Job search and career change require us to talk to others about ourselves in a positive, convincing way. How comfortable we feel venturing into the language of self-promotion and “impression management” varies by individual. How much actively shaping one’s image is useful for making us seem more competent and capable and how much is too much?
One study that looked at resumes and cover letters, found that bragging could be broken down into varying levels of intensities.
In a mild form, someone might credit other sources about their qualities. For example:
Well, my staff tells me they like working for me more than any of their prior supervisors because, they say, I'm fair, listen to their point of view, and provide clear performance values and feedback.
At a moderate level, self-promotion might sound like this:
“I tripled my product’s reach.”
And extreme language includes superlatives about oneself such as “beyond compare.” These are cases where a candidate might indicate they were exceptional, superb, or outstanding.
Medium intensity forms of self-promotional bragging were found to be effective at influencing an evaluator’s perception of a candidate’s fit for the job. When resumes were intensely self-promotional evaluators were less likely to see the job applicant as a good organizational fit. Too much bragging was seen as disingenuous. These findings were similar to previous findings in the context of job interviews.
Too much talk about how great you are stops further conversation from happening. Not much follow up can occur around a statement like “I won employee of the year and other managers always tell me what a great job I’m doing.” It sounds a little fearful and even childish. But if you share your story such as “it was challenging to go to school while I was working full-time; it took a lot of focus and sometimes I felt like I was barely making it through,” there is more activation around who you are, and curiosity or imagination are opened up. It’s a human story that others can relate to.
In fact, impression management is not always about people trying to make themselves look better. In some cases, giving negative information could lead to a positive assessment. For example, I found one study where a college applicant that acknowledged worse-than-perfect grades was ranked higher than one who didn’t but had an identical transcript.
When you get the advice to talk yourself up, and let them know you are the best they’ll find, remember that moderation seems to work best and that telling your story with good manners will strike the right balance.