Part of the job of a social engineer is creating a good pretext or a good story, that you tell others to influence them to take a certain action. I have learned that one of the most important aspects of pretexting is impersonation.

Impersonation is acting like or exhibiting the behavior of the person you are pretending to be. Impersonation can come naturally to some, but it did not for me. I have become accustomed to doing impersonations over the phone as part of my job. However, doing in-person impersonation was not something I was familiar with (not to mention not comfortable with). Attending APSE class (Advanced Practical Social Engineering) pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. Part of the homework involved crafting a good pretext and impersonation. I realized that the best way for me to elicit information was to get into character as I was impersonating. This proved to be very effective and made me wonder: could I use the same principles of impersonation to improve certain skills in real life? If so, would this make me inauthentic?

Be Authentic

The media is constantly bombarding us with messages like “be authentic,” “be yourself,” and “do what makes you feel good.” These messages may be well intentioned or part of an advertising campaign. The truth is, there are many facets that make up who we are. We are the sum of all our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. The human brain tends to continue to repeat old patterns and avoid anything that seems unfamiliar, which would make us uncomfortable. What if your familiar “authentic self” is a limited version of who you could be?

Authentically Inauthentic

You’ve always wanted to be a good public speaker, but you feel that it’s just not who you are. So, you don’t even try. Or perhaps you have tried to do something that is out of your comfort zone, but you end up feeling like a complete fraud. We can reason: if it’s uncomfortable, that must mean it’s not authentic.

It is quite easy to retract and get back to the most comfortable version of ourselves. While we want to feel true to “who we are,” staying within our comfort zone and not testing our capabilities may be doing us a great disservice. Some things feel inauthentic because they may be difficult or uncomfortable. However, the more we do them, the easier it will be and the more authentic it will feel. Using the previous example, if you want to be a great speaker, imagine what a great speaker looks like and how they behave on stage. As you emulate that image, you may feel uncomfortable since it may be something you’re not used to. Being uncomfortable for some time is the price to pay to achieve your goal.

Being Authentic Outside Your Comfort Zone

In addition to feeling inauthentic, many people may feel that they lack the ability to be successful, in turn, they feel anxious and insecure. I find it interesting that many successful performers were able to find a way to turn a situation they feared into success. According to, actor Al Pacino said: “My first language was shy. It’s only by having been thrust into the limelight that I have learned to cope with my shyness.”

Granted, being “thrust into the limelight” may be enough to put us off completely. But you may be able to develop the ability to tweak or adjust your behavior in a slight but meaningful way. For example, you may wish to be more outgoing, but your idea of mingling at a party is waving hello from a distant corner. While it may be unnatural for you to approach everyone at the party with jokes and laughs, you could set a goal to approach one person whom you have not met and introduce yourself. Then, next time you find yourself in another gathering, expand the number of people you approach and talk to. Incrementally adopting a desired behavior will help you to feel more comfortable as you reach your goal.

Tap Into the Feeling

If the behavior you are trying to impersonate feels inauthentic, tap into the feeling of it. Find an aspect of the behavior that feels more familiar to you. For example, one pretext that I often use at work involves impersonation as an IT Specialist. The idea of pretending to be an IT Specialist makes me uncomfortable, however the feeling of being helpful is something that I’m very familiar with. So I tap into the feeling of “helpfulness” to become the person I’m impersonating. In my experience, once you find a way to connect with the character, the rest somehow unfolds in a way to allow you to gradually become that person.

“Fake It ‘Till You Make IT”

Psychologist and bestselling author Amy Cuddy, who will be a speaker at the Human Behavior Conference, says: “fake it till you make it… it may not be you today but eventually it will be you.” By going outside of our comfort zone and being “inauthentic,” you’re testing the extent of your abilities. When you’re testing a different behavior to achieve your outcome and it starts to become difficult, think about what body language expert Mark Bowden said on an episode of The Social-Engineer Podcast: “Am I willing to pay the price? …If you do want to keep paying the price (because you want the goal) keep going.” Think about the outcome and try it out, even if you’re uncomfortable. Think about your goal and ask yourself, is it worth feeling uncomfortable? That will dictate if you want to continue.

Trying inauthentic things to expand your capabilities will not turn you into a different person, but it will help you become a better version of yourself.

Written by Rosa Rowles