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I was coaching someone who almost gagged when we got to talking about the ‘what are your strengths?’ question.. they really struggle to say that they are good at anything. In spite of some really significant achievements and accomplishments.  As we unpicked this reticence I discovered a deep fear of being seen as a boast or braggart.

This set me thinking and I did some research into the subject of boasting; why are we so averse to blowing our own trumpet? (or tooting as the Americans call it.. divided by a common language!) There is a strong religious element to this; major religions –Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity all value humility and consider boasting a vice. As the Bible puts it ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’. I think there is an element of social control in the culture of  disapproval of the person who is self congratulatory. Our rulers prefer a bit of submission and self deprecation, those who know their own rights and value may be less submissive. Our parents were often quick to condemn the show off or sing one’s own praises. It is considered impolite to draw too much attention to ourselves, after all ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is still a value instilled into people when they are young.  ‘Pride’ we were told ‘comes before a fall’.


But there is also an issue of emotional  intelligence attached to talking too much about oneself or one’s achievements. It is a narcissistic and inconsiderate behavioural trait that tends to alienate others. The dictionary defines boasting as ‘to talk with excessive pride and self satisfaction about one’s abilities or possessions’ and lists a whole selection of pejorative adjectives as synonyms. When we boast we are often saying ‘look I am better than you’ and that does not endear us to others.  But the drive to tell everyone how great we are comes more often from a real lack of self esteem. People stroke their own ego in order to convince themselves of their own self worth. As one modern dictionary put it:

“Boasting is someone attempting to hide their dumbassness by repeatedly lauding their one and only (generally small) victory to their friends or a random crowd of strangers, depending on who is handy.”

So: no –one likes a braggart and boasting can reveal a real lack of confidence –where  does that leave interviewees and ambitious careerists?  with a problem? In the modern world it is critical to build a brand, to have strong networks who promote you. As Margie Warrell puts it

The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” no longer holds true. Nowadays, it’s “who knows what you know.”

 

If in the interview you do not put forward your accomplishments then you will never get the job. Lack of enthusiasm, hesitancy and lack of confidence in your own abilities are key reasons people get turned down by interviewers. So what is the solution? Here are some tips for interviews and networking to help you promote yourself without  being annoying.

  • Don’t promote yourself but promote your value. Reframe your experience and expertise in terms of the value that you have to contribute. Describe how you could solve a problem or overcome and obstacle and describe it in terms of how you would work with others to do so.
  • Tell a story. Human beings are conditioned to like stories ad there is nothing so powerful  as a well told story (using STAR) that shows your enthusiasm and your skills. You don’t need to tell people that you are really good at something if you just describe an occasion when you have excelled with that skill.
  • Be relevant. Don’t jump into a conversation announcing your greatest triumph but listen to others and when an occasion arises tell others factually what you have achieved. Keep your story relevant to the conversation.
  • Tell it once. Part of the reason that people dislike braggarts is that they go on and on about their achievements (or those of their grandchildren)  and don’t know when to shut up. So tell your story once and then move on to ask others about their experience. Or in an interview, wait for the next question.
  • Don’t use hyperbole. People who boast tend to over dramatize their stories, keep it factual and keep it to the point. Try not to use emotive language or exaggerate the difficulties that you overcame. Be realistic about achievements.
  • Share the glory. Make it clear that although you have used first person singular , you could not have achieved this without the help and hard work of other team members. When networking give others their due praise and credit. Promote them and in return they will promote you.
  • When asked about strengths you do not have to say that you are the best compared to others,   tell them what you think you do best. That is what the questions is asking about. What are your strengths? not  ‘what are you better than anyone else at?’. Your don’t have to say “I’m really good at…”, say “what I do best..” Everyone has things they feel most comfortable doing or most at ease doing.  Find a way to express those things that you feel comfortable and confident using and practice it.
  • Never steal the credit from others when it is not due to you. You never know who or what the other person actually knows.
  • Express empathy with others. Always give the interviewer time to talk, finish their question and be sensitive to them.

Share your good news with those you trust but share your emotional intelligence with everyone. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter give us a channel to share everything with everyone but need to be used sensitively ‘wow I got a huge raise’ is not going to go down well with people in your network that are hard up and struggling, especially if they think they deserve it more than you do. So watch what you say and where  you say it but don’t hide your light under a bushel. Follow these tips, promote yourself appropriately and promote others equally.

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