Career transitions can present a number of challenges, but across the board, job seekers seem to struggle with the art of self-promotion: how can you present yourself as a professional, share your skills and experience, and convince connections and potential employers of your worth without sounding like a complete braggart?
The “About Me” conversation can be tough for those who don’t like to appear pushy or promotional, yet the job search requires that you know how to present yourself in such a way so as to stand out — on more than just a resume. Hundreds of people may apply for any given position, and the similarities between candidates’ career experiences may make it difficult for recruiters and hiring managers to really differentiate. You have to know how to advocate for yourself and captivate your audience, whether on a resume or during the interview, without crossing the line into shameless self-promotion. Hiring managers look out for those individuals who can tell a story. As we all know, it looks a lot easier than it seems. In addition, folks who exhibit the characteristics outlined below are worth a second interview at the very least. Whether you are facing a careeer change yourself or are looking to help your candidate stand out, these tips apply.
Show, don’t tell. The best storytellers know that the key is to “show, don’t tell.” Demonstrating the use of a skill goes a lot further than telling someone you possess it. Avoid starting sentences with “I,” especially “I am.” Those “I am” statements — I am an innovator, I am creative, etc. — appear unsupported. In what ways have those skills actually been demonstrated? How were they applied and what were the outcomes? The answer to those questions are far more valuable than blanket statements and may go a long way in demonstrating value to a potential employer.
Don’t forget the details. When speaking about experience, be specific: instead of “I led a team that created new revenue,” the conversation gets interesting with added detail: “I led a team of engineers that found efficiencies resulting in a savings of $15 million and helped generate $10 million in new revenue.” Adding in the “who, what, where, when, and why,” turns a promotional statement into an intriguing story—and may actually lead to prompts for more information about outcomes or other similar experiences.
Turn accomplishments into a narrative. Speaking of story, you can really differentiate yourself by turning a one-sided promotion into an engaging narrative. By setting up the problem and talking about the solution, you gain the opportunity to share the details and show your skills (as above) while making sure to engage the listener. The only potential pitfall in telling the story of how your team solved a problem might be trying too hard to minimize your own contribution—even without being shamelessly promotional, never forget that YOU are the protagonist of the story.
Talk about the right things. Even if you have impressive experience, that experience may not always be applicable to the position for which you are interviewing. Familiarize yourself with the job description before the interview and prepare anecdotes that show (don’t tell!) relevant or similar experience. The most important thing to remember that the point of self-promotion is not to get praise; it is to demonstrate value to a potential employer. Even if a skill is remarkable, it may not be worth remarking upon if it detracts from the story of your fit in the role at hand.
A little goes a long way. The key to making the story work is to avoid overdoing it. A little self-promotion goes a long way. Make sure that the narrative is short, the examples are concise, and that the end goal is to start a conversation that’s worth the interviewer’s time to continue. When in doubt, you can always check in and ask what sort of information would be useful to share — that way, the information is tailored to address the interviewer’s questions or needs, without seeming like a ploy to inflate your own ego.