An Alternative to “Selling Yourself”

Have you ever been told that you have to “sell yourself” in order to succeed in finding a job?  Are you a reserved, overly modest introvert who shudders at the idea of “talking yourself up” to others?  If yes, then you’re in the same camp as me, and a whole lot of other generally nice, well-meaning people.  Additionally, you’ve probably wondered if there’s any alternative to the “sell yourself” mantra that so permeates the world of the work search.

Fear not – today, semantics comes to the rescue

*     *     *

There is an alternative way to think of the self-promotion aspect of the job hunt – one that may have a larger appeal to the modest introvert crowd than the idea of “selling yourself.”  It’s a subtle word swap that nonetheless has significant influence on the meaning of the phrase.

It’s time to shift from “selling ourselves” to “acknowledging ourselves.”

I knew from the first time the distinction was made to me that I would never think of that feared, self-aggrandizing, seemingly shameless self-promotion that until then was an inherent part of all job applications, the same way.

“To sell oneself” has a good many connotations that I’m not a big fan of, many of which revolve around the consumerist ideals that fuel our incurable western affluenza.  I start to think of car dealerships, cell phone providers, and Jehova’s witnesses.  People trying to convince me that I need something that, really, I don’t.  It’s aggressive.  It’s adversarial.  It’s cutthroat.  It’s you saying, “Hey! You! Look at me!  Look at how great I am!  I’m what you need!  BUY ME!”

And maybe that works for you.  There are a good many industries in which you likely have to embrace those kinds of attitudes to succeed.

But, it’s hard for a person that values modesty to throw that value out the window in the job search.  It’s become quite clear that applicants’ values and their fit with those of the organization are an important consideration in employers’ hiring decisions.

“To acknowledge oneself” brings to mind connotations of integrity, honesty, and self-affirmation.  There is no argument or attempt to convince anybody of anything, rather a simple recognition of what you’re bringing to the table.  A confident assertion made after a self-reflective process that says, “I know that I have value.  These are some of the ways I think I could be of value to you.” This kind of attitude masks no insecurities, it is immune to counter-argument (because no argument is being made), and it sounds collaborative as opposed to adversarial.

Brad Pitt at the Burn After Reading premiere
Image via Wikipedia

You’ve probably seen the movie Fight Club.  The “acknowledge yourself” attitude is the Mickey (Brad Pitt) of Fight Club, exuding a quiet confidence and knowledge that the skills you have will get you through at the end of the day.  The “sell yourself” is the Brick Top of Fight Club, living high stakes, making sweeping claims, using scare tactics, etc.  And anyone who’s seen the movie knows who comes out on top.

Happy holidays!

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.

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