Modesty is great in person

Here in New Zealand we can be guilty of underselling ourselves. We’re often afraid of being confident for fear of coming across as arrogant. This somehow works fine in person, we just assume some level of modesty in people. In fact this can get annoying if you genuinely aren’t just being modest, you sometimes really have to convince people!

“You must be a great basketball player”
“No, not really”
“But you’re so tall”
“Haven’t played since high school”
“On the A team were we?”
“No, we got made to play it once or twice in P.E.”
“Too many other commitments then?”
“I was actually just terrible, I’d just stand there dribbling”
“You basketballers crack me up”
“I couldn’t be more serious”
“Really?”
“Yeah”
“Really?”
“100%”
“Oh, you’re just being modest!”

It’s kind of like that old thing where people say “I couldn’t possibly” when they get offered a tasty treat – there’s an unofficial script that has to play out where the person offering goes “go on, you know you want to!” You hesitate and they say “There’s one with your name on…” and before they have time to finish the sentence the plate gets one afghan biscuit lighter and crumbs are bouncing off your shoes. That’s right, it’s just like that.

It doesn’t work in CV though.

Employers aren’t engaged in polite conversation with you yet. They don’t have to go through any of this polite persistence, if they don’t see that you have the skills or that you want the biscuit straight away then your CV is discarded (well maybe not the biscuit thing unless the job can be considered the biscuit metaphorically speaking). This tendency towards modesty is fairly engrained in many of us and it can be hard to make a switch out of this. It’s easy to let this seep into your cover letter or CV and turn it into a big modest statement of “I think I might be ok, pretty sufficient and quite probably good enough really”. If this is you, you’re in danger of coming second behind someone else who may not necessarilybe more experienced or skilled but who isn’t afraid to sell themselves (or has at least made the effort to!). So you have to shake this off, and I mean that almost literally, this need to make ourselves small is quite physical. When sitting down to write your application, sit up straight and think positively – exude confidence! this will come across in what you write and how you write it. I remember in interview in which Vernon Reid (Living Colour guitarist) talked about writing and playing music and saying theres no hiding your emotions in music as hard as you might try. I know CV writing isn’t exactly a creative outlet on a par with creating music but its still true to an extent, get into that positive frame of mind first and that self belief will come across.

I’m the Best!

Ok, don’t overdo it. You have to be sure that you’re always credible and that means not sounding over confident. It’s a balancing act but a relatively easy one.

When you’re talking about your skills you should be talking in examples. This means you’re not giving yourself the chance to be modest, you’re going straight past that and talking about concrete examples of your skills through your achievements. For instance, you can try to undersell yourself by saying something like “I think I might have some small amount of skill with…” but if you give some great examples you’ll be ahead of the person who just states that they are top notch without backing it up (but get rid of that ‘I think I might’ stuff too!). The S.T.A.R. method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a great way of taking those statements which could use some boosting and making them into memorable concrete reasons for hiring you.

Here’s a great explanation of the STAR method.

My final word is this: go ahead, be deserving of the biscuit and make no appologies for grabbing it.

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Advice, CVs