenomenon
The impostor syndrome is perhaps better described as a phenomenon. It first came to light in the 1970s when psychologists Clance and Imes interviewed 150 successful women. The interviews revealed that in spite of their success, the women did not feel successful at all.
Clance and Imes started to call these feelings of being a fraud ‘the impostor phenomenon’ and it has since been widely discussed and studied. The research has shown that:
- The phenomenon affects both men and women alike.
- About 70% of all people recognise having it
- From my own mini-research, it seems 85% of developers have experienced it.
- It is most common during transitional phases of our lives (e.g., at the start of our careers, a new project, or a new job).
- It is particularly common in creative and new developing fields (such as technology).
- It is affected by experiences had in childhood and young adulthood.
- It is a feeling, so it is possible to change it or even get rid of it completely.
Do I Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome?
At least four different tests for this have been developed: the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIP), the Harvey Impostor Phenomenon Scale (HIP), the Perceived Fraudulence Scale (PFS) and the Leary Impostorism Scale (LIS). According to a 2019 survey, all four of these have their shortcomings and none of them can be considered as completely problem-free.
For my own questionnaire, I used the Clance test, because it is freely available and the most commonly used. I also got feedback from developers that the questions were rather ambiguous, and did not tally with their own experience of the impostor phenomenon.
This is why I cannot claim that the CIP will provide a clear answer as to whether or not you suffer from the impostor syndrome, but it will give you some kind of an idea and, as such, might be a useful tool for self-reflection. So if you want to find out where you are on the scale, there’s nothing to stop you from taking the test.
And even if there’s no longer a prize to win for it, you can still take part in answering my questionnaire, which aimed to find out how common the phenomenon is among developers.
Hoang, Queena (2013) “The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming Internalized Barriers and Recognizing Achievements” The Vermont Connection: Vol. 34 , Article 6.
Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993) ”The impostor phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 30(3), 495.
Mak KKL, Kleitman S and Abbott MJ (2019) ”Impostor Phenomenon Measurement Scales: A Systematic Review” Front. Psychol. 10:671.
Young, Valerie (2011) ”The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It”