With recruitment season in full swing, this quote serves as a fantastic reminder for those of us who find it hard to identify, share or promote our strengths and career successes in applications or interviews. 

For many of us, just thinking about our strengths – not to mention telling someone else about them – can make us feel pretty uncomfortable. So, how can we get comfortable with the discomfort of sharing our strengths?   

First, it’s useful to identify the cause of discomfort.  

Identify the ‘ick’ factor

On a scale of 1 (fine) to 10 (run away and hide), how comfortable are you talking about your strengths?

It could be cultural or societal norms getting in your way – particularly if you come from a culture or family where modesty and humility are valued over self-promotion or where talking about your successes is seen as boastful or arrogant. This is often the case for women, with lots of research showing that women are often judged more harshly for talking confidently about their strengths but also, conversely and frustratingly, for not doing so! This HBR article gives some additional insight into this. 

Not social conditioning? Maybe it’s your old friend ‘The Judge’ or one of the many other unkind negative self-talk monsters (find out more in this blog post) who drip-feed self-doubt and judgement into your mind. These unhelpful messages of not being good enough, being judged harshly by others or being rejected knock your confidence and make you doubt whether you’re actually capable of the job you’re applying for. Spoiler alert… you probably are!   

Feeling left out because, well, at least they’ve got strengths?! Well, so do you, I promise; it’s just you might find it hard to identify them. Your unkind, negative self-talk might be stopping you from recognising them or you might be underestimating just how significant your strengths actually are. It goes without saying that this will make it much more challenging to write about them in your application or to talk about them during interviews. 

And that’s why I love the quote we started with: ‘It’s not bragging if it’s true’! Being able to back up your strengths with cold, hard facts that showcase what you’ve achieved can really help to alleviate the ‘ick’ factor that so many of us feel when talking about how great we are. 

So, just how great are you?  

Now that you’ve figured out what’s been getting in your way and stopping you from talking comfortably about your strengths, it’s time to delve into what they actually are. Remember, we’re going to back them up with indisputable truths because, all together now, ‘It’s not bragging if it’s true’! 

A top tip before you start is to try to be objective here. It’s tough, especially when your unhelpful, ingrained thoughts about sharing your success are still trying to get in on the action and stop you, but it’s important. It might help to imagine you’re thinking about a friend’s accomplishments rather than your own; that way it’s likely you’ll be a little kinder.  

A strengths sharing strategy 

Here’s a task I use with clients who need a confidence boost and a reminder of how brilliant they truly are. Write down all your achievements, strengths and success under a few different category headings. I love a mind map, but feel free to do it however it suits you best. 

Add something like ‘I am amazing’ in the centre. While this might feel a bit cringey, it will help to get into the right mindset: you’re looking for all the positive facts that prove that statement. Then, write down everything you can think of that shows just how brilliant you are. Below are some ideas for categories to get you started but you can choose or add your own. In my experience of using this task with clients, it usually starts slowly but then snowballs until there’s no room left on the page!  

If you’re struggling with this, how about asking a friend or family member to do it for you first? Just as the saying goes, ‘it’s hard to spot the spinach in your own teeth’, it can be hard to spot our own strengths, because of the reasons outlined in the beginning. 

It can also help to look at it from a different, less positive perspective. While it might seem counter-intuitive, thinking about your not-so-good bits might just help to reveal your very best bits. Take a look at this previous blog post to find out more about how your barriers can also be your greatest strengths!  

Now, make it specific 

As a former Deputy Head, I was heavily involved in the international recruitment process and was always on the lookout for real-life examples from candidates that would back up their responses. 

So, your next step is to choose some concrete examples that backup your strengths. For example, if the job description requires you to work closely with parents, then give a solid example demonstrating how your ‘natural calmness under pressure’ (from your skills and talents category) helped to solve a difficult parental situation.  

So, to recap: 

  1. Identify what’s stopping you from talking confidently about your strengths and successes 
  2. Make a list of all your strengths, both personal and professional 
  3. Add some concrete examples of when you used your strengths effectively to make it specific 

How do you feel now? 

I hope that looking into why you find it uncomfortable to share your strengths has helped and that now you feel more confident to identify and comfortably share them. If not, don’t worry; keep trying and remember not to listen to those unhelpful, negative monster voices that will creep in and try to stop you – you’ve got this!  

Thank you Rachael for writing this guest blog for us. Read more about her below.
Contact Rachael at rachael@schoolleadercoaching.co.uk

If you are interested in more advice on creating an engaging and attention-grabbing CV to help you in your job search, why not check out our CV templates for free?

photo of author
Hi, I’m Rachael Kobylecki. I help school leaders untangle the challenges of the job, including supporting them through the recruitment process. Having been a teacher and school leader in the UK and in international schools, I understand how challenging it can be to make the decision to move schools and move up in leadership. I want to support others to make the journey towards their dream job easier!
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