How to sell yourself without sounding like you’re bragging

As Phil Sheridan, MD of recruiters Robert Half UK, says: “There’s a fine line between showing off your best side and boasting about your achievements.”

But being able to demonstrate a measured blend of self-confidence and self-belief is an important aspect of any job interview, as an employer needs to know that you’ll be able to hit the ground running.

Andrew Miller, manager at recruiters Marks Sattin, agrees that despite there being a thin line between arrogance and self-belief, you need to have the courage of your convictions and be confident in your own ability. “If you’re not convinced that you’ll be great at the job and that everything you’ve achieved so far has been wonderful, then neither will the person interviewing you.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that you will need to be able to follow up on any promises you make, so over-inflating your skills, qualities and achievements could trip you up in the long run. This doesn’t mean you should under sell yourself, when really you’re going to be great, says Miller, “but if you claim to be able to do something then you need to drive that point home – they wouldn’t be interviewing you if they didn’t like your CV, so really bring it to life.”

How do you tread this fine line?

Ann Swain, CEO of The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) suggests that you appraise yourself regularly. “Make regular notes throughout the year and review your on-the-job performance against any performance criteria laid down by the company and keep any memos or e-mails which have praised you for a job well done. You’ll be very well prepared when it comes to appraisal time and its great material for your CV.”

When writing a CV or preparing for an interview, you need to be able to evidence your achievements and not merely state them. “Anticipate the questions that an interviewer is likely to ask and think about instances where you have made a difference, hit a particular goal or helped a colleague or client,” says Sheridan.

Swain says that It’s important to be specific when talking about your achievements, you need to discuss your role and provide results. “Show where you’ve saved the company time or money, this proactively demonstrates an ability to add value and shows progression. Employers are keen to pick out achievements and development rather than just lists of duties.”

Real results, data and recommendations from colleagues or clients have the value of being free from ego, so they really can add power to your ability to sell yourself without sounding like you’re bragging. Show where you’ve surpassed expectations, give figures for any money saved or revenue increased, describe how your suggestion to implement new processes allowed a company to reallocate resources more effectively.

Additionally, highlighting difficulties that occurred during a project and how you were responsible for overcoming them can help you come across as honest and humble. “Being specific about your achievements isn’t bragging, it’s the truth,” says Miller. “You should never assume an interviewer knows everything you’ve done because they’ve seen your CV, they simply believe you to be able to do the technical requirements of the job. When you’re in the room, you need to make it obvious there is no other choice for the role based on your personality and the manner in which you operate outside of just the numbers.”

Furthermore, think about examples that demonstrate aptitude for the job and employer in question. “If the role is in a large team and you have only worked for a small company, show that you have thought about how to transfer your skills to a new environment,” says Sheridan. “If you’ve worked in a completely different sector to the one you are hoping to transfer to, find some points of similarity in the type of work you would be doing.”

The interview questions that can help you shine

  •     – Give me an example of a successful project that you have been involved with or managed
  •     – What would you say is your greatest achievement at work to date?
  •     – What do you believe is your greatest strength?
  •     – What are you most proud of in your life outside work?
  •     – How would your colleagues describe your contribution to the success of the team?

Photo: Leticia Nascimento is an AAT apprentice with the KPMG 360 program and is working in the Financial Risk Management department. 

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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