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Fake It Till You Make It? Um, Not So Fast Uni Grads

I’m sure you’ve heard this advice tossed around the place: Just act the part; that’s what people respond to. Be confident and the job is yours.

And, you know what, on the surface, that doesn’t seem like bad advice. Often, the thing that separates some people from a good opportunity is a lack of self-belief. You should read what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had to say about this a while back.

True enough, there are some people who just can’t or don’t know how to own an opportunity.

But over the years I’ve come to view this single piece of advice — fake it till you make it — with suspicion. Why? Because too many people take “fake it till you make it” as a free pass to fake expertise.

In other words, they pretend they have knowledge they don’t have.

They don’t know how to do a job but they apply anyway.

They don’t know a thing about national security but they claim the director’s chair anyway. Almost always, this ends pretty badly for those involved and it takes a long, long time for people to forget.

If you care about your career, read my lips: never fake knowledge.

If you don’t know something say you don’t know. Let someone else handle it. Do what you do best and give this opportunity to someone who knows what they’re doing.

If you only have a cursory understanding of project management, don’t call yourself a pro.

Unless the industry has validated your expertise, don’t call yourself a “consultant” on your LinkedIn profile. I bet you weren’t thinking about that one?

Trust me, a huge amount of knowledge faking happens on our online profiles, especially on LinkedIn where you can get endorsed for fancy stuff you have no idea about by people you’ve never even met.

So watch it. Local employers may not let on, but I am betting the farm they are checking you out online before you’re even shortlisted for an interview.

The same standard applies if you’re already in a job. You may get an opportunity for a promotion, or you may just be required to lead a project. All the same, count the costs before you stick your hand up without the talent or skills to pull it off.

Make no mistake about it, it hurts the company’s bottom line when people who truly aren’t qualified for a job resort to guile to land a position. Or worse, when they’re put in charge of the team.

Just think for a second about your own office. Fakers leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake, the scent of bad blood everywhere.

Colleagues don’t want to work with them because often there’s a complete breakdown of trust.

The subordinate who actually does all the work swallows hard fighting back resentment as her 6-for-a-9 boss earns way more — by faking it. Subordinate or not, know that people see right through you once you choose pretense over competence.

We get tempted all too easily to pretend we can do something that we truly can’t. Here’s a tip: be on the lookout for those sneaky moments when pretense can slip into the equation without you even realising.

Your manager needs you to prepare a budget forecast for the new digital campaign. Sure you’ve worked on campaigns before. And yes, a couple of those campaigns scored. You outdid yourself on the strategy.

But budget forecast? If you clicked on Microsoft Excel now it might not launch out of sheer neglect — you’ve never even used the thing.

Fact is, you have no idea how to build a proper spreadsheet, so respectfully, you need to alert your boss.

Resist the pressure to conform to expectations at any cost. You don’t always have to be the alpha dog. It’s OK to let someone else handle it.

Am I saying you can’t commit to learning how to do a stellar spreadsheet?


You shouldn’t take this to mean you can’t go after new knowledge, or learn new skills. In fact, you absolutely should.

If you want to survive in today’s competitive work climate, acquiring new, complementary skills isn’t only a wise investment, it might be the only hedge you’ve got against being laid off.

But give yourself time to perfect something, to deepen and test new knowledge. Don’t try to pass off what you learnt during your bachelor’s degree for something that only a master’s or years on the job would teach you.

Do. Not. Fake. Knowledge.

That’s the fastest way to kill your career and don’t forget we’re in 2015. If you’re found out — public sector employees take note — there’s always a chance you’ll be posterised on social media for all the world to see.

Is it really worth it?

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