How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Yourself Short

Several month ago, in an interview, I was asked what kind of experience I had with planning events. I love this question, because I’ve planned events in spades. I told them about the events I planned as a residence assistant, the events I’ve helped plan with student societies, the events I’ve helped out with through Shinerama, and all my Orientation experience.

When I finished answering the question, one of the interviewers looked at me and said, “You just said you ‘helped’ plan a lot of events. Where were you just helping, and where were you taking a leadership role?”

Here I am, in the middle of an interview, where I’m supposed to be selling myself, and I’m selling myself short.

See, for many of the activities I’ve been involved with over the past few years, I haven’t been in a designated leadership position. With Orientation Week, no one designates leaders of each sub-committee; they just kind of emerge as the summer goes on. With Shinerama, I never officially ran the campaign, but I’ve been extremely involved in idea creation, event planning, logistics, you name it. I didn’t have a designated leadership position with the East Coast Student Leadership Conference, but when there are only five of you doing the work, you kind of end up doing a lot.

Not having a designated leadership position, with designated roles and tasks, makes it difficult for me to remove the word “helped” from my explanations. Knowing that the majority of things I’ve done, I’ve done in conjunction with others, makes it difficult for me to remove the word “helped” from my explanations.

I need to stop being so darn nice.

When no one explicitly tells you that you’re in charge, it can be hard to take ownership of an event or initiative. But there’s a time and a place for everything. An interview is not the time to be giving credit to others. It’s the time to be me-me-me. That’s not to say take credit for things you didn’t do, or exaggerate your role. But it is to say you need to own the things you did do. Maybe this requires a shift in mindset. Maybe this requires a shift in language. Maybe it requires both.

If it was your idea, say so. If you oversaw it, say so. If you held all the responsibility, say so. If you did all the work, say so. If you only participated in one small part of the event, focus only on that part of the event, and own your role in it.

Really, this is all about owning the part you played in planning and facilitating an event. You don’t need to give the interviewer the picture that you were only a tiny part of a larger event. Paint them a picture of the part that you did, yourself, the part that would have gone undone had you not been there. And forget all the rest.

If removing the word “helped” is making you feel guilty, ask yourself this: how would you have felt if the event failed? If the answer is any of the following: terrible, devastated, like a failure, – then you’re good. If you’re prepared to take ownership of the failure, then you can go ahead and take ownership of the event.

You may not have been alone in your past experiences, but you are alone in your interview. Own what you’ve done. Don’t sell yourself short.

A Note of Caution. People need to take credit where credit is due. But they also shouldn’t forget to give credit where credit is due. Sell yourself in an interview, absolutely! But be careful how much credit you take when your with your team members. There’s nothing worse than someone taking full credit for something that you’re pretty sure you played a large role in- and vice versa.

Featured image by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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