In my job as an Employment Counsellor, I hear the mantra, “Fake it ’til you make it” from a number of people; why even some of my fellow employees. Is this really the best advice to give someone and what dangers do we expose those people to who follow such advice?
The thrust of the context in which I hear this advice being passed on the most seems to be tied to the job interview. You know, you have some innate weakness or soft spot and instead of owning up or voluntarily providing information pertaining to it, you’d be better advised to cover things up by acting the way you assume the interviewer would see as most desirable; even when this isn’t the real you. Eventually you believe or hope you’ll come around to having the skill you really don’t, or behaving the way you currently don’t. If you can fake your way through the interview, over time on the job, you’ll be the person you’re claiming to be now.
I don’t like that advice. First of all it’s dangerous. Claiming you have skills and qualifications you don’t could lead the person on the receiving end of the advice to become injured by operating machinery in unsafe ways or handling dangerous products without the knowledge needed to do so responsibly.
Heeding such suggestions also opens a person up to being assessed as dishonest, unbelievable, a poor risk and none of these are the kind of traits employers seek out. You’d like to be thought of as genuine; a straight-shooter, honest and someone who is believable.
Perhaps you might agree that lying or insinuating you have certain skills you don’t isn’t what is being suggested by the phrase at all. You might suggest it has more to do with overcoming shyness, a lack of self-confidence or interpersonal skill deficiencies. Okay let’s look at that. So suppose you convince a timid job seeker that showing a little more bravado or courage would be a good thing and increase their chances at getting through a job interview and obtaining an offer. You tell them that the interviewer doesn’t know them at all, and therefore they can fake that self-confidence until they get out of the interview and hopefully made enough of a good impression that they get hired.
This sounds on the surface as not bad advice at all. However, what I’ve witnessed as outcomes of this strategy are two developing problems. First, the person once hired can’t maintain the façade they put up over a 45 minute interview and when exposed or confronted, reverts to their genuine behaviour. Second, the person themselves feels immense pressure and stress to be someone they aren’t; to fake being something that isn’t natural for them and essentially they’ve been set up with yet one more thing to stress about. That’s far from helpful.
The irony I’ve seen and heard is that the same people who are saying, “Fake it ’til you make it” are also saying, “There’s no one as unique as you in the world so be yourself”. Talk about mixed messages.
I do think that anytime you try to learn something new you introduce the possibility of failure as much as you hope for success. It is often a struggle in the initial stages when learning, and you might have setbacks. If what you are attempting to do is change your behaviour, you will need to stretch outside your comfort zone and do things differently than you’ve done in the past. Until such time as you feel comfortable and normal behaving a certain way, you will be conflicted between what you’ve always done that feels natural and what you’re striving to do that seems foreign and strange.
I don’t believe however that the period of transition from one to the other is faking it. I think in fact the transition period is very real; that people in this period are so genuine that it’s both exciting and scary simultaneously. So the quiet, reserved person who is after a ‘people’ job where strong communication and interpersonal skills are desired by the employer may struggle in the transition period, but what they feel is real, what they experience is genuine. If the motivation is sincere and strong, it will be enough to sustain through the transition period until they gain comfort that comes from naturally behaving and acting the way they want.
Like any new learning, building on small successes until a new skill or behaviour is mastered is desirable. One small success gives a person encouragement and reinforces the results they want to achieve. Faking anything implies you not only run the risk of being exposed by others who see through you, but you ultimately know you are faking what you’re doing; and it’s pretty hard to delude yourself when you’re intentionally faking anything.
It sounds nice though doesn’t it? It’s short, rhymes and if told to us by someone we respect as wise, it can sound like excellent advice; fake it ’til you make it. However, if you want a different mantra try, “To thine own self be true.” This has been around a lot longer; be true to yourself and others will respect you for being who you are. When you do land a job offer, you’ll end up with a job that fits with who you are and one in which you can be yourself.