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Bragging vs. Promoting: It’s Not the Same Thing

Courtesy C. Holsendorff

Success didn’t spoil me; I’ve always been insufferable. ~Fran Liebowitz

An article in Psychology Today reminds us that the social norms of bragging refer to the fact that our culture expects people to be modest. The value to do not brag is driven into us at an early age by the responsible adults in our lives, and that lesson etches itself indelibly into our impressionable psyche.

We can’t by any means argue with the virtue of that instruction, can we? Actually, we will.

There’s no argument with the admonition itself─do not brag─but certainly we can take issue with the misguided interpretation that we put on it as we cross into adulthood. Hopefully you understand that especially as a job-seeker, setting yourself apart is paramount. Flawed thinking on the understanding of bragging can subtly cripple the message of your Personal Brand…a message that’s driven by the need to market the product─you. In light of the fact that the hiring manager is in fact ‘shopping,’ you need to provide convincing reasons to have him/her pluck you off the shelf and place you into that job. You must market your talents.

Is this a little uncomfortable for many of us? More than likely. Do you need to step out of your comfort zone? For sure. A lot of the discomfort, no doubt, is that you're struggling with the idea of not wanting to brag. Others are simply uncomfortable with the idea of talking about oneself, of making oneself the focus of attention.

What is Bragging (Arrogance) vs. Marketing (Promotion)?

In a series of studies titled “Should I Brag?” researchers concluded that boasting involved more of an explicit or implied element of competitiveness or one upmanship. In other words, bragging implies elevating oneself not simply for the sake of boorishly putting oneself on a pedestal, but to also put the other person down: Look at what I have (you don’t have it). Look at what I own (you don’t own it). Look at what I do (you can’t do it).

That is categorically not what’s going on when you promote your accomplishments in the context of your job search. Quite to the contrary, you do a great disservice to yourself if you do not confidently convey your track record of accomplishments throughout your hard-earned career history.


The key to not crossing the line into boasting is determined by the purpose of your conversation. The motivation for promoting yourself in your job search is that what you have to offer can truly benefit others. It's not simply about you; it's about how you've impacted companies. For example, “I have relentless commitment to assessing priorities and identifying goals resulting in outperforming territory expectations.” What discerning employer doesn't want to know that about a prospective employee (and have that person working in the company)?

Following are guidelines for helping you not cross the line of genuine self-confidence into uncouth arrogance:

What You Do: Declaring Your Impact
You are not simply a job title. How did you influence/benefit/impact companies in that role throughout your career? Articulate it.

How You Do It: What Makes You Distinctive?
Convey specific action/results accomplishments which authenticate how you’ve made a difference in companies throughout your career.

Why What You Do Matters: Your Value Proposition
What's your appeal? What's the irrefutable reason(s) that anyone should take note of what you do/who you are?

In this context, this isn't arrogance and you're not bragging. Conversely, keep in mind that if you are reticent to convey your what's in it for the employer, you risk being perceived as lacking in confidence─or worse, lacking in ability to do the job! Within the context of the job search, modesty can be seen as a weakness.

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