The imposters in our midst: How to spot an office fraudster

By Jim Bright

There has been a lot written over the years about imposter syndrome. It’s the old uncertain feeling that you do not belong where you are, and you do not deserve any accolades chucked in your general direction. You feel unworthy, and that circumstances have contrived to put you in a position for which you are not qualified or deserving.

An imposter may mask their lack of skills with supreme confidence.
An imposter may mask their lack of skills with supreme confidence.Credit:iStock

I suffer from imposter envy. This is the feeling of being overlooked for the role of imposter. It is the feeling I’d make a great imposter if I was given half a chance. I am still waiting for the opportunity to blag my way into the Australian cricket team. I met Justin Langer in Willie the Boatman brewery a week or two back. Just imagine the possibilities if that meeting had happened a couple of years ago when he was calling the shots. But my timing in life, like my timing with a cricket racquet, was decidedly off. I maintain my imposter envy in the realm of cricket.

Far more interesting than those who suffer from imposter syndrome, are those who suffer from the abbreviated variation – they are simply imposters. I wonder how a person who suffers from imposter syndrome would react after sharing their fears, to being told they had very good, indeed impeccable grounds for believing they are an imposter?

There was a recent news story about a doctor who had been practising their speciality for years around the country before the authorities twigged their CV was a tissue of lies. You might think the game was up for the imposter due a rapidly growing body count. But no, the good doctor merrily applied the pink ointment for years before a pen pusher or mouse clicker got around to doing the due diligence. I heard of another case of an imposter doctor in the UK who did not get struck off for 40 years, and then all of his patients protested about losing their excellent local GP!

Perhaps because medicine is a bit more life and death than middle managers (though I could name a few managers that made death seem an inviting prospect), we hear less often of the imposter managers. However, I bet dear reader, that you could name a few screaming fraudsters who have held the clipboard around your parts.

The trouble is, given the generally dire state of managers, it can be a tricky business separating the utterly incompetent wheat from the imposter chaff. This is especially tricky when you are confronted by the blithely incompetent. Those who attached their self-esteem by mistake to a mattress inflator as a child and forgot to ever switch it off come to mind. They are so overinflated, that you could knock them down with a bendy bus, and they’d spring back up again.

You’d think that being an imposter would require an element of intentionality. You must have something of the schemer, or at least the opportunist about you. Having some sociopathic tendencies including a complete indifference to the havoc you may wreak on others probably would come in handy too. These imposters are not only no fun, they are downright dangerous.


The imposters who are the best fun, are those that simply have no insight into their complete unsuitability for the role, and no sense that they arrived through sheer dumb luck. Everyone around them is in on the secret, but nobody wants to give up the game because their next move might be the most hilarious thing you will ever experience at work. So let’s take a moment to celebrate the least celebrated at work, the implicit imposter.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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