Among the various instructions I was given as a child — “Wash your hands after you come home from school!” and “Please refrain from biting your sister!” — “Don’t brag!” was one that always stuck with me. Maybe because I always resented when my elementary-school nemesis Amanda would boast about the desserts in her lunchbox (my parents always packed me a fruit cup), or maybe because I gloated about being appointed Recess Cleanup Captain the first day of second grade and subsequently found out it was the worst job in all of homeroom; either way, it was definitely a mantra I got behind.
As I grew older, though, I learned there was a very important exception to the common no-bragging rule: job interviews. How fascinating, I thought to myself after my first-ever formal interview for a summer internship. Not only is it permissible to hype your own accomplishments in the context of a professional pursuit, it’s encouraged!
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. In fact, it can be a real challenge to strike the right balance between strategic boasting and measured humility when you’re pitching yourself for a job. I’ve definitely improved since my first time at the interview rodeo, but I still struggle with the nuances of professional bragging, even in informal networking scenarios. For some expert advice, I reached out to Career Contessa Founder & CEO Lauren McGoodwin. Read her six career-oriented pitching tips below.
1. Simplify Your Resume
“A lot of people think that a resume is your whole life story on a piece of paper,” said McGoodwin. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Your resume needs to be a snapshot of the most relevant and specific information that you’ve done that’s laid out in a way that makes me want to read it.”
2. Be Specific About What You Want
“Storytelling is especially important if you’re pitching yourself in a cold email,” McGoodwin told me. “Tell the story of you and what you’re interested in and what you’re looking for. Make it interesting. Make me want to hear more. Also be really clear about your ask. If you’re cold-emailing, is it because you’re interested in a job? Is there a job you’re specifically interested in? Do you want to have an informational interview?”
Be wary of copy-and-pasting the same thing when you reach out to different companies, though: “They can always tell,” said McGoodwin. “It’s obvious when someone has a template and just changes the job title and the company over and over again. You’d be better off not sending anything.”
3. Keep Things Concise
“There’s a reason the phrase ‘elevator pitch’ exists,” said McGoodwin. “When I was a recruiter, people would take 30 minutes to answer the question, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ That’s way too long. You need to be short, concise and specific. You should also tailor your answer based on what the company cares about. What do they want to know about you? Probably not what internship you had in high school.”
She also emphasized the power of a good conclusion: “I cringe when people are pitching themselves and at the end they say something like, ‘And that’s about it!’ It ruins the whole pitch because the last thing you say is the last thing your interviewer is going to remember. A more strategic way of wrapping things up would be to say, ‘Because of my interest in X, I found this role particularly compelling.'”
4. Don’t Underestimate Your Delivery
“Often times people will just write out their pitch instead of saying it out loud,” McGoodwin said. “But the way you talk and the way you write are probably going to be a bit different. You need to get comfortable hearing the words come out of your mouth so when you’re sitting in the actual interview, you’ll sound fluid instead of overly rehearsed.”
5. Lean Into Your Soft Skills
“I was an admin assistant and I wanted to be a recruiter, but I’d never worked in that field before,” McGoodwin said of the sometimes-tricky task of selling yourself when you don’t technically have experience for a role you want. “When I interviewed for a recruiting role at a tech company, I connected the dots between responsibilities they listed in the job description and specific qualities I knew I had to offer. For example, I said I liked working with people, which is an important quality for a recruiter but not necessarily a hard skill.”
6. Sell Yourself As a Solution
“When you’re pitching yourself to a company, you should never ask what they’re looking for or say something like, ‘I can do a little bit of everything,'” said McGoodwin. “You should have already done research to find out exactly what they’re looking for and exactly what you can do for them. Companies don’t hire people because they enjoy handing out salaries and benefits. They hire people because they have a problem that needs to be solved. In your pitch, you need to sell them a solution.”
Career Contessa also has a free guide for how to sell yourself, which you can download here.
Illustration via Getty Images.