Why being too modest in a job interview could tank your chance of getting hired


While boasting about your accomplishments may be frowned upon in most circumstances, it's perfectly acceptable during a job interview, says interview coach and HR expert Barry Drexler.

However, many applicants make the mistake of being far too modest in an interview, Drexler tells CNBC Make It. This is problematic because the purpose of an interview is to sell yourself and highlight your accomplishments. As a matter of fact, he says that being too modest makes you easily forgettable and lowers your chances of getting hired.

"Modesty is a virtue, but not in an interview," says Drexler.

How you were raised plays a big part in your level of modesty, says Drexler, who has conducted more than 10,000 interviews. He says he's dealt with candidates who are "painfully modest because it was beaten into their heads not to be boastful."

"They struggle a lot because they think that's the opposite of what you should do," says Drexler. "They say, 'It sounds arrogant if I say that I'm great.' No it doesn't."

To the contrary, interviewers expect you to speak highly of yourself, he says.

The HR expert adds that another reason people have a hard time selling themselves is because that's not something people generally do in daily life. "You don't walk around selling yourself everyday, saying look at me, look at me, I've done this, I've done that," he says. "So no one has that expertise."

This woman nails the trick question one hiring manager says can make or break an interview
This woman nails the trick question one hiring manager says can make or break an interview

Still, it's crucial that you quickly overcome this learning curve because an interview centers around you discussing your achievements and making a case for why you're better than every other candidate, says Drexler.

The No. 1 way people are too modest in an interview and hurt their shot at scoring a job, he says, is how people describe their past work and skills. Applicants fail to use "powerful" words, he says.

For example, instead of saying, "I know how to use Excel," he suggests that you say, "I'm advanced at using Excel." Instead of saying, "I can speak Spanish," say, "I'm a fluent Spanish speaker." Finally, instead of saying, "I'm knowledgeable about the financial market," say, "I'm highly knowledgeable about the financial market."

"It's all about using these words," says Drexler. "It's not considered nice to [speak like this] if you're talking to a friend but in an interview you have to."

If you're someone who finds it difficult to recount your accomplishments in this way, Drexler has some final words of encouragement for you: Interviews only last for about an hour.

"You've just got to turn it on in the interview for an hour or two and then go back to who you are," he says. "When they hire you, you can go back to being modest."

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See also: You should leave this off your resume if you can't back it up in a job interview

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