How to sell yourself without bragging at interview

Recruiter Laura Izard on how you can stand out from the crowd and promote yourself based on what you have done rather than exaggerating the truth.

Three people sitting at a job interview


It is very easy to wax lyrical about your friends and esteemed colleagues. What about when it comes to expounding your own virtues in an interview? In your Linkedin summary?  Or even a mid-year appraisal? Wouldn’t it just be easier if someone else could do it for us?

We think: “If I do good work, others will recognise it. I can just trust the right people will notice”. Wrong! In this disrupted, fast-paced, virtual world, you need to rise above the noise. I see the younger generation doing it naturally, often with an elegance that belies their years. Here’s how I see mature candidates doing the same and standing out in my recruitment processes.

The cardinal rule is to know your audience

Think about your target employer..  what are its goals, values, milestones? “Matchmake” to your own qualifications and background. Draw as many correlations as possible. If they are industry “disruptors”, where have you disrupted a process, a team culture? You may have just called it “changing”, but now use the keywords that your target uses in the role description.

The best interviewees have done their homework and can summarise their unique offer in a really helpful two-minute or  90-word synopsis. They communicate from the position of empathy. What I mean here is they focus on the capabilities THEY have that WE need.

Dispense with the concept of bragging

You are presenting factual statements of what you did. If you’ve done something amazing, own it. Pretend you are trying to further someone else’s career. What if you were writing for a subordinate who you had really rated? Weaving in quotes from previous appraisals can feel easier.

Capture the “so what”

Details gives the reader a mental picture with contour and depth of how you achieved things. In essence, what was the outcome or significant benefit of what you did? What did you do beyond the duty to get things done. Did you save resources?

Educate instead of persuade

This powerful blog post by Rob Thomas advises on how even introverts can sell “quietly” by asking lots of questions about a prospective employer’s needs, then advising on how they might solve the problem. This evidences your ability to fix the problem in an “In my experience it could work to….” (insert your approach to the problem) rather than a “What you need to do is hire ME to fix this for you” sort of way. See the difference?

Everyone is constrained by the same two things

The interviewer/assessor is limited by time, and you by space on the CV or time to deliver your pitch. In her great book “Write to Influence”, Carla Bass talks about creating an “Inverted Triangle” to hone your message. You can strategise on a piece of paper:

  • the three things future employers must know about you
  • qualities that you have that match job requirements (analytical skills, flexibility, team working, communication, etc). Remember these 4 or 5 things and highlight how you have brought these to the table
  • Finally, a concluding thought, for instance, “I would be so excited to work on this project as it is exactly what I did at Company X” that you want to leave the interviewer with. It rounds up nicely why you are the no-brainer hire.

Use subliminal words

“Named by”, ”chosen for”, “trusted with”, “selected by the divisional director etc”. If you are “asked to initiate” it suggests you have shown initiative. These subtle language inflections can help you to stand out.

Let’s pretend

You and I are interviewing for a business analyst’s role. I ask you a very generic question: “Tell me a little bit about yourself”. You are smart and bring the question right back to your relevant transferable skills.  “I love working as a team member. I can develop an idea and see it through to execution. For example, for three years I chaired the local Age Concern chapter’s fundraisers. These involved partnering with local businesses and primary schools to run a series of events run by up to 60 volunteers. They took six months to organise, raised unprecedented funds and unified the local community. It required my skills in envisioning, strategic planning and demonstrated my ability to implement”.

The same works for handling appraisals. Make sure you catch your data as it occurs and take special note of the impact. It’s so much easier then to state the facts and not feel like you are blowing your own trumpet. There is an elegant way of doing this and those in mid-life with their developed emotional antenna are usually pretty good at it! Brainstorm your triangle, memorise your “so whats” i.e. results, and you will nail it. You might actually enjoy it……that’s my hope as you really deserve to.

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