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Job interviews: Hold the horrendous humblebrags

Humblebragging is all the rage right now, with this keyword bandied all about.  And, despite its popularity, the practice of humblebragging is something to be avoided by smart job hunters like the proverbial plague.

What is humblebragging?

This form of self-promotion masks boasting with false humility and faux modesty. Humblebraggers cover their conceits with complaints and fake self-deprecation while tooting their own horns, so to speak.

The humblebrag is the back-door brag. It’s super popular in social networking, but it is also commonly practiced in job interviews.

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Here’s an example of humblebragging during such a meeting.

Suppose the prospective employer asks the perennially popular question:

How would you describe your greatest personal weakness?

A humblebragger might offer one of these answers:

  • I am too much of a perfectionist.
  • I am way too hard on myself.
  • I am a workaholic.
  • I am an overachiever.
  • I am too honest for my own good.

Sometimes humblebragging includes name-dropping.

  • (Insert big-wig name-drop here) told me I try too hard.
  • (Insert big-wig name-drop here) always says I should learn to take some time off.
  • (Insert big-wig name-drop here) wanted to hire me, but I was too committed to an important job assignment at the time.

OK, you get the point about humblebragging examples.

Sure, a smart job candidate is not going to ramble on endlessly about his or her own failings and spill scores of deep, dark, dirty secrets. But a veiled self-compliment isn’t the ticket either.

Among hirers, humblebragging usually makes a negative impression. The listener is seldom fooled by the tactic and is most often simply annoyed.

So what is the right way to answer the greatest personal weakness question?

Going into a job interview, the savvy candidate has a ready response for this one, choosing a genuine (but somewhat insignificant) personal challenge to mention. The answer may also include a short summation of how he or she is already making progress towards conquering this concern.

For instance, the job applicant might describe how he or she has often found it difficult to perform some specific task or to learn a technical skill. Or the challenge may have to do with mastering a foreign language, recovering from a major injury, or facing another life hurdle.

Consider these examples.

“For years, I shied away from public speaking. But, in my most recent position, I was able to gain experience leading small meetings. This helped me to gain confidence in this area.”

“Math has always been a challenge for me. Last year, I took a couple of night classes to brush up on some basic skills.”

“I used to be a terrible typist. Because keyboard usage is a big part of my job area, I have practiced this a lot, and I am gaining ground.”

The trick here is to demonstrate honesty and genuine humility, as opposed to prideful positioning.  The best responses show self awareness and an aim towards personal and professional growth.

A real answer to the greatest personal weakness question may reveal personal progress, but it is not likely to boast of the complete victory and aim at impressing the listener.

Armed with a well-built resume and some aptly-chosen professional and personal references, a solid candidate need not resort to humblebragging, but can field this one potentially dicey question without fear.

After all, the interviewer’s next question is likely to ask for the prospective employee’s top strengths. And, facing such a direct request, the candidate is free to outline as many pluses as he or she can muster. At that point, humblebragging becomes a non-issue, as the interviewee has been invited to crow openly.

Job interviews: Hold the horrendous humblebrags
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