Intern Talk: Why a ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ Mentality Will Kill Your Credibility

girlIt’s your first day on the job and you have a crucial decision to make. Should you ask as many questions as humanly possible or will you adopt the all-too-popular “fake it until you make it” outlook?

It’s true that adopting this mentality has potential to lessen anxiety and build confidence, but when it comes to ethics, this is not a beneficial mindset for public relations students. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It makes a bad impression.

Nobody wants to interact with a know-it-all. When you’re busy faking industry knowledge, it’s likely you’ll be perceived as arrogant. This is bad for you personally, because it will lessen genuine interactions with coworkers. Your coworkers aren’t perfect, and they don’t expect you to be either — especially when you’re just starting out as an intern or junior associate. Plus, this is bad for the industry. Public relations professionals should be known for their authenticity, transparency and relatability — not for making those around them feel looked down upon.

2. It hinders your personal growth.

If you’re pretending to know all the answers, you may be able to complete your tasks, but you’re going to miss the context and background information behind them. Why does your company always pitch to that specific media outlet? When has that promotional tactic failed or succeeded in the past?

Contrary to popular belief, asking lots of questions doesn’t automatically translate to ignorant. In fact, asking the right questions can show that you’re insightful and hold a strategic outlook. After getting hired for my current internship, my interviewer mentioned that my thoughtful questions during the interview set me apart from the competition.

3. It doesn’t align with the PRSA Code of Ethics.

As PRSSA members, we agree to abide by the PRSA Member Code of Ethics. Included in this are the professional values of honesty and expertise. By “faking it until we make it,” we are putting on a dishonest air and refusing to acquire the ongoing learning we profess to be mastering. Plus, this approach thrusts us far into the opaque end of the transparency spectrum — which doesn’t help enhance the profession. Lastly, if we’re not exercising these ethics in our personal lives, then why would a client or employer trust us with upholding them in our professional lives?

When it comes to upholding ethics, maintaining professionalism and creating the best outlook for the profession, it’s best to leave anything labeled as “fake” behind.


Laura Daronatsy is serving as the 2014–2015 publications editor in chief. She attends Biola University, where she’s pursuing a major in public relations and a minor in biblical & theological studies. Follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or peruse her website for more information.

4 thoughts on “Intern Talk: Why a ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ Mentality Will Kill Your Credibility

    • Author gravatar

      There are some great points here, Laura. I agree with you that as public relations students and budding practitioners, our job is not to pretend we already have all the answers – instead, we should focus on soaking up as much as possible while being surrounded by great learning opportunities and mentors. I find it difficult to balance the confidence that’s necessary for many of the tasks I undertake while not coming off as arrogant or insincere. Ultimately, I’m not yet a full-fledged professional. I still have so much to learn, and that is definitely a lifelong process in our field! I also appreciate you reminding us that this “fake it until you make it” attitude does not benefit us when it comes to ethics. We don’t want to be accused of being dishonest, as you pointed out. Existing in our field, as an intern or a student, is a privilege, and we should act like it!

      Kelsey Weiss
Platform Magazine Writer/Editor

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Kelsey!
      Thank you for your comment and encouragement. I think you brought up a great point — it’s hard to balance being confident with not seeming arrogant or insincere. This seems to be one of the biggest challenges of being a young professional. We have a lot to bring to the table, but aren’t always sure of the best way to present ourselves or our knowledge. What does your approach to this look like?

    • Author gravatar

      This blog post was very intriguing to me because I have always believed that everyone needs a little bit of a “fake it till you make it” mentality in order to get anywhere in life, and my in my experience I have found this to be true. I never go into a project or job completely oblivious or ignorant, but I never go into a project as an expert either. I often find myself “faking it” a little bit until I get a feel for how things work. I appreciate your perspective about “faking” as being unethical, but I think all great business men and women have “faked it” at one time or another. I often learn best when I am forced to “fake it.” If I did everything “fake free” I would never accomplish anything or grow as a professional because I have found that jumping into the unknown and figuring things out along the way has been a beneficial way of learning for me. That being said, I agree as PR professional we need to be very aware that “faking it” doesn’t lead to unethical practices. Thanks for the post!

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I would have to agree with you that jumping into the unknown and learning to figure things out is an extremely beneficial learning style. However, I don’t think that we need to fake our knowledge or expertise to be able to do this successfully. In my internships, I’ve learned the most when I’ve stepped into situations reminding myself to stay humble because I don’t know the ropes yet.

      That being said, I think you’re right when you say that we may seem to be faking it until we get a feel for how things work. You reminded me that I wanted to make a distinction here; I think it’s OK to feel as though we’re faking because we don’t yet fit in or fully understand the situation — but not because we’re choosing to put on a false front.

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