While “Here are the top three reasons why I’m amazing…” is no way to start a conversation, bragging often gets a bad rap.
But that’s not fair. Bragging in itself isn’t bad, it’s often how people go about it. So with that said, if you learn to go about it the right way, it can be undeniably helpful in your career—specifically in these three situations:
1. At a Networking Event
Common Mistake: Sounding Insincere
One of the top complaints people have about networking is that it feels transactional. That’s because, too often, they think the only way to mention their strengths is in a memorized, robotic-like speech.
So, they brag at the expense of being able to genuinely connect with anyone else—and then leave feeling drained and disappointed.
Get it Right
Muse writer Amanda Berlin advises answering, “What do you do?” by highlighting your talents. But, as she explains, this shouldn’t feel selfish or awkward: “You’re actually doing everyone a favor by being honest about what you’re good at and what lights you up.”
In other words, when you view bragging as sharing something honest and meaningful (as opposed to a sales pitch), you can do it without sacrificing the ability to connect.
Instead of “I’m an award-winning photographer,” you could say, “I’m a photographer. I always loved taking pictures, and then after winning a few competitions, I gathered the courage to quit my day job and pursue it full-time.”
Since you’re there to build a stronger base of contacts, you want to put forth why you’re worth staying in touch with—and be likable enough that people will actually follow up. So share your strengths in a friendly way, and follow up by displaying the same amount of interest in what the other person does, too.
2. At a Job Interview
Common Mistake: Making it a Non-stop Bragfest
You know it’s important to talk about your strengths and demonstrate how qualified you are. But don’t go so far as to make every line you speak a glowing self-endorsement.
Case in point: I interviewed someone who had no reply to “Tell me about a time you failed.” After several minutes of silence, he told me he couldn’t think of one time in his entire life when he’d ever done anything wrong.
Get it Right
In interviews, the trick is to make sure you don’t confuse bragging with acting like you’re incapable of making a mistake. If you pretend like you’ve never dealt with a challenge, the hiring manager won’t assume you’re perfect, but will instead assume you don’t have the skill set to handle it.
So, keep your answers in a positive light, but strive to demonstrate self-awareness too. When asked about your greatest strength or accomplishment, go on and discuss how creative you are. But when you’re asked a question like “What’s your greatest weakness?” don’t give a stereotypical response like: “I don’t have any,” or “I’m a perfectionist…”
Instead, point to something you’ve genuinely needed to work on and then share how you’re working to improve. For example, “Delegating didn’t come naturally to me, and initially, I struggled with it. So, I reached out to my supervisor for advice and learned how important it was to assign meaningful tasks and give clear instructions. It’s improved my relationship with my employees and helps our team get more done.”
3. At Your Performance Review
Common Mistake: Being Unprepared to Back it Up
You come to your performance review with a goal in mind. You want a promotion, or at the very least, you want your boss to know what a great job you did over the past six months (or year).
But people get themselves into trouble when they come with a list of things to they excel at (e.g., “I’m great at managing client relationships,”) but then don’t have any examples or statistics to back it up.
Get it Right
The trick to successfully bragging in your performance review is to follow up every positive assertion with a statement that essentially says, “Here’s why.” That way, you’re not just tooting your own horn; you’re recounting your work.
To prepare, keep a running accomplishment list throughout the year, so you’ll know what areas you’ve improved in. This way you could say, “I’ve really grown in my time management skills. For example, I started keeping a weekly schedule, and had the monthly newsletter ready one week early the past three months.”
Along with anecdotes, look for any data you can pull, as that’ll be most convincing. By what percentage did you grow sales (or your user base or donor list)? Saying, “I grew our donor list by [number of people] resulting in [amount] more donations” isn’t seen as bragging, but rather you sharing an important (and impressive!) fact.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where exactly the professional line is. Are you being confident or cocky? Blunt or rude? Proud of your hard work or arrogant? As with any of these fine-line situations, your approach can make all the difference.
Don’t make it your goal to stay away from bragging altogether, because after all, you’re your own best advocate. Just make it a point to do it the right way, so it’s well received.
Photo of people at work courtesy of Caiaimage/Robert Daly/Getty Images.