If you’re new to mystery shopping, you might be more than a little nervous about keeping your cover. No one ever claimed “act casual” was easy advice and yet, it’s exactly what you need to do if you want to protect your secret shopper identity and be paid for the work. Luckily, there are a few tricks to help you carry out the job smoothly. And don’t worry about being scared. Even seasoned pros need to refresh their undercover agent skills from time to time.

Do your homework

So, just how should you engage in a detailed conversation about peanut butter choices when an employee asks if you’re finding everything all right? Mystery Maven said you’ll out yourself if you’re asking questions that aren’t connected to one another. If you can rattle off your points of conversation naturally and confidently, no one will be the wiser. Even if you don’t appear suspicious, not having a handle on job instructions means you might walk out of a store without collecting all the details of your mission. So, prior to your excursion, spend an hour or two reading and rereading the rules for the upcoming task. Memorize the exact details of your shop so that you don’t have to compromise any of your attention while on the job. It’s likely that as you become more practiced at mystery shopping, you’ll need to spend a lot less time familiarizing yourself with assignments.

Use your memory

Speaking of taking notes, how can you be sly doing so? It might seem obvious but it bears repeating: Don’t use a pen and paper in plain view. The Mystery Shoppers Manual has suggested writing notes during a mid-shopping trip to check the bathroom. As we’ve touched on before, we live in a smartphone age and taking notes can look no more suspicious than texting a friend. Of course, you won’t want to record notes in your phone while speaking with a store employee. Make sure to take some mental notes while conversing — you should only need to remember key points of information for a few minutes before you have a chance to safely turn to your phone.

Create a narrative

Imagination is just as important as memory and attentiveness, according to Mystery Shopper Magazine. Of all the ways to be professional in your mystery shopping endeavors, this is certainly the most fun. When you shop, your identity is not as the college student picking up gigs for a little extra book money. Use your imagination and develop backstories for yourself. Be prepared for chit chat at the checkout. For each specific shopping trip, what is your identity? What brought you to this store? Why do you need to buy what’s on your list? Are you looking for a hip Christmas present for your grandmother? Is this the first time you’ve bought jewelry for your girlfriend? What job interview calls for this smart new blazer? The more you believe your own inventions, the more convincing you’ll be as a regular shopper.

One more thing: Don’t forget to give yourself a good night’s sleep. You want your memory and focus to be at their sharpest.