Transparency and Genuinity while Interning at a Startup

Sophia Jaro

Sage Corps 2019 Berlin Fellow

Sophia from Loyola University Chicago offers insight into transparency and her guide to ‘Faking it Til You Make it’ .

People know when you’re not completely honest with them, so you might as well just be as genuine as possible in every encounter. Agree or disagree? 

If you said yes, then good for you, we all strive to be you. You’re the cookie cutter for a good citizen who just wants the world to go round peacefully. If you said no, then you understand that not everyone deserves your complete and utter genuinity. Maybe you think that success in life isn’t always tailored to being 100% genuine all the time.

Which is fine, but quick question… Where do we draw the line between genuinity and half-truths?

It’s my first week in office for my internship in Berlin and the one thing I'm learning under all the administrative mumbo jumbo has to do with transparency. Transparency in being honest with myself, in what I’m good at, and in my relationships with other people. But there’s a fine line in determining what exactly I should be transparent about, and with whom.

Sophia’s workplace at WeWork Sony Center in Berlin, Germany.

Sophia’s workplace at WeWork Sony Center in Berlin, Germany.

On my first day we spoke with our HR director, Mike. He asked me what I hoped to get out of my internship, and suddenly, everything I had practiced saying in the mirror the night before disappeared. My brain’s neurons stopped firing and started shooting blanks. I stuttered a ton and said something along the lines of “I’m just trying to learn as much as possible and see who I am in a fast-moving business environment.” To me, that sounded unspecific and irrelevant. I was kicking myself in the back of my mind. You could tell Mike wasn’t buying it. It felt even worse to see a blank stare and mandatory nod from him, as if what I said went in one ear and out the other. 

That’s what got me thinking about transparency. I need transparency in what skills I can provide for my startup, or what I have to offer to the company in general. But how do you determine when to be transparent and when to “fake it till you make it?” For example, when speaking to your employer for the first time, you should be transparent, yet confident in your skills and capabilities. You should be able to articulate your strengths, but also acknowledge weaknesses and areas of growth. Ideally, you should strive to challenge yourself in the workplace and ask to do more outside your comfort zone. As time goes on, you will start to further develop those strengths and improve your areas of weakness, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing, so challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and be confident while doing it. It’s now been a week since I have been in office, and now I have a greater sense of direction because I am constantly looking to challenge myself through taking on tasks I’m not familiar with.

Some may say, “fake it till you make it” is just a form of self-reassurance. It’s a way of imitating confidence, competence, and optimism in hopes of eventually realizing those qualities in real life. I say it’s a great technique for young people like myself trying to assert ourselves in this startup ecosystem or any workplace for that matter. 

Let’s take a look at the startup scene in a foreign country. There’s a lot of confidence in buildings like these because everyone feels like they matter. Startups have the potential to reach clients or customers globally, and sometimes require less than 10 people to do so. That means that every single person holds a role that is a vital gear in a fast-moving machine. These highly-educated individuals left the comfort of a structured organization to be a pioneer in a wave of uncertainty. They feel needed here and that sense of security, of course, adds to higher employee satisfaction, performance, and confidence 

So, to recap, I’m in a building with a bunch of people who have these secure feelings in what they’re doing because they’re contributing to building their companies in major ways, and I am an intern who doesn’t quite know where they fit into the bigger picture yet… You can see why I felt some impostor syndrome before arriving here? So how can I fake it till I make it while being transparent or genuine at the same time? 

Soph’s Guide to Faking it Till You Make It 

  1. I start with dressing for success. It’s a lax environment. I mean, our floor has draft beer on tap right next to the coffee (Berlin and beer are inseparable; it’s only right).With that being said, I still try to look good because then I feel good, which in turn makes me feel like I can conquer whatever is in front of me. Small things like this matter because it’s yet another way of asserting who you are in a new workplace, so put your best foot forward.

  2. I try to emulate confidence when talking. I talk myself up by focusing on my ambitions rather than the duties I perform. Young or old, if you decide to switch up your career path, you’re not going to know everything all at once, no matter how well you performed in your previous role. Do I really know how to help my company in their major shift of rebranding their entire business model? No. But, I do know that they asked the right person to help. 

  3. Say Yes! Saying yes has led me to beautiful moments I will never forget. It’s gotten me involved in meaningful projects here at the office because I put myself out there. After a long day at the office, laying in bed at home is the most tempting thing to do. Luckily, I have a great group of gals who push me to get out there and explore! It’s a liberating feeling to try something new (within reason), and I promise it adds to the confidence you will gain after stepping out of your comfort zone.

There’s no harm in emulating confidence if it’s going to give 30 seconds of courage you need to jump right out of your comfort zone. Just don’t let it take over who you are. You don’t want to be that person who has faked so much of their way up to the top only to realize that it’s not meaningful. 

So, if you ask me if I agree or disagree with my initial statement--  Should we be genuine in every encounter? I’d say it depends. We encounter so many different experiences that require different parts of ourselves to take the leading role. Does that mean we’re being fake? No. It means we know how to adjust to who we’re speaking to. It’s a part of faking it till you make it, especially from a business standpoint. You are going to develop defenses to protect yourself. Just make sure those defenses aren’t so thick and strong that they prevent you from being genuine. Because that’s when you’re going to have your best experiences--both in business and in life--when you are true to your genuine self.

Check out some of the other blogs written by Sage Corps Student Correspondents. Take a look at what our Hong Kong cohort has been up to or what startup life in Amsterdam is all about.

Want to see more from our 2019 Berlin Cohort? Follow @sc.berlin_ on instagram to follow their adventure!