Bragging on yourself a must in interviews

Art of self-promotion requires strategy

Herald-Leader columnistJuly 4, 2011 

Theresa Mickelwait, assistant director of UK's Stuckert Career Center

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

Have you ever heard people bragging about their latest accomplishments and thought, "Boy, I hope I never sound like them."

How about in a job search? Do you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself and your accomplishments during an interview? Many people have difficulty selling themselves to potential employers for a variety of reasons — they lack self-confidence; they don't want to sound pushy, conceited, or artificial; or they simply don't enjoy being in the spotlight.

Often, this reluctance stems from cultural norms or role models who taught us, "If I work hard, my performance will speak for itself." In reality, self-promotion is a necessary skill for your career, not only to land a job but to maintain a good image with your boss and organization.

Decisions about employment and promotions are based largely on human perceptions, so first impressions and visibility really do matter — it's just human nature.

Deliberate effort and practice might be necessary to overcome your hesitation and learn the art of authentic self-promotion. Here are some recommended strategies to develop your skills in self-promotion and advance your career:

Focus on giving rather than getting: One of the most common hindrances to self-promotion that many people face is "the perception that they have to be good at the hard sell," according to Charlie Mitchell, founder and director of Creating Space for You. Mitchell advocates the "Go Giver" approach from Bob Burg's The Go-Giver, which "focuses on providing value to all you meet: what you can give rather than get. (It's) refreshing, fun and reassuring for those of us who find we can be successful without having to turn into a pushy salesperson."

Build relationships: There is nothing people love to talk about more than their own interests and passions. Likewise, there is nothing that turns people off more than someone who won't stop talking about his or hers.

Appropriate timing is crucial for artful self-promotion. Listen to others to find out what interests them and how you can help them. This builds your relationship, and they will often reciprocate.

Remove yourself from the equation: Diane Kohler, director of human resources career development at the University of Kentucky and a private-practice career coach, asks her clients to "think about yourself on your best day at work. What would your boss or co-worker say about you?"

Taking this third-person approach sometimes helps people recognize their accomplishments and really take credit for them.

You can also solicit feedback and recommendations from superiors, colleagues and clients. It gives a boost to your self-confidence and offers concrete ammunition for your job search.

Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes: One misconception about interviewers is that they can't wait to eliminate you from the running.

On the contrary, their main goal during interviews is to find the right candidate, and they hope the next person who walks in will be the one.

Benny A. Benjamin, a psychologist who has worked in employment services for 32 years, advises his clients that "they're really doing their interviewer a favor if they offer concrete evidence why they are the candidate of choice."

"Many interviewers may have a hunch that they are speaking with the winning candidate, but they still have to justify their choice to their superiors," Benjamin said.

Take stock of your shining moments: When I am coaching clients on preparing for the interview process, I often talk about creating a list of stories and examples of their shining moments and greatest accomplishments.

You want to collect a variety of examples that demonstrate the most desirable skills, such as communication, leadership and teamwork, and the unique qualities that separate you from others.

Peggy Klaus, author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, recommends keeping a list of your best accomplishments and updating it regularly. In her book, she provides a series of questions to help you get started. Giving examples, especially if you specifically outline the actions you took and the positive results, gives substance and credibility to your assertions so you don't just sound full of hot air.

As you can see, good self-promotion is a balancing act between touting your achievements and maintaining integrity of character and awareness of social cues. It takes practice and sometimes honest feedback from others. You can get a supplemental list of books and online resources to develop yourself in this area by emailing me at Theresa@vision4lifecoaching.com.

Theresa Mickelwait holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in career coaching from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is a senior assistant director at the University of Kentucky's James W. Stuckert Career Center. Reach her at theresa@vision4lifecoaching.com.

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