(Last Updated On: 01/06/2011)

The Dangerous Art of Self-Promotion

I am awesome. Seriously. I am smart, funny, and successful. I have the looks of George Clooney and the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. I can do anything your company asks of me and more. Need someone to boost sales numbers? Done. Trying to land that big new client? No problem. Want to streamline operations and increase productivity? Just say the word. There is no way that you will find another candidate who is even remotely as great as me.

If the statements above appear a little awkward and uncomfortable, that’s because they are! Self-promotion is a very important component of the job search, but it is not something that most of us are used to doing on a daily basis. Most of us are taught that humility is a virtue, and we all have those people in our lives who we try to avoid because they are egotistical, self-absorbed, or just downright obnoxious.That being said, you still must learn how to talk about yourself during the job search in a manner that is both professional and appropriate. After all, an interview is basically a sales pitch highlighting YOU as the product. During the course of that conversation, you need to think about how you can demonstrate likeability, competence, and confidence through the stories you tell and the rapport you build with the employer.

Know When and Where

As I mentioned above, we all know people who are just a little too full of themselves. Perhaps it’s a friend who always seems to steer the conversation back to herself, or the guy at a networking event who is shamelessly plugging his company and handing out business cards like candy.

The important thing to remember about self-promotion is that different situations call for different approaches. When networking, you want to be able to talk comfortably about yourself (see “How to Craft a Magnetic Elevator Pitch�? to learn more), but you don’t want to force the issue or make things awkward. If there’s something you want to mention about yourself, look for an appropriate opening or steer the conversation gently toward that topic.You also can (and should) demonstrate sincere interest in the careers and accomplishments of others – professionals enjoy sharing their stories and it may result in reciprocated interest in your own career. The key is to be aware of social cues and shift the focus back to the other person if you find yourself hogging the spotlight.

Now, fast forward to the interview. While the same rules about observing social cues still apply, you can throw out the guidelines when it comes to plugging your accomplishments. The interview is ABSOLUTELY a great place to promote your skills and experiences! Often, I work with students who are uncomfortable with this idea or struggle with the execution. It is not something that just happens – you have to PRACTICE and think about the appropriate way to handle the challenge of self-promotion.

Here are some general guidelines to help you get started:

Use Specifics

A common mistake with new professionals is that they understand the importance of promoting and branding themselves, but they have not yet figured out how to communicate those points in a way that is tangible and convincing. Here’s an example:

Employer: Tell me about what role you usually assume in a team setting.

Candidate: Well – I have great leadership and communication skills. I had to do a lot of team projects for my business classes, and I usually found myself taking charge of the situation and delegating tasks to other people. I really like working in teams. I’m a very organized and outgoing person so I am able to contribute in a variety of different ways to group projects.

While this answer is not terrible, it lacks punch. The candidate is listing a lot of traits that sound good to the employer – leadership, organization, communication skills – but not really showing them in action. Effective self-promotion might look something more like this:

Employer: Tell me about what role you usually assume in a team setting.

Candidate: Well, I have a lot of experience with team projects from my business courses and my student involvements. I’m comfortable contributing to the team in a variety of ways, but I do usually find myself assuming a leadership role.

For example, last fall I took a marketing research course that required a group project. Our team had to identify and analyze some of the market competitors for a hotel chain here in town. I took charge early on and helped our group set deadlines for each portion of the project, and then I helped to keep everyone accountable for their part of the study.

We had one member who wasn’t pulling his weight, so I also had to mediate that problem and approach him about the issue, which ended up working out because he understood my concerns and stepped up to the plate. In the end we got an “A�? on the project, and I also was able to lead a presentation to the hotel manager. The chain implemented a few of our suggestions and was ultimately able to increase their profits.

This response takes the form of a specific story that still communicates those essential traits – leadership, organization, communication skills – but it also shows them in action. Try to think about examples you can give that have demonstrable results, and avoid responses that are overly vague.

Draw Connections

Once you’re able to come up with some specific examples of your skills in action, think about how those stories connect with the company, industry, or position for which you are interviewing.

For example, at the end of each response, you will likely have an opportunity to elaborate about how that skill or experience connects to the needs of the employer. Think about this before the interview so that you’re able to recognize and capitalize upon those opportunities.

Let’s take a look at the previous example, pretending that the candidate is applying for a position as a restaurant manager. The added text at the end of the response shows how one might go about drawing some explicit connections for the employer:

Employer: Tell me about what role you usually assume in a team setting.

Candidate: Well, I have a lot of experience with team projects from my business courses and my student involvements. I’m comfortable contributing to the team in a variety of ways, but I do usually find myself assuming a leadership role.

For example, last fall I took a marketing research course that required a group project. Our team had to identify and analyze some of the market competitors for a hotel chain here in town. I took charge early on and helped our group set deadlines for each portion of the project, and then I helped to keep everyone accountable for their part of the study.

We had one member who wasn’t pulling his weight, so I also had to mediate that problem and approach him about the issue, which ended up working out because he understood my concerns and stepped up to the plate. In the end we got an “A�? on the project, and I also was able to lead a presentation to the hotel manager. The chain implemented a few of our suggestions and was ultimately able to increase their profits.

So, as I mentioned, I do have some great experience working in a team setting and I think that is something that would absolutely come in handy for this position. I know that a restaurant setting is very fast-paced and team-intensive, and I think my leadership skills can really be useful in impacting the bottom line.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to draw some explicit connections with your answers, but the advantage is that it shows your understanding of the position and helps turn a mere story into a sales pitch!

Keep It Positive

As you might expect, it is very important when executing self-promotion to avoid making negative statements. Too many times during practice interviews, I will hear students downplay their skills or emphasize their lack of experience. Big mistake! While it’s fine to address weaknesses (and perhaps you should do so to effectively promote yourself), you do NOT want to make them the primary focus.

Think about the key selling points you have to offer before going into an interview, and then reflect about different ways that you can really emphasize those points. It could be done through the stories you choose to tell, the way you introduce yourself, or even the questions that you ask at the end of the interview. Whatever you do, don’t unnecessarily offer up weaknesses unless you are asked for one directly!

Practice!

My final recommendation is PRACTICE! As mentioned above, self-promotion is not a natural ability for most of us, so get together with a career counselor, friend, or mentor and get some feedback about how well you’re doing in these areas. Keep at it until you are comfortable with the idea of selling your skills and can easily adapt your responses to a wide variety of questions. Remember, practice makes perfect!

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Andrew Crain

Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.

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