Overcoming Impostor Syndrome as a Consultant


What is Impostor Syndrome?

The term ‘Impostor Syndrome’ was first used in a 1978 journal article by Georgia State University psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They used the term to describe the experiences of high-achieving women, who, despite their academic and professional accomplishments, “persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”[1]

Impostor Syndrome usually presents in the form of self-doubt or insecurity about one’s performance. Those who experience it tend to feel that their personal successes are a result of luck or fluke rather than genuine competence, that they are undeserving of praise, and fear that their ‘intellectual fraud’ will eventually be exposed.

As a (Young) Consultant

While Clance and Imes’ study focused on the experience of high-achieving women in particular, the feelings associated with Impostor Syndrome can affect anyone, at all stages of their career.

Despite this, certain aspects of Consulting as a career are particularly likely to provoke feelings of Impostor Syndrome. Consultants typically work on client engagements for a short period, during which they are expected to get up to speed with the complexities of the client organisation and start adding value from the outset. Further, consultants are often expected to justify their fees by demonstrating that they contribute a certain skillset or expertise the company currently lacks, which might cause them to place undue pressure on their own performance.

As a young Consultant starting my first client engagement, I often stopped myself from speaking up in meetings or expressing my opinion for fear of making a mistake or asking a ‘stupid’ question. Ironically, it was this fear of underperforming that ultimately had the greatest impact on my performance.

Read more about this on our website.