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Alternatives to Self-Promotion

By Wendy Gelberg


One of the hardest parts about looking for a new job is the need to promote yourself - especially since people often feel they have to brag, when in most other social encounters we're taught not to brag. The standard job search advice tells you that "you've got to sell yourself" and "you have to toot your own horn." One job seeker spoke for a lot of us when she said, "What are you supposed to do when you don't want to sound like you think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread?"

Here are three answers to that question.

1. Let Others Speak For You

It feels less boastful, and sounds more credible, when you can refer to the testimonials of others. These can come from several sources.

One obvious source is performance evaluations from your manager. If you're asked in an interview about a strength or an accomplishment, you can say, something like this:

"My manager always gave me high marks for my ability to resolve sensitive and complex customer problems with diplomacy and sensitivity. He commented in my performance evaluation on my contribution to our increase in customer retention." On your resume, you can use a phrase such as "Recognized for contribution to customer retention through diplomatic resolution of complex customer problems."

Testimonials can come from many sources: clients, co-workers, even vendors. Whether the praise has been given in written form or not, you can reference the feedback you've gotten from others:

"My co-workers tell me they can always count on me to troubleshoot computer problems. When the system goes down, I'm the one they turn to to get things up and running again."

2. Bring a Portfolio

We all know that sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words - and sometimes having some visual aids can help you promote yourself.

Having a portfolio of work samples, news articles, certificates/licenses, letters of praise, or other documents you can display can allow you to promote yourself by putting the spotlight on the work itself.

When asked about your accomplishments, you can say, "May I show you an example of the new monitor that I helped to design?" and then show a photo, product announcement or press release, or product specifications and describe the unique features of your product.

However, just be sure to remember that a portfolio is a supplement to the conversation and not a substitute for it.

3. Report the Facts

Now let's look at how you can speak on your own behalf, but without appearing boastful.

According to the dictionary, "to boast" means to speak in an arrogant manner. Simply reporting the facts isn't boastful - what contributes to boasting or bragging is tone of voice, an exaggerated "I," and exaggeration of the truth.

You won't sound boastful if you present information in a straightforward manner, especially if you use the Problem-Action-Result (P-A-R) format to tell a brief story. Using this format, both in interviews and in resumes, you describe the problem you faced, the action you took, and the results you achieved. If you were part of a team or others contributed to the successful outcome, include them in your story.

Here's an example of a P-A-R answer:

"It was my responsibility to prepare the handouts for the conference and assemble packets for the attendees. One speaker didn't submit his materials until the day before the event [problem]. I quickly organized a team of three other support staff and, working past the close of business, together we collated and put together all of the materials. [action] We had 250 complete packets ready in time for the 8:30 start of the conference the next morning. [results]"

You'll feel less boastful when you focus on telling the story of the larger event or circumstance, and at the same time you'll provide useful information to an employer about how you solve problems. Note that there's no exaggeration, and no arrogant tone of voice. Report the facts, just the facts.

Bottom Line

Using a combination of these three strategies - presenting the evaluations of others, samples of your work, or just the facts - you can successfully promote yourself without bragging or tooting your horn.


Reprinted with permission from, © 2016 Adicio, all rights reserved.


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