Writing About Ourselves: Bragging Without Blushing

For many of us, it’s difficult to write about ourselves without feeling uncomfortable. Maybe that’s because of childhood messages we heard about being modest. I, for one, had an imposing old aunt who announced, whenever I was happily bragging, “Self-praise stinks.” Yet even my twenty-something daughter, raised in a praise-filled household, struggles with talking about her many strengths and accomplishments. Do you? 

Despite our discomfort and wherever it comes from, there are times when we are obliged to write proudly and confidently about ourselves: in self-appraisals, resumes, cover letters, proposals, profiles, and bios. These documents require us to stifle a blush and write shamelessly about our accomplishments, experience, and skills. These same documents provide evidence and inspiration for us in salary and contract negotiations. 

Here are ten suggestions for writing proudly about yourself without blushing. Which ones make sense for you? 

1. Use I.
Many people have been taught in business or technical writing classes not to use the pronoun I. In some instances that may be useful advice, but in a cover letter or self-assessment it doesn’t make sense. Feel free to write “I hired 200 interns” or “I wrote the final draft.” If you participated in a successful group effort, you are still justified in using I: “With my team members, I won the Visionary Communications award in 2019.” (Don't say "We won"–the others are not with you now.) 

Vary your sentence structure if you find that you have too many sentences beginning with I. Change “I reduced turnaround time by 20 percent within three months” to “Within three months, I reduced turnaround time by 20 percent.”


2. Think about your pride and joy.

If you have difficulty identifying your accomplishments or special strengths for a resume or self-assessment, think about what makes you proud in your work. Also, consider what gives you the greatest joy. Often these things—coaching managers, calming anxious visitors, solving systems problems, mentoring new employees—will help you identify your accomplishments.

Once you have listed several examples, try the STAR method, below.


3. Use the STAR method.

In resumes, proposals, and self-evaluations, you must write convincingly about your strengths, skills, and accomplishments—that is, to write about yourself as a star performer. To do that successfully, use the STAR method. This method involves briefly describing a situation (S) or task (T), the action (A) you took to accomplish it, and the results (R) you achieved.

Management example:
When I started as branch manager, annual employee turnover was 28 percent (S/T). I implemented an employee satisfaction survey and suggestion program, established coaching plans for supervisors, and instituted a weekly staff meeting (A). As a result of these efforts, the employee turnover rate is now 10 percent (R).

Training example:
The challenge was to train staff in the new software by the opening of business on Monday (S/T). I designed, planned, and managed around-the-clock training using online learning, classroom instructors, and targeted job aids (A). On Monday morning, 96 percent of employees reporting to work had been trained in the new system (R).

STAR examples serve as excellent support in salary negotiations too. When a recruiter says, "This is the starting salary for this position," a STAR example can illustrate why your starting salary should be higher. 

 

4. Use specific details.
Specifics add credibility. Although words like persistent, dependable, and creative are positive, they don’t always paint a convincing picture. Besides that, they may make you blush.

In a bio, list your years of experience, impressive job titles, internships, prestigious clients, certifications, education, or other relevant credentials. In addition to stating that you “have always maintained good customer relations,” cite customer-satisfaction surveys, letters of commendation, and customer service awards or rankings. 


5. Use data wherever possible.

Numbers are concrete. They communicate a clear picture. By contrast, a “large staff” may be 20 or 200. If you are in charge of a large staff, budget, or region, use numbers to show how large it is. Or if you expanded the applicant pool, use numbers that convey that fact. Don't say, "We had a lot more minority candidates because of my efforts." Instead write, “Within three months, the program I instituted had increased the number of diverse candidates by 60 percent." 

 

6. Explain value.
Be sure to tie results to organizational goals. For example, as the new safety coordinator at your organization, you may have conducted 40 safety inspections in your first three months. The number sounds impressive, but what does it mean? Is there a correlation between your inspections and a reduction in accidents or incidents? Did you identify and eliminate safety hazards? Whenever possible, translate your hard work into results your reader will value. Also consider “negative data” to illustrate your effectiveness—information such as the absence of on-the-job accidents, lawsuits, and grievances.

 

7. Do not exaggerate or lie, even a tiny bit.
Your self-assessment, LinkedIn page, or resume should make you feel proud and help you speak confidently in an interview, performance discussion, or proposal presentation. Exaggerations or misstatements will not give you confidence, in addition to their obvious ethical implications.

Even if something is true but sounds exaggerated, leave it out. One consultant’s bio says that he himself has trained 350,000 people in 15 years. That’s an average 23,333 people each year, or 449 participants each and every week for 15 years! While it may be true, without further explanation it sounds false. Save telling about such an amazing deed for a speech or conversation, where you can elaborate.


8. Give relevant information.

Most self-assessments include specific categories: teamwork, communication, problem solving, and so on. Be sure that the examples you give match the category; otherwise, they lose power and weaken your presentation. 

 

9. Enlist the help of a friend.
When you have drafted your award application, resume, cover letter, bio, or self-appraisal, ask a friend to review it and answer these types of questions:

Have I missed any relevant strengths or accomplishments?
Are my examples specific and clear? 
Have I described my strengths positively and accurately?
Does every statement sound believable?
Is all the content pertinent to my goal for this communication?


10. Enjoy the sweet smell.

Life is too precious to be crippled by my aunt’s “Self-praise stinks” rule. Feel free to ignore any of those old voices. Instead, enjoy the sweet smell of your success.

 

I wrote "Writing About Ourselves: Bragging Without Blushing" 15 years ago but had never posted it here. With my daughter applying for a professional position, I realized its message is timeless. 

These blog posts provide other tips on communicating powerfully about ourselves:

Do you have ideas to share? What has helped you brag about yourself?

Lynn
Syntax Training

5 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Lynn,

    Thank you very much for this post. It comes just in time because I already postponed several times to write down if and how I have fulfilled my goals of the last year.
    Usually it starts in November to provide a first status update but as I also “have to” ask for a salary review I was not sure how to express.

    I am a woman and the last salary review has been in year 2015. Every (male) colleague is asking every year for a review but I do not only have problems to promote myself but also to talk about money (especially because we are in Europe still be paid extremely well).

    Please excuse my terrible English.

  2. My, thank you for your comment. I have added one more blog post to the list at the bottom of the article. It’s “Writing Your Year-End Review.” I think this post will give you even more ideas.

    Being paid well in Europe is no reason not to have an annual salary increase. I imagine the cost of living is increasing, and your job responsibilities are growing. If the men ask for–and get–a salary review every year, you should do the same.

    Good luck!

    Lynn

  3. Hi Lynn,

    Another great post, thank you! This was close to home.

    I used to struggle to share my accomplishments, and never even really celebrated much (including my college graduation). Several years ago, I ran a marathon with a friend. We both got finisher medals. I got home and stuck my medal in a drawer and never mentioned it again. My friend wore her medal every single day, for months, everywhere she went – to work, to dinner, to the store, it didn’t matter. She spoke of it frequently and to everyone within ear’s reach. One day, a common friend approached me, surprised and excited that I had ran a marathon. He had no idea I had done it and found out through my running friend.

    Here is the thing I learned: when a friend shares their accomplishments with you, doesn’t it make you feel good? Don’t you cherish it and wish to celebrate with them? When we choose not to share, we are basically “robbing” our friends the opportunity to share in the joy, to learn from us, to expand their world. That is my new approach anyway, and let me tell you, I do feel happier about it.

    I hope this helps those who still struggle to brag.

    Cordially,
    Patty
    P.S. My, I strongly encourage you to follow the men in your company, and start getting raises yearly. There is absolutely no reason not to. Good luck!

  4. Hi Patty,

    Thank you for such an instructive story. I am happy that you learned from your experience and have taken the time to share it with readers here.

    The conversation starter I most often use is “What’s new and exciting?” It gives people an opportunity to share something they are excited about. It also allows me to easily follow up with a “brag.”

    Congratulations on the marathon! What an achievement.

    Lynn

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