I Was Just Promoted Over Someone With More Experience and I Feel Like an Imposter

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When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column. See All

So, your hard work and dedication at the office was rewarded with a promotion? That definitely deserves a fist pump and a toast—cheers! But when the sparkly feeling wears off, you might find that it's followed by a wave of self-doubt. In this week’s Good@Work column, all-around boss babe Amy Odell—whom you may know as the former editor (AKA HBIC) of Cosmopolitan.com and founding blogger of New York magazine’s The Cut—counsels a letter-writer struggling with the fact that the team they're managing now includes someone older and with more experience.


I was recently promoted at work (woohoo!), but as a result of this promotion, a woman who is significantly older and more experienced than I am is reporting directly to me. How do you manage and provide feedback to someone that has more life and work knowledge than you do?


Before you give yourself over to imposter syndrome, take time to feel proud of your promotion. Assuming you don’t have one of those jobs where promotions are handed out to 23-year-olds like doctor's office lollipops (I've heard stories), you probably got this new role because you worked hard and made some sacrifices. Having that effort recognized feels nice. So, take time to feel nice. Go out to dinner, have an appletini or two, and try to distance yourself for at least two hours from the anxiety a promotion like this will inevitably unleash.

If you didn’t have anxiety about a promotion that came with more direct reports, you might be missing a certain amount of self-awareness and compassion that any good manager should have. Of course, as anyone who’s ever had a job knows, workplaces are brimming with bad managers. Managing other people is a significant responsibility, and not enough managers care to consider this fact, which is why they behave in odious ways. These managers are often wildly insecure and afraid people are going to take their jobs or “outshine” them in some way, and so they’re just nasty. These managers are probably not qualified for their jobs in the first place, and if they are, it doesn’t matter because that’s what their employees say behind their backs. These managers are the reason the Sunday Scaries exist. These managers are the reason that simply quitting terrible jobs feels like riding a high-speed unicorn to Hawaii.

So, don’t be one of these managers. Don’t be the sender of the crazy Saturday morning email that makes people hate their jobs. Don’t use your team for self-aggrandizement. Don’t make your assistant clean your toilet. These are not difficult instructions to follow unless you have oceanic pollutants where your heart should be.

Just remember that the things that are going to make you a good manager to someone older than you are the things that are going to make you a good manager in general.

Managing someone older than you isn’t much different from managing a 23-year-old, except the older person hopefully won’t ask you for promotions every other week. Just remember that the things that are going to make you a good manager to someone older than you are the things that are going to make you a good manager in general. Think about the things you want from your manager. I’m guessing you could easily make a list like: (1) isn’t a sociopath; (2) gives me compliments; (3) brings cupcakes to work sometimes; (4) doesn’t send psycho emails. Once you know what you would want your boss to do, go do all that stuff yourself.

The first thing you should probably do is take the older woman to lunch, get to know her, make sure she feels like you listen to her and care about her opinion. Try to articulate your vision for her role and the team you’re now leading. Do this with all your new reports. The best piece of management advice I can give you is to get your team to support you. If your team doesn’t support you, you won’t get anywhere. When you enter a significant management role, you start teaching others to do the work instead of doing it yourself, so your success depends on other people in a way it never has before. And I really can’t stress this enough: So many terrible managers pepper workplaces around the globe that so much can be accomplished by simply not being a horrible human being, a trash can with an iPhone and a laptop and a life so devoid of joy and hobbies that you choose to use these devices to harass your employees at all hours of the day.

It’s possible you got this promotion over this older person because your bosses wanted to get rid of her by not promoting her. I’m not saying you’re not qualified for the job, but just know that if you have a feeling this person is going to quit, she might very well quit. And that’s fine, the world doesn’t end when people quit—although, the first time someone on your team quits, you’ll probably feel bad about it. That is, if you’re not a sociopath. Seriously, please, just don’t be a sociopath.

Amy Odell is a journalist and author living in New York. She is the former editor of Cosmopolitan.com, which became one of the most popular and award-winning sites for millennial women during her tenure. She is passionate about mentoring people starting off in their careers. She is from Austin, Texas.

Follow her on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and sign up for her newsletter here.

Have a career question for Amy? Email us at goodwork@www.wellandgood.com.

More Good@Work:
My manager is too busy to give me feedback, what should I do?
I feel like I get along better with my male bosses—Is it just me, or is it gender bias?
Help! I have a miserable boss—what do I do?
Did I sell myself short when I negotiated my salary?

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