Are you the kind of person who watches the bragging of job candidates on certain TV shows (ahem, The Apprentice) and thinks, “I could never be like that?” You’re hardly alone. A lot of Britons, in particular, can’t stand blowing their own trumpet – after all, we can’t stand such bragging and showing off in others.
There’s a problem, though… timidity and playing down your achievements is normally fine in social situations, where modesty can be attractive. But it doesn’t tend to be so useful in the job hunting and interview situations where there is suddenly a need to impress and talk yourself up.
Getting started with communicating your value
It’s therefore understandable that you may find it hard to blow your own trumpet. On one hand, you will want to clearly communicate your value and show everyone that you are the star of the show. On the other hand, you won’t want to just alienate that potential employer by bragging to the ends of the earth.
So, what do you do? Well, you master the art of blowing your trumpet without coming across as big-headed. Yes, it’s difficult, but it can definitely be done.
One of the problems is that many candidates anxious to impress don’t blow their trumpet about something. They just tell everyone that they’re wonderful. That’s not helpful to anyone, if you don’t follow it up with solid reasons why you’re wonderful. The exact context will dictate what aspects of yourself you do talk about – your skills, achievements, personality or network.
Flaunting your skills
A few years ago, we interviewed the acclaimed NLP expert Dianne Lowther. How shall we introduce her skills? Well, we could say that she’s good at teaching NLP to senior executives. That’s true, but as she pointed out herself, it would come across as big-headed if she just said that. But then again, if she needs to impress a HR director looking to hire someone to work with their board, it’s hardly going to work for her to downplay those skills.
However, the big reason for the first statement sounding bigheaded is simply its unsubstantiated nature. It’s unlikely that we’d condemn her as bigheaded if she clarified that she had learned how to apply NLP at senior level in business, over a 20 year span.
Nor would we do so if she added that she’d worked with directors and senior managers across a wide range of industries, discovering key strategies that made sense to commercially minded people and that could be relied upon to made a tangible difference to business performance.
All of a sudden, you’re hearing exactly why you should believe Dianne’s claim that she is good at teaching NLP. She has explained how she has developed her skills, as well as given evidence of her success – and when talking up your skills, you will need to do just the same, with a focus on the results that you have achieved with those skills.
On the way, there’s plenty of opportunity to insert extra things about yourself – such as, in Dianne’s case, that aforementioned 20 years’ experience.
What about communicating achievements?
Results matter, of course, but the circumstances in which you achieve those results can add flesh to the bones of your story and truly demonstrate the added value that you can bring to the prospective employer. By explaining something about the journey and challenges involved in achieving those results, you can be so much more impressive to a recruiter.
It’s one thing, for example, to say that one of your client organisations has increased its business by 20 per cent in the last 12 months… and an entirely different thing to reveal all of those extra little details that demonstrate just how big an achievement it was. Perhaps that client organisation is in a sector that was badly affected in the recession. You might have overseen a carefully targeted executive development plan, followed by a leadership programme for supervisors and team leaders.
You could continue that these supervisors and team leaders had subsequently gone from a four day working week to a seven day week, with the 20 per cent growth in their business being achieved amid general decline in their industry. Perhaps your training even attracted wider acclaim, reaching the regional final of the National Training Awards.
It all means that the prospective employer has been given a more complete picture of exactly where you started, and exactly where you finished. By telling that employer what there is to be impressed about, they will be genuinely impressed, rather than simply questioning the veracity of your claims.
Your education counts, too
A similar strategy can be adopted with the communication of academic achievements. Maybe you achieved a particular certification in your field – how much would a potential employer know about that qualification and what is required to obtain it, just from the title? The answer is: not much. In communicating all of these extra details, you can also reveal much about yourself.
You could talk about the emphasis of the qualification, your aptitude at it and that you worked hard over what may have been years to obtain it. It’s also a good idea to mention your feelings about the achievement, as this adds a human element, helping the audience to relate to you.
One word of warning: be careful about explaining obstacles that you overcome en route to certain achievements, particularly if they are people. After all, you won’t want to give the impression of simply blaming others for your problems!
Saying that your manager didn’t give you enough support for a given project and that the team wasn’t up to the job is unlikely to endear you to a prospective manager. However, stating that the team was inexperienced and your manager under pressure with various other projects at the time gives a much more favourable, professional impression.
Take the sting out of discussing your personality
How could talking up your personality not create the impression of big-headedness? After all, you’re talking all about you. Actually, that doesn’t strictly need to be true. Certainly, just saying that you are very approachable and trustworthy will bring a few cringes. Putting a greater emphasis on how people respond to you – such as stating that you are the kind of person in whom lots of people confide – sounds a bit better, but not perfect.
It’s clearly time to look back at how you backed up your claims about skills and achievements with greater detail, before doing the same with your personality. For example, you could say that you’ve worked with people throughout your career and have learned how to listen to them and make it safe for people to talk to you about things that matter.
You could go on to talk about how much you want people to feel valued as individuals, and that people know their confidence will be respected if they talk to you. You’ve communicated the same desired message – of being a trustworthy person that people confide in – without needing to strictly say that in words.
How is your network?
Here’s the final, potentially tricky area to talk about: your network. Whatever you do, don’t say you know anyone who’s anyone in your industry. Do you want to meet someone for the first time and instantly suggest to them that they’re a nobody?
However, express the basic meaning better and add some supporting detail, and you’ll have yet another powerful statement to impress that potential employer. You should express gratitude at how lucky you have been to work with many of the major players in your industry, and could add that being in regular contact with some of those people allows you to seek vital advice from them when you need it.
Again, you might be communicating the same basic message of your worth, but you aren’t alienating all of the important people as you do. It’s all about giving people the right reasons to employ you – in exactly the right way.