Google the term “humblebrag,” and scores of articles, including “Why Humblebragging Doesn’t Work,” and “The Best Way To Make People Not Like You,” turn up.
There have even been studies that corroborate this. In a 2015 paper, Harvard Business School Professors Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton and doctoral student Ovul Sezer found that among social media posts, humblebragging was negatively associated with being liked. What’s more, when asked about their “biggest weakness” in a job interview, 77% of responses were perceived as humblebrags and the other 23% examples of a real weakness.
Indeed, the term coined by the late “Parks and Recreation” producer Harris Wittels has gained plenty of detractors.
“The humblebrag, a form of self-promotion thinly veiled with self-deprecation and false humility, “says Peggy Klaus, author of “BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It,” and a leadership coach to executives of several Fortune 500 companies, “is annoying to the listener because they sense the bragger is merely fishing for compliments, attention or those coveted “likes” on social media. It is nothing less than cloying.”
But in the all-important job interview or networking call, that leaves the candidate in a bind: How to come across as confident, qualified and uniquely able to excel in the role without being narcissistic in singing one’s praises?
By adopting a few key strategies, one can overcome this hurdle, say communications experts.
Make Your Pitch Story-Like and Memorable
“To avoid being overly self-promotional, create short, entertaining, story-like monologues, what I call Bragologues, that highlight your accomplishments, talents, skills as well as the successes/obstacles you’ve overcome,” says Klaus. “Your Bragologues should be conveyed with energy and passion so that you are memorable to your audience. If you are doing it right, they will want to hear more about you.”
Here’s an example. Instead of replying to “What do you want to do?” by saying that you want to return to managing a revenue-driving team because you’re good with people and at the end of the month always lead the firm in billings, say something like this: “You know, when I first became an account manager, I had no idea it would be such a great fit for my skills and personality. It really pulls in my organizational skills, an ability to unite a team by mentoring and coaching them, and allows me to tap into years of hands-on industry experience.”
Once you’ve got your “Bragologue” down, its time to hone in on specific messaging that can potentially get in the way of selling yourself.
Nancy Ancowitz, presentation & career coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®, suggests a measured approach to detailing the reasons you are qualified for the role.
“After describing one of your strengths or accomplishments, stop talking,” she says. This is especially important for those who suffer from nervousness and seek to fill the silence with words. “Don’t minimize your assets by offering liabilities that no one even asked about. For example, ‘Since my editing skills are strong, I’m always the ‘go-to’ person to help my colleagues buff up their client proposals. However, I’m a really slow writer. I’m also terrible with numbers.’”
Focus Less On You, And More On “They”
This means avoid “singing a “me, me, me” aria as if you’re enrapt by the sound of your own voice,” says Ancowitz. “Tell your interviewers specifically how your efforts have benefited your employers – and how you could potentially benefit their organization too. That will be music to their ears.”
Along those lines, “quote great stuff that your bosses and clients have said about you,” she says. “For example, ‘My last boss commended me on my multitasking skills and calm demeanor during our busiest season.’”
Let Your Materials Speak For Themselves
If you are already employed and looking to pivot, one way to sell yourself is to do it non-verbally. Vanessa Van Edwards, Lead Investigator at Science of People, a human behavioral research lab, suggests putting industry accolades on your card, listing testimonials on your website, and writing your tagline on LinkedIn or in your email signature.
Let’s take Brad, a top-performing insurance salesman looking to move to a similar role but in the home loan sector. “Ben hates to brag about his numbers,” says Van Edwards. “So he lists them right at the top of his LinkedIn profile and on the homepage of his website. He always gives out his card and asks people to connect with him on LinkedIn so they are likely to see it without him having to mention them.”
These tips, whether used in a job interview or networking setting, reinforce your abilities and accomplishments without coming across as too aggressive or high-minded.