Career Management

No one likes a bragger, and no one really wants to be known as one. In fact, it’s fairly natural for us to shy away from any limelight which will catapult us into cockiness territory in the eyes of our peers. Especially at work, arrogant big shots who shove their successes down the throats of others are less than inspiring, and create passive enemies pretty quickly. We know this, and this is why selling ourselves during an interview is difficult. Overt self-promotion and self-praise don’t mirror the way we speak about ourselves in normal everyday life.

A recent study by LinkedIn has revealed that, of the pool of professionals from 18 countries surveyed, almost half do not feel comfortable talking about their achievements or selling themselves in an interview. A similar number says it feels like bragging when they do. Only 35% actually do feel comfortable outlining their achievements, and 52% generally prefer to talk about the achievements of their colleagues than their own. Apparently we’re actually more likely to publish health updates and political views on social media, than we are news of a professional promotion!

People respect people who are outrageously successful, but maintain their modesty. This video of Angelina Jolie accepting an award at the 2013 Governors Awards has been doing the rounds on the internet AGAIN recently. People can’t get enough, but why? Because Angelina has every reason to be the biggest bragger known to man, but time and time again, she chooses to be humble and show appreciation for the privileges she has had, that others haven’t. If only we could all strike a balance like this!

While giving up all bragging rights is great in theory, there will still be times when we have to sell ourselves. And, it’s amidst our job hunt that we’re most likely to have to face these fears! The LinkedIn survey also reveals that 86% of recruitment decision makers believe it’s important for candidates to be able to express their achievements. Whether we like it or not, to get ahead in our careers and get our dream job, we need to feel comfortable answering the following types of questions:

  • What are your strengths?
  • Why should we choose you over others?
  • Why are you the right person for this role?
  • What value can you add?
  • What’s your best achievement to date?

For some reason, writing ‘diligent, enthusiastic and intelligent learner who is quick to grasp new concepts’ in a CV is so much easier than actually saying those words about ourselves out loud to someone. Many of us go to town with our CVs, describe how great we are, win an interview and then shudder at the thought of having to sell ourselves in person. Here are a few tips on how to approach these hard asks:

1. Plan & prepare

Before you go to an interview, plan and practice marketing yourself. Be sure you actually pinpoint and understand your value as an employee, and what exactly it is you have to offer an employer. Work out clearly beforehand what your best attributes are and where you have seen the greatest success so far in your career. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard by questions about your strengths; and have to scramble for ways to sell yourself. Instead, do your preparation, understand you’re going to have to say all those things you wrote in your CV, and then just focus on the execution.

2. Be professional and business-like

Forget getting embarrassed or making slightly self-deprecating comments when you have to sell yourself. Instead, view it the same way you would selling a car. When selling anything, you have to clearly outline the benefits of the product. An interview is no different – this time the product just happens to be you. So, you’re best to take all the emotion out of it. When you’re talking, you can minimise your use of adjectives such as ‘incredible’, ‘great’, ‘captivating’, ‘amazing’, ‘respected’ and ‘high-achieving’. These are all opinions and can prompt a “if you don’t say so yourself” type of response.  Instead, go for cold hard facts!

3. Use examples & results

Have statistics at hand to back your achievement claims up. If you have increased revenue by 10% in 6 months, say it. Statistics and statements based on clear evidence are easier to deliver. If your profession isn’t really numbers-driven, try describing a scenario where you were able to change or improve something. For managers, detailing improvements to your own staff will highlight your capability as a leader, without you saying, “I’m a great leader!”

4. Let others do the talking

It would be nice to bring your manager in with you, to sing your praise for you, but that’s not realistic for a number of reasons. The next best thing here is to paraphrase feedback and praise you have received from others, during appraisals or reviews. Talking about common themes that come up when people are analysing your work and approach takes the pressure off, because you are not saying YOU think you are amazing, rather relaying what others have told you. Starting sentences with “I’ve been told” or “It regularly comes up that” helps you deliver the same message, in a less gloating way.

We can’t just leave it there though; you have to make sure you actually get to the interview stage. To do this, you should check you have a convincing and professional online presence. Why? Because you WILL be searched by potential employers. According to the LinkedIn survey, a whopping 76% or participants believe it’s hard to overcome a first impression, and 65% believe the one you make online is just as important as the one you make in person. So before you enter into your jobhunt, be sure to give your online presence a good going over too, and show your best bits!

Image: Shutterstock


About Phoebe Spinks

Editor of Undercover Recruiter & Senior Account Executive at Link Humans, a recruitment marketing agency.

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