Perhaps more so than our male counterparts, women—whether in the workplace or in our personal lives—have a tendency to downplay our achievements. Rather than talking up our accomplishments, we try to appear as though we’re not bragging. Articles recently published in The Huffington Post and The Chicago Tribune have both explored the importance of self-promotion in the workplace. If the issue has been featured so prominently in the media, why then do so many women still feel the need for such modesty?
As a soon-to-be college graduate of the University of Michigan, I am also guilty of the tendency to downplay my academic achievements. I recently completed a 100-page senior honors thesis, a project that I spent the better part of a year working on and which I consider the culmination of my college experiences. And yet, in a recent job interview, I had trouble finding a way to discuss this major accomplishment without feeling as though I was gloating.
This trend is ironically most prominent among the women most in need of self-
promotion. Recent high school and college graduates in particular struggle with promoting themselves in a professional setting. Some schools are changing their approach to female students in an attempt to help overcome this tendency towards academic and professional modesty. The Young Woman’s Leadership School of East Harlem, a school that supports young women in their academic and social goals, hosts an annual “Brag Party.” Once a year, members of the philanthropic group, the High Water Women, come together with high schoolers to teach girls in East Harlem how to tactfully but effectively promote themselves and their achievements.
What women everywhere—from East Harlem to Ann Arbor—need to understand is that if we are actively worrying about seeming arrogant or pompous, we probably aren’t being perceived this way.
Still need convincing? Here are five ways to insure you won’t come off pompous in your next job interview:
1. DO discuss the accomplishment in terms of the skills you acquired. If you spent months planning a charity event for a club at your college or university, discuss the time management and leadership skills you acquired. Did you recently run a marathon? Emphasize the stamina and dedication it required to reach your fitness goal.
2. DON’T define your success in terms of chance or assistance from others. According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “Men attribute their success to innate qualities and skills. Women attribute their success to luck and help from others.” While it’s nice to show you have the ability to work with others, make it very clear to your potential employer that you are the reason for your own academic and/or career success.