Work is an important part of your life. And if you find yourself thinking “I feel incompetent at my job”, it’s a tough place to be.
When you’re spending 40 hours per work doing something that you don’t feel like you’re good at, and you feel the stress and pressure that comes with that struggle, it’s hard for that feeling not to cascade into other areas of your life.
So, if you’re feeling incompetent at your job, then this article is for you. We’ll unpack the common signs that you might actually be incompetent at your job, discuss why you might be feeling that way, and then offer recommendations for what to do.
Let’s dive in.
- 1 Signs You Are Incompetent At Your Job
- 2 Why Do I Feel Incompetent At My Job
- 3 What To Do If I’m Incompetent At My Job
- 4 What To Do If I’m Incompetent At My New Job
- 5 Conclusion
Signs You Are Incompetent At Your Job
The first thing to do if you feel like you’re incompetent at your job is to assess if you truly are incompetent at work or if it’s the environment. Maybe you’re struggling because you’re new to the role. Or maybe you have a boss that just naturally makes everyone feel bad about themselves.
To help you assess your competence at your job, here are some common signs that you may actually be struggling at your job:
1. You Receive Poor Performance Reviews
The most black and white way to assess your job performance is based upon the quality of your performance reviews.
Most white collar jobs have some type of annual performance review process. Within that process, your manager typically reviews the quality of your work, gives you feedback on how you’re doing, and gives you a rating on how you’ve been performing.
Poor performance reviews from your manager could be a sign that at least your boss (who has the most important opinion on your performance) thinks that you’re underperforming at your job.
If you recently received a poor performance review from your manager, this video from 101 mentor provides some guidance and recommendations for how to respond:
2. You Miss Your Metrics
Another black and white way to assess performance in your job is to look at your performance against any metrics that you are held to.
As an example, let’s say that you’re a sales professional and you have a quota that you need to hit. If you find that you consistently miss your quota, that could be a sign that you’re struggling with your job.
Now, I do want to caveat this one. First, before declaring that you suck at your job, you need to assess if your metrics are reasonable. Particularly in the venture-backed world where the incentive system is to create a couple of hugely successfully unicorn companies, you may be faced with insane and unachievable metrics. Missing crazy targets doesn’t reflect badly on you.
So, before feeling bad about yourself for missing your metrics, take a hard look at them and assess if they were really achievable.
A couple of tools to help you do so would be to look at your performance as compared to your peers and to look at the company’s performance in the previous year to assess if your targets were reasonable.
3. You’re Behind Your Peers
Another way to assess if you’re incompetent at work is to benchmark your performance against your peers.
There are a couple of ways that you can do that:
- Are your peers getting promoted at a faster rate than you?
- If you have visibility into the team’s metrics, are you peers performing better than you?
If you find that you’re consistently behind colleagues that have similar jobs and levels of experience to you, that could be a sign that you suck at your job.
4. You’re Put on a Performance Improvement Plan
A performance improvement plan is a documented plan for what you need to do to improve your performance at work.
Typically, this is one of the last things that happens before you get terminated from your job.
If you’re put on a performance improvement plan, that’s a strong sign that you may be struggling at your job.
5. You Just Feel It
This last one is a tough one, and you need to know yourself a little bit to be able to know if this one is helpful in assess if you’re bad at your job or not.
However, in many cases, you can just feel it. If you’re job doesn’t feel easy and it doesn’t come naturally, you may be able to just feel that you suck at your job.
Now, I say that you need to know yourself a little bit because I know that I personally am someone that is very hard on myself. Sometimes even unfairly so.
However, if you think that you’re able to look at yourself accurately and assess that you’re struggling with your job, this can be another sign.
Why Do I Feel Incompetent At My Job
There could be a variety of reasons why you may feel incompetent at your job. Some of them could be because you’re legitimately struggling and others could be the result of your environment.
Here are some of the top reasons why you might feel incompetent at your job:
1. You Actually Are Struggling At Your Job
You might feel incompetent at your job because you actually are struggling at your job. To assess if you’re feeling the way because you actually are struggling with at your job, take a look at the top signs that you’re incompetent at your job in the last section.
2. You’re In a New Job
Transitioning into a new job can be challenging and there likely will be a period where you feel overwhelmed and incompetent. If you’re still within your first six – nine months at a new job, give yourself some grace and understand that there may be an extended period before you feel like you’re operating at full capacity.
3. You’re In An Overly Demanding Environment
You might feel incompetent at your job because you’re in an environment where there are unrealistic expectations. Circling back to an example shared in the last section, if you work in sales or marketing for a venture backed software company, then you likely have extremely aggressive growth goals on which you need to deliver.
Now, you might be doing an excellent job, and the company might double in size year over year. But, because the venture backed model is often built on the returns of a couple of unicorn companies, your goals may be to grow even more rapidly and to quadruple the size of the company in a year.
With that being the case, you probably feel incompetent because you’re in an environment where the expectations are ridiculous, and you may be doing a great job in what you’re delivering.
4. You Have a Toxic Boss
Nothing can make you feel incompetent at your job like a toxic boss. An overly demanding, negative, or controlling boss can make you feel like you’re never delivering enough when you’re working your butt off to drive results.
If you think you might have a toxic boss, take a look at our article on the top signs that you have a toxic boss to help with your assessment.
5. You’re Overly Hard On Yourself
The last reason why you might feel incompetent at your job is simply that you have high expectations for yourself and might be being too hard on yourself. I know that I personally suffer from this and tend to be extremely hard on myself so it’s one that I personally need to be cognizant of.
As a way to help with this one, look at how you’re performing vs. your goals to try and step out of the emotion that you feel towards yourself and get some black and white data on your performance.
What To Do If I’m Incompetent At My Job
If you find that you’re struggling with feelings of incompetence at your job, here are a few recommendations for what to do and how to address it:
1. Assess If It’s You or The Environment
Even if some of the signs that you are incompetent at your job do apply to you, like being behind on your metrics or being put on a performance plan, it’s important to assess if those are really reflective of you or if they are a result of the environment.
For example, are you missing your metrics because you’re not doing your job well? Or are you missing them because you have crazy targets?
If you come to find that it’s more that you’re in the wrong work environment, then your next step would likely be to stay in the same career path, but find a better environment in which to do your work. That or work to create an environment at your current employer that will enable you to be more successful (i.e., negotiating more achievable metrics).
2. Get Additional Training
Now, it could be that you’re struggling with your job because you haven’t been properly trained on how to do the job.
So if you believe that your struggles are due to skill gaps in certain areas, then it’s important to be proactive and get the training that you need.
Go to your manager and request the training you need. If you can’t get it from your company, consider taking an online course to help you develop the skills that you need to be successful in your role.
This video from Drive By Conversations provides recommendation on how to effectively ask your manager for the training that you need:
3. Delegate The Things That You Struggle With
This option may not be available to everyone but, if you’re in a position where you can delegate out certain tasks, then it can help to delegate our your weaknesses.
Bring on an agency to help you do the work that you struggle with. Or hire someone that has strengths in your areas of weakness.
If you can’t make the decision to delegate yourself, talk to your manager about reassigning certain aspects of your role to focus on what makes you the most successful.
We can’t all be good at everything, so finding ways to focus on your strengths, and lean on others to help you where you’re weak can be a great way to drive strong results.
4. Prepare for a Job Search
Just because you’re struggling in your job right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get terminated.
I know of many folks that have struggled for a time and then ultimately turned it around.
However, you always want to be prepared. And if you’re concerned that you may lose your job, then you’ll want to be thinking about your next steps, preparing your resume, and keeping your eye on what’s out there. In general, it’s always better to be proactive and be prepared for the worst, even if it may not happen.
To get a sense of where you stand with your manager, and your likelihood of potentially losing your job, take a look at our common signs that your boss wants you to stay article.
5. Find An Alternate Career Path
If you find that you’ve tried the same career in multiple different work environments, and/or that you’ve tried the other recommendations in this section and you still are struggling in your job, then it may make sense for you to find an alternate career path that is better suited to your skills and interests.
If you’re looking to figure out what that might be, we have an article that walks through a detailed process for how to figure out what to do with your life and career.
What To Do If I’m Incompetent At My New Job
If you just recently started a new job, and feel like you’re struggling, that’s a little bit of a different situation than if you’ve been established in a job for a while and still feel like you’re missing the mark.
Often, struggling in a new job could be due to a couple of key factors:
- A lack of training on how to do the job well
- Uncertainty about how you’re performing in a new environment
Both of those situations can be addressed by a conversation with your manager.
If you feel like you’re struggling in a particular area and need some more training, make the request of your manager.
If you’re unsure of how you’re doing, or insecure in your new role, ask your manager for feedback on how you’re doing and where they’d like to see you improve.
Feeling like “I’m incompetent at my job” can be demoralizing and frustrating.
Your job is a big part of your life and we naturally all want to feel like we’re contributing and excelling.
So if you do feel like your bad at your job, the first thing to do is to stop and honestly assess whether or not that’s true. If it is, there are a variety of steps that you can take to help address the situation.