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It’s my luck: impostor fears, the context, gender and achievement-related traits

Shamala Kumar (Research Centre, Postgraduate Institute of Management, Colombo, Sri Lanka)
Pavithra Kailasapathy (Human Resources Management, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka)
Achira Sedari Mudiyanselage (Research Centre, Postgraduate Institute of Management, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 16 September 2021

Issue publication date: 13 December 2022




Although the impostor phenomenon is attributed to childhood experiences, theory on achievement motivation indicates that achievement-related fears can also be elicited by the context. Using achievement goal theory as a base, the authors investigate the effect of context-dependent predictors, job-fit, career stage and organisational tenure, on impostor fears. The authors also examined gender and the achievement-related traits, self-efficacy and locus of control, as predictors of impostor fears to advance knowledge on antecedents to impostor fears.


Two studies were conducted with 270 and 280 participants, each. In Study 1, a subset of 12 respondents participated in follow-up interviews.


Impostor fears tended to be predicted by organisational tenure and career stage in both studies and job-fit in Study 1. Self-efficacy and locus of control predicted impostor fears. Men and women reported similar levels of impostor fears.

Practical implications

The authors demonstrate the importance of context in eliciting impostor fears and partially support initial descriptions of antecedents to impostor fears. The findings contribute to the development of targeted managerial practices that can help with the development of interventions, such as orientation programmes, that will enhance socialisation processes and mitigate impostor fears.


The literature on imposter fears has not addressed their situational predictors, which the authors argue are important elements in the genesis and maintenance of impostor fears. The authors draw on achievement goal theory to explain the pattern of findings related to key situational characteristics and their influence on imposter fears. The findings for Sri Lanka, on personality predictors, are similar to those reported in studies focused on North America providing evidence of cross-cultural applicability of the concept.



Corresponding address for Shamala Kumar is: Department of Agricultural Economics and Business Management, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

Shamala Kumar and Pavithra Kailasapathy contributed equally as first authors to this research and paper. Achira Mudiyanselage contributed to Study 1 conceptual development and data collection. SK and PK wrote the manuscript and ASM commented on the final draft. Study 1 of this research was conducted while Shamala Kumar was on sabbatical leave from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.

Pavithra Kailasapathy received University of Colombo’s Research Grant AP/3/2/2017/SG/36 to conduct this research. Shamala Kumar received non-financial assistance from the Postgraduate Institute of Management. We would like to thank Shalini Abayasekara and Ravini Abhayarathne for their research assistance.


Kumar, S., Kailasapathy, P. and Sedari Mudiyanselage, A. (2022), "It’s my luck: impostor fears, the context, gender and achievement-related traits", Personnel Review, Vol. 51 No. 9, pp. 2222-2238.



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