Humblebrags & Humilfidence

It is just me or did the notion of “straight talk” go away in the nineties or something?

These days, especially given the rise of social media, we’ve seen a real challenge arise in terms of how you go about communicating your strengths, exploits, and accomplishments to the folks in your network — while at the same time not coming across as an arrogant narcissist.  In fact, in describing this phenomenon today to a client of mine, his immediate response was: “Oh, you’re talking about humblebrags.  That’s what those things are called on Facebook and Twitter and yeah, they’re everywhere, and they drive most people crazy.”

Good to know there’s a term for it.  And after a little poking around, I turned up a series of articles about the topic, including a formal definition you’ll find here in the Urban Dictionary, an interesting story about the topic here in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the humerous collection of examples you’ll find here illustrating this communication approach in action.  And while I suppose could be the last one to the party on this issue, and all the rest of out there have already heard the term, I’m glad to discover it — since I’ve seen a lot of this kind of speech going around in cyberspace and am happy to discover there’s a label for it.

So where does this fit into the job hunting picture?  Actually, there’s a strong correlation, since in the interview process one is often asked (or instructed by experts) to talk about their skills and expertise in a very confident, superlative, and self-promotional way.  And yet, if you push this too far, you’ll likely come across to the hiring manager as a pompous jerk.  So this begs the question: how does one make strong, confident statements to employers about their talents without overplaying their hand and straying into egomaniac territory?

I actually invented my own word for this concept several months ago.  I call it humilfidence.  As the root words imply, it involves couching your interview-speak in just the right balance of humility and confidence to come across as enthusiastic, but not entitled.  As confident, but not cocky.  And done right, it’s really an authentic way to talk about yourself and portray your capabilities, so doesn’t cross over into the annoying world of “humblebrag” territory.

Examples of this technique in action?

“While I realize it’s a buyers market right now, and you’ve got lots of good candidates to choose from, I truly feel I have an outstanding grasp of what you’re seeking for somebody to accomplish in this role — and believe I could knock it out of the park, if given the chance.”

“I’ll admit, I’m not an expert on your particular market space and would definitely have a learning curve to climb in the first few weeks.  Having done so successfully in several past industries, however, I’m perfectly willing to make this extra investment of time and energy on my dime, not yours, to pick up the knowledge I’d need.  More importantly, I think the unique combination of experience I DO bring to the table will turn out to the be the factor that’s most critical to long-term success in this role, as we’ve discussed.”

“While I certainly don’t have all the answers, or a historical understanding of every solution you’ve tried in the past, it sounds like you’re facing a lot of the exact same challenges that my last employer was dealing with — and frankly, at my past firm, I was able to get those issues tackled in about 90 days, saving the company over $100,000 a year.  So unless I’m missing something, it sounds like I could really hit the ground running in this assignment and get your problems solved in record time, if that’s your main need.”

As you likely noted, each of the above examples combines at least one element of “humility” (e.g. admitting you don’t have all the answers, agreeing you’re not the picture-perfect candidate, acknowledging companies have lots of options these days, etc.) with an equally “confident” statement about your ability to solve the employer’s problems.  To me, this is a powerful one-two punch.  And I think most hiring managers respond well to people who seem to know their stuff, and where their professional greatness lies, without acting like they’re perfect or coming across as an annoying know-it-all.

So if you’ve struggled presenting your credentials with conviction during the interview phase, you might give the idea of “humilfidence” a shot and practice applying this technique.  One day soon, I hope to post an update to my Facebook page that says: “Wow, it was so cool that Obama used the word ‘humilfidence’ today in the press conference — I’m so glad they didn’t single me out for inventing it!  Too busy curing cancer and saving homeless baby whales…”

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5 Responses to “Humblebrags & Humilfidence”

  1. Appreciate the affirmation — and if you try pronouncing the word as “hugh-mil-fuh-dence” you’ll find it starts to roll off the tongue! 🙂

  2. Ha ha, yes, once one is sensitized to this concept, you’ll start to see it everywhere. I had one acquaintance write on Facebook “Congratulations to Tim and his team for coming in second at the tournament on Saturday — they gave us a good run for our money and our team barely snagged the championship!”

  3. …Just came across this in my Facebook feed: “As we travel through Europe, I am finding that speaking English with various accents is not an effective way to communicate with the locals.” …I see what you mean. 🙂

  4. I enjoyed how you shared your journey of poking around and included links.

    You’re not late to the party. I may have heard the term, humblebrag, before but haven’t been active on social media recently, so didn’t pay attention. It’s a fascinating topic with so many ways to look at it. I’ve seen some people court a very supportive following, and therefore, have a stream of humblebrags. The social media cognoscente always say it’s important to be a Go-Giver with a 10-1 ratio of commenting on other people’s posts to your posts. …I’m still struggling with the age-old question, where does one find the time?

  5. Andrea Ballard June 12, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Except for the fact that I cannot pronounce the word “humilfidence” I love this advice! Thank you, Matt. I especially like how your last sample answer gave specific details. It really backs up the brag with facts, making it all the more concrete and believable.

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