The best way to brag in a job interview or at work

Few people want to be seen as a braggart, even less so in a job interview or quarter evaluation. But when you are vying for a coveted position or a long-awaited promotion, you can’t just rely on other people to unearth your strengths and accomplishments on their own. And self-promotion is a delicate and tough line to toe.

“Whether it be at work or our social lives, we are constantly trying to create a good impression on other people and we are not very good at it,” says Maurice Schweitzer, a professor of management at Wharton, who has spent the last few years researching what goes wrong in how people brag about themselves.

“It’s a very difficult challenge, which is striking because we should have a lot of practice at it; as young children and throughout adulthood, we are constantly trying to make a good impression [on others],” Schweitzer tells CNBC Make It.

The biggest challenge we face when trying to promote ourselves to others is in coming across as both competent and likable, Schweitzer says. Praising a colleague or competitor’s work while underselling your achievements out of modesty might make you likable, but it could also hold you back at work.

Likewise, selling your own accomplishments without any due diligence to others will make you seem competent yet not likable.

Instead, Schweitzer says to do both, in a method he and his research team call “dual promotion.”

How to dual promote

Schweitzer outlines dual promotion theory in a paper published earlier this year titled “Dual Promotion: Bragging Better By Promoting Peers” which he wrote with co-authors Eric Van Epps of Vanderbilt and Einav Hart of George Mason University. 

Schweitzer and his colleagues conducted several studies looking at different contexts where you might want to brag about yourself: in a job interview, on social media and in office evaluations to name a few. The aim, Schweitzer says, is to find a way that people can boast about their work accomplishments without sounding self-centered.

The best way to brag about yourself, they found, is through dual promotion, which you can do by following your self-promotion with a promotion of someone else.

An example of a successful dual promotion Schweitzer uses in this study goes like:

“This project was successful because of our teamwork. I took care of all the financial analysis, technical processes, and back-end design. Alex really impressed me with how he handled our client communications. We both took charge of what we do best, and it led to a great outcome.”

How to use dual promotion to seem more competent—and to get hired

A great venue to use dual promotion is on social media, specifically Linkedin where the art of boasting about yourself is a topic of contention. Although some post on the platform about their accomplishments to dazzle hiring managers and colleagues, to its critics, Linkedin bragging can come off as self-obsessed. Using dual promotion when promoting yourself on social media platforms can help combat this chance of coming off as unlikable.

Dual promotion doesn’t stop at making you seem more agreeable. Schweitzer and his team found that in most cases it made the dual promoter seem more competent than the self-promoter, even though the accomplishments they outlined for themselves stayed exactly the same.

And it’s more than just sharing credit for work, too. The study found that including a compliment of someone else’s work alongside your brag increased how likable and competent you were viewed, even when that other person is someone you didn’t recently collaborate with or a direct competitor. 

Praising your competition in a job application or a promotion may seem counterintuitive. And in the eyes of trained hiring managers, it may not necessarily increase how competent they view you, but it definitely increases how likable you seem. And that improves your chances of getting hired, the study says. 

Being likable is an important step to getting hired or promoted — in some cases it might even be the deciding factor. A 2004 study published in the American Psychological Association found that job candidates who focus on their likability have a better chance at getting hired than those who focus on promoting their accomplishments and strengths. 

Despite the striking success of dual promotion over self-promotion, hiring managers surveyed by Schweitzer have said that 69.1% of job candidates they have interviewed engage only in self-promotion.

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