How to sell yourself if you're a shy job hunter

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:38

Selling yourself effectively in your applications and interviews for graduate jobs can feel uncomfortable if you're naturally self-effacing. Here's how to get yourself into the right frame of mind for your graduate job hunt.

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At, we're always advising you to sell yourself effectively in your application forms and interviews for graduate jobs, but this can feel uncomfortable and unnatural if you're naturally self-effacing. In fact, modest people often downplay their abilities and sometimes don't even mention them to recruiters, either because they don't recognise them as anything special or because they feel that they would be boasting. But by doing so they're not giving recruiters a reason to give them a job. So, if you are naturally modest, here's how to get past your inhibitions and sell yourself.

1. Know your strengths: make lists and ask friends/family

The first step to selling yourself is to recognise that you have skills and strengths worth talking about. Start by looking at the different activities that make up your life and make a list of the skills you used. Wrote essays and gave presentations for your degree course? Examples of your written and verbal communication skills. Play rugby/football/hockey? Example of teamwork and, if you were captain, organising, leading and motivating others. Fitted in a part-time job alongside your course and work for a SU society? Examples of time management and prioritising.

Also make a list on top of that of any extra qualifications or courses you might have attended. First Aid qualifications or IT courses are valued by employers.

It's always good to ask friends, family, your boss (old or new) and the tutors who know you best what they think you're good at.

2. Change your thinking: you're not boasting

If you're worried about over-selling yourself or coming across as arrogant, you have to change your thinking. What you are doing in your interview isn't boasting; you are simply providing recruiters with evidence that you are the right person for the job. Recruiters aren't mind readers. Unless you tell them about your skills and highlight what you are best at, they won't know and will probably hire someone else.

So approach an application or an interview with the attitude that you are going to tell them about all of the skills that are relevant to the position to help them make the best decision. Self-help books call this switch in thinking 'reframing the situation'. We just call it common sense.

3. Say you're good without saying 'I'm the best'

If you really aren't comfortable saying 'I'm good at managing my time' you could talk about times when you managed your time well, using the CAR technique (describe the Circumstances, your Actions and the Results). For example: 'There have been times when I have had to manage my time carefully to get things done. In my second year, I volunteered two mornings a week at a primary school through Community Action, but I also had to hand in two essays a week and I worked at a supermarket for eight hours a week. I handed in all of my work on time, met all of my volunteering obligations and still worked my eight hours, although I did swap shifts with colleagues on a couple of occasions.' In this example, the candidate isn't explicitly saying they're good at time management, but it's clear that they are.

You can also refer to feedback and impress your interviewer by saying something along the lines of 'My manager complimented me on my time management skills' (as long as it's true, of course).

You could also demonstrate your suitability for the role to your potential employer by bringing a portfolio of your work/awards to the interview with you. This way you can refer to the documented evidence of your strengths, such as your Duke of Edinburgh's award, rather than stating that you're the best candidate outright.

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