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In brief:
Modesty has no place in resumes, cover letters, bids, and other places where we are selling our strengths, abilites, and experience. Such documents require us to stifle a blush and write shamelessly about ourselves. However, when we write about ourselves there are many problems and common mistakes.

Writing About Ourselves: Bragging Without Blushing

- by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston of Syntax Training

For many of us, it's difficult to write about ourselves without nagging, uncomfortable feelings. 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."

Despite our discomfort and wherever it comes from, there are times when we are obliged to write proudly and confidently about ourselves; for example, in self-appraisals, resumes, cover letters, proposals, and bios. These documents require us to stifle a blush and write shamelessly about our accomplishments, experience, and skills.

Here are ten suggestions for writing proudly about yourself without blushing:

1. 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 accomplishments, try the STAR method, below.

2. 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 25 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 classroom instructors, online learning, and targeted job aids (A). On Monday morning, 96 percent of employees reporting to work had been trained in the new system (R).

3. Use specific examples.

Specific examples add credibility. Although words like outstanding, 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, prestigious clients, certifications, education, or other relevant credentials. Instead of stating that you "always maintain good customer relations," cite customer-satisfaction surveys, letters of commendation, and the absence of any customer complaints about you.

4. Use numbers 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. Alternatively, state specifically how long you have managed it.

Exaggerations or misstatements will not give you confidence, in addition to their obvious ethical implications.

5. Do not exaggerate or lie, even a tiny bit.

Your self-assessment, bio, 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.

6. 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 Corporate Communications award in 2004."

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 a year" to "Within a year, I reduced turnaround time by 20 percent."

7. 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.

8. 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?

Whenever possible, translate your hard work into results your reader will value. Consider "negative data" to illustrate your effectiveness-information such as the absence of on-the-job accidents, lawsuits, and grievances.

9. Enlist the help of a friend.

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

  • Are my examples specific?
  • Have I described my strengths accurately?
  • Is every statement clear?
  • Does every statement sound believable?
  • Is all the content pertinent?
  • Have I missed any relevant strengths or accomplishments?

10. Enjoy the 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.

Copyright Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Lynn Gaertner-Johnston is the founder of Syntax Training (http://syntaxtraining.com), which helps employees and managers write better. Subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, "Better Writing at Work," at http://syntaxtraining.com/signup.html and receive a free copy of "Email Etiquette: 25 Quick Rules." Development Firm based out of San Diego. Tristan is a former Police Officer, Personal Development Coach, Mediator, Conflict Negotiator, and Author. Visit the Synergy Institute website at http://www.synergyinstituteonline.com

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