Career

How to Talk About Your Achievements Without Bragging

“Nobody likes a show-off”, said every dad ever. It’s true that people who brag stick out like sore thumbs. But while social norms rightly expect us to be humble about our achievements, this doesn’t mean we should keep entirely silent.

The problem is, striking the right balance between modesty and self-promotion is a delicate art – especially in the social media age. At the same time, taking pride in your achievements and sharing them with others is important for self-esteem and confidence.

To help you out, here’s a rundown on how to navigate the perilous waters of tooting your own horn.

On social media

Social media is the perfect bragging parade ground. None of the social cues that hold us back IRL seem to matter – sassy eye rolls, bored yawns, disinterested gazes. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are our modern-day confession booths, ideal for chronic over-sharers and those with #nofilter. The only thing stopping us going full-brag mode is a dodgy internet connection and a decent sense of modesty.

Despite its downsides, social media also offers one of the best ways to self-promote, be heard, and share your achievements with the world. However, we’re often so fearful of rubbing people the wrong way that we either keep our achievements to ourselves or downplay their significance through self-deprecation and trying to be humble. The latter is, of course, the classic “humblebrag” (which is often worse than straight-up bragging). For example:

  • “Who thought volunteer work would be so tough!?”
  • “Ergh…I can’t believe I spilled coffee all over my completed manuscript #idiot #thebooklife #thenexthungergames”

So instead of humblebragging, accidentally or not, try opting for the simpler route. Whatever the achievement is, be genuine and honest about it, getting straight to the point about why it means so much to you. Deliver the good news with confidence, not hesitance, focusing on the effort it took – not how incredibly talented and amazing you are.

Where credit is due, give it wholeheartedly – people love a team effort. Above all, know your audience. This means adjusting your posts to appeal to all your connections, or at least tinkering with your privacy settings to narrow your reach.

In a job interview

Nailing a job interview is tough. How can you simultaneously talk about your achievements and show professional restraint? Unlike on social media, avoiding self-promotion in a job interview can work against you. Highlighting your strengths here is a prerequisite, and as unnatural as it might feel, it’s best to understand this in advance.

The trick is in the showing, not the telling. If, in your last role, you restructured the entire marketing department and smashed all the KPIs, don’t shy away from this. It’s a massive achievement. But instead of just simply stating this and sounding like a hero, talk about the skills you used to make it happen. What did you learn from the experience? How did you manage setbacks? Who were the people that helped you along the way?

If you don’t have an answer to a question, don’t fill the void with an empty brag. While there’s no need to admit a total lack of understanding in the area, you can flip the question and recognise the places you would like to grow. Remember, a job interview isn’t just a sales pitch – employers are also assessing what kind person you are.

In the workplace

If you manage to nail the interview and get the job – congrats. However, the self-promotion doesn’t stop here. Whether you like it not, talking about your achievements is an important part of nurturing your career. Of course, picking the right times and settings is essential – e.g. annual reviews, team meetings, sit-downs with the boss, or when you’re asking for a raise.

To help prepare yourself for these moments, it can help to keep track of all your achievements throughout the year. Jot down what you did, why it was important, and how it helped the company. If the idea of self-promotion sends you running for the hills, enlist one of your workmates to do it for you – second-hand compliments are just as potent, especially if you pick the right referees.

Importantly, when your boss or a colleague gives you recognition, accept it without belittlement. And whatever you do, don’t say the word “luck” – you earned the praise.

With your mates

The best thing about having friends is that, most of the time, there’s absolutely no need to talk about your achievements. You’re free to shoot the breeze about everything and nothing, without the burden of self-promotion weighing you down.

All the same, friends are the perfect collaborators in self-validation. More than your employers, parents, strangers, or anyone else – sharing your achievements with your friends can really help boost your self-esteem.

Of course, every friendship is different, so there’s no “right” way of talking about your achievements with the people close to you. You might find injecting a little self-deprecation or humour to be the best way to go about it. Or perhaps weaving your achievement into a relatable story?

In all likelihood, it’s probably as simple as straight-up reporting the facts and being proud about this. Because if they’re good friends, they’ll be happy for you.


Doug Whyte is a freelance writer and copywriter. He’s worked in branding agencies, digital publishing and written a bunch of articles for a bunch of publications.