Hide your talents atop a skyscraper

Winning language, er, wins. Many people use self-deprecating language. It can be a quite endearing trait in casual company, but when chasing a job, it could well be injurious to your chances.

Ask someone how they are today, and they may tell you ‘not too bad.’ When analysed literally, this means that they are ‘bad’, but ‘not too’ so.

Not very bad, but still bad. Bad at the “not too” grade.

It could mean they are in early stages of recovery from a great trauma – bereavement, financial collapse, or, our old friend, the Dear John “look, it’s not you, it’s me, ta-ra” flick.

However, in reality, it tends to mean that the person is, in fact, very good. Hard to fathom, I know: not too bad = very good, but that’s the way it goes.

A similar level of self-deprecation peppers a great deal of our language. “I’m fairly good at doing spreadsheets” might actually mean that “I am red hot at crunching those numbers”.

This is all very well if the person you are talking to has learned to calibrate your language at the appropriate level.

In all likelihood, the interviewers won’t know you, and she may not realise that one man’s “not too bad” might actually be the same man’s “absolutely wonderful, if I was any better I’d be danger”. Instead, she may take your “not too bad” as a kind of middle-of-the-road statement denoting little more than mediocrity.

The better course of action is to be explicitly. Hide your brilliance atop a sky-scraper. Don’t beat about the bush. Use language that leaves little room for ambiguity.

If you are excellent at Excel, tell them just that: “I am excellent at Excel.” If you are about a six out of ten at Excel, tell them that, and assure them that “I’m confident I can easily become better with some training and experience – I tend to pick things up quickly.”

The best way to let people know your skills is to tell them straight out. Don’t make a treasure hunt out of it. This is not to advocate that you should make false claims: if you are not good at something don’t mislead them, but, equally, you are entitled to add the rider that you learn things quickly.

And you can also add evidence from your past that supports this point: “in my last job, I didn’t know a great deal about updating websites, but I did some courses and learned from my colleagues, and I quickly got up to speed.”

You might wonder if you run the risk of going out over the top and portraying yourself as arrogant. It’s a judgement call you have to make yourself, but, in my experience, very few people are genuinely arrogant. Most tend to be bashful and under-stated, and if you happen to be one of those, you have plenty of spare capacity for injecting a bit of confidence and self-belief into your language.

Interviewers need to hear you express your talents as clearly as possible. Otherwise, how can they be sure? Plus, in all job-chasing scenarios, the onus rests with you to bring your suitability for the job to the attention of the interviewer. Don’t force them to go digging deep to find what’s good about you: bring it to the surface yourself.

For Sli Nua Careers’ Free Job Searching eBook, email getthatjob@slinuacareers.com with Free Job Searching eBook in the subject line. Contact Sli Nua Careers for CVs, Interview Preparation and Mock Interviews – tel. 094 95 42965 / 091 528 883.