Jana Flemming MSc Management
The Imposter Phenomenon (IP) is known to affect many individuals in career-related contexts. Simultaneously user numbers on the professional social networking site (SNS) LinkedIn are increasing. However, little is known about imposter feelings within the context of SNS. This study is the first to investigate the intersection between these two phenomena to provide an understanding.
There are few people who have reached any degree of success or seniority in their careers who haven't also felt the occasional gnawing sense that they don't deserve their position, that others overestimate their abilities, and that they are going to be 'found out' at any moment.
Kelly, 2022

The typical characteristics of the Imposter Syndrome, or the Imposter Phenomenon (IP), are what Kelly[1] described – the belief of fooling others, not internalising success, and the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Indeed, almost three-quarters of the population will experience feelings of being an imposter in their life.[2] Imposter feelings arise within career-related contexts.[3] However, little is known about the IP within online career-related contexts. Therefore, this study responds to the call by Bratava et al.[4] by shedding light on the IP within the professional social networking site (SNS) LinkedIn.

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn is the world's largest professional SNS, with more than 830 million users worldwide.[5] A forecast by Degenhard[6] claimed that by 2025, there will be above one billion (1,034) LinkedIn users. Because of its omnipresent idealised self-promotional content, Van Dijck[7] called it 'Facebook in a suit'. This study suggests that seeing others succeeding on LinkedIn leads to self-comparison rather than social comparison with others. The Self-Discrepancy Theory by Higgins[8] examined that individuals are motivated that their actual self-concept meets their self-guide. Since Badawy et al.[9] said that imposters suffer chronic self-discrepancies about their competencies, the researcher indicates that self-discrepancies might lead to insecurities about competencies, which causes imposter feelings. Thus, this study will explore the relationship between self-discrepancies and the IP as the first research aim.

The researcher proposes that LinkedIn might act as a dysfunctional environment due to its idealised self-promotional content and triggers the IP. Only one quantitative study focused on the effects of ideal career posts on LinkedIn[10]; however, the authors made no connections to the IP. Previous scholars mainly elaborated on the positive and adverse effects of consuming idealised posts on Instagram or Facebook.[11] Since results were contradictory, Appel, Gerlach, and Crusius[12] call for an in-depth exploration of emotional consequences. Similarly, Krasanova et al.[13] recommend focusing on a professional SNS. This reinforces the importance of exploring the emotional consequences of consuming idealised self-promotional content on LinkedIn as the second research.

Furthermore, Mandel et al.[14] elaborated that users engage in self-regulated compensatory IT-use behaviour to compensate for their negative feelings. As previous literature lacks an understanding of imposters' behavioural outcomes after consuming ideal content on LinkedIn, this study will explore this as the third research aim.


This study has four main contributions to scholarly literature. Firstly, the researcher contributes that a relationship exists between a high self-discrepancy (actual/own versus ideal/own) and the IP due to not having reached the self-guide, which causes insecurities about capabilities. When succeeding, individuals cannot believe it was due to their abilities as they have not yet met their ideal standard. Therefore, they consider themselves a fraud and do not internalise their success – typical characteristics of the IP. Hence, it is crucial for academics to consider the Self-Discrepancy Theory[15] as a key concept for understanding the IP.

Secondly, this study explored the emotional consequences of consuming idealised self-promotional content on LinkedIn and found that idealised-self promotional content leads to self-comparison with the self-guide, and thus, positive and adverse effects. In line with previous scholars, the researcher found symhedonia, dejection-related feelings, and anxiety.[16] This study extends previous scholars[17] and contributes that pride, determination, virtue signalling, and the IP are further emotional consequences. In addition, it extends the literature reviewed by finding that emotions are less favourable and feelings imposter-ish after consuming acquaintances' posts due to not knowing about drawbacks and efforts. Hence, future scholars need to consider relational closeness in understanding emotional consequences after consuming idealised career depictions on LinkedIn.

Thirdly, the researcher contributes that LinkedIn intensifies the self-discrepancy between actual/own versus ideal/own as its idealised self-promotional content constantly reminded participants of missing capabilities. In addition, it shapes capability perceptions and feelings of being a fraud. Subsequently, individuals with the IP experience severe imposter feelings while using LinkedIn, while non-imposters do not feel imposter-ish. However, the medium-imposters would feel imposter-ish if they used LinkedIn more. With these findings, the researcher extends Feenstra et al[18], who stated that a dysfunctional social environment only causes the IP. Likewise, this study extends previous literature on the IP[19] Clance and Imes, 1978; Krasanova et al., 2015; Bratava et al., 2020; Grubb and Grubb, 2020) by contributing an in-depth understanding of the IP within the professional SNS LinkedIn. Consequently, this study contributes that LinkedIn acts as a dysfunctional environment and triggers imposter feelings if individuals experience the IP outside of LinkedIn or use it intensively.

Lastly, the researcher contributes that LinkedIn users engage in escapism, self-completion, direct resolution, and dissociation to compensate for feeling imposter-ish and other adverse effects. Therewith, this study extends Mandel et al., Marder et al., and Marder et al.[20], who did not consider behavioural consequences of imposters within their studies.

By using an associative technique (namely, planet LinkedIn), which provided novel and rich insights, this study contributes to the knowledge of imposter feelings while using LinkedIn, behavioural consequences, and other emotional consequences as well as the IP more generally and its relationship with self-discrepancies (actual/own versus ideal/own). This study is the first to investigate the IP in an online career-related context and thereby answers the call by Bratava et al.[21] Likewise, the researcher responds to the call by Appel, Gerlach, and Crusius and Krasanova et al.[22] by contributing an in-depth understanding of the differences in emotional consequences after consuming idealised self-promotional content on professional SNS. Consequently, this study answers its three research aims and extends previous literature with four main contributions.


[1] Kelly, J. (2022). 'We all need to stop talking about imposter "syndrome"', Financial Times, 2 June.

[2] Gravois, J. (2007). 'You're not fooling anyone', The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(11), p. A1.

[3] Clance, P. R. and Imes, S.A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), pp. 241-247.

[4] Bratava, D. M., Watts, S.A., Keefer, A.L., Madhusudhan, D.K., Taylor, K.T., Clark, D.M., Nelson, R.S., Cokley, K.O., and Hagg, H.K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Review, Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), pp. 1252-1275.

[5] LinkedIn Inc. (2022a). About LinkedIn. LinkedIn Inc (2022b). LinkedIn company profile.

[6] Degenhard, J. (2021). Forecast of the number of LinkedIn users in the World from 2017 to 2025.

[7] Dijck Van, J. (2013). "You have one identity": performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn, Media, Culture & Society, 35(2), pp. 199-215.

[8] Higgins, E. T.(1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect', Psychological Review, 94(3), pp. 319-340.

[9] Badawy, R. L., Gazdag, B. A., Bentley, J. R., and Brouer, R. L. (2018). Are all impostors created equal? Exploring gender differences in the impostor phenomenon-performance link', Personality and Individual Differences, 131(1), pp. 156-163.

[10] Marder, B., Oliver, S., Lavertu, L., Cowan, K., and Javornik, A. (2022) The hustle is real: Examination of the self-related consequences of computer-mediated consumption of idealised content on LinkedIn, Unpublished.

[11] Haferkamp, N. and Krämer, N. (2010) Social Social Comparison 2.0: Examining the Effects of Online Profiles on Social-Networking Sites', Cyberpschology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, 14(5), pp. 309-314.
Chou, H. G. and Edge, N.(2012) "They are happier and having better lives than I am": The impact of using Facebook on perceptions of other's lives', Cyberpschology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, 15(2), pp. 117-142.
Taylor, D.G. and Strutton, D. (2015) 'Does Facebook usage lead to conspicuous consumption? The role of envy, narcissism, and self-promotion', Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 10(3), pp. 231-248.
Appel, H., Gerlach, A. L., and Crusius, J. (2016) The interplay between Facebook use, social comparison, envy, and depression. Netherlands: Elsevier Science.
Liu, J., Li, C., Carcioppolo, N., and North, M.(2016) 'Do our Facebook friends make us feel worse? A study of social comparison and emotion', Human Communication Research, 42(4), pp. 619-640.
Robinson, L., Prichard, I., Nikolaidis, A., Drummond, C., Drummond,M., and Tiggemann, M. (2017) Idealised media images: The effect of fitspiration imagery on body satisfaction and exercise behaviour, Body Image, 22, pp. 65-71.
De Vries, D.A., Möller, M.A., Wieringa, M.S., Eigenraam, A.W., and Hamelink, K. (2018) Social comparison as the thief of joy: Emotional consequences of viewing strangers’ Instagram posts, Media Psychology, 21(2), pp. 222-245.
Marder, B., Archer-Brown, C., Colliander, J., and Lambert, A.(2019) 'Vacation posts on Facebook: A model for incidental vicarious travel consumption', Journal of Travel Research, 58(6), pp. 1014-1033.

[12] Appel, Gerlach and Crusius (2016).

[13] Krasnova, H., Widjaja, T., Buxmann, P., Wenninger, H., and Benbasat, I. (2015) ‘Why following friends can hurt you: An exploratory investigation of the effects of envy on social networking sites among college-age users', Information Systems Research, 26(3), pp. 585-605.

[14] Mandel, N., Rucker, D. D., Levav, J., and Galinsky, A.(2017) The Compensatory Consumer Behavior Model: How self-discrepancies drive consumer Behavior, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(1), pp. 133-146.

[15] Higgins (1987).

[16] Appel, Gerlach, and Crusius (2016). Liu et al. (2016). Marder et al. (2022).

[17] Haferkamp and Krämer (2010). Chou and Edge (2012). Taylor and Strutton (2015). Appel, Gerlach, and Crusius (2016). Liu et al (2016). Robinson et al. (2017). De Vries et al (2018). Marder et al (2019; 2022).

[18] Feenstra, S., Begeny, T. C., Ryan, K. M., Rink, A. F., Stoker, I. J., and Jordan, J.(2020). Contextualising the Impostor "Syndrome", Frontiers in Psychology, 11, pp. 1-6.

[19] Clance and Imes (1978). Krasanova et al (2015). Bratava et al (2020). Grubb, W.L. and Grubb, K.L. (2021) Perfectionism and the Imposter Phenomenon, Journal of Organisational Psychology, 21(6), pp. 25-42.

[20] Mandel et al. (2017), Marder et al. (2019; 2022).

[21] Bratava et al. (2020).

[22] Appel, Gerlach, and Crusius (2016). Krasanova et al (2015).

08 November 2022