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Assert Your Accomplishments Without Being Arrogant

A few days ago, a colleague and I were discussing why some professionals seem to always excel in their career growth, while many others struggle.

Many factors contribute, but a significant one is how well (or not) we assert our accomplishments with colleagues, customers, and industry partners. Some do this too aggressively, appearing arrogant. Many others, fearing being branded as arrogant, undersell themselves throughout their careers.

Here are four ways you can assert your accomplishments without being arrogant:

1. Use Numbers

Whenever a client shares a resume with me, lack of information is rarely the issue. Yet, I almost always notice a lack of specific accomplishments.

Many people frame their career history around what their job responsibilities are or were, instead of what successes they created for the organization. Most people have many successes, but they don’t highlight them well.

If your resume says something like, “managed customer service” that’s about the job you were hired for rather than what you accomplished. Writing that you, “improved customer service,” is better at speaking to a success you had, but might not sound credible.

Without anything to back them up, claims can seem hollow or even arrogant. Dale Carnegie advised all of us to:

Get all the facts.

Far better is to use factual numbers to frame past successes. What if instead you wrote, “Improved customer service satisfaction scores by 29% year-over-year, as measured by our organization’s internal scorecard.” That sounds far more credible and presumably something others could verify.

All three of these statements are accurate:

  • Managed customer service

  • Improved customer service

  • Improved customer service satisfaction scores by 29% year-over-year, as measured by our organization’s internal scorecard.

But only the last one both highlights your success and sounds credible. If you’re not already keeping track of the numbers you’re moving for your organization, start now.

2. Consider Your Audience

When we work with clients in our High Impact Presentations courses, we teach people how to highlight their accomplishments when giving a major presentation. We consider this principle from Dale Carnegie:

Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

Many people have a standard, professional biography that the use for introductions, their LinkedIn profile, and professional associations. Sometimes these are lengthly and highlight many accomplishments.

Instead of reading an entire biography, we recommended three steps to build credibility without sounding arrogant:

  1. Limit the biography to two key accomplishments.

  2. Pick the two accomplishments most relevant to the audience.

  3. If possible, have someone else introduce you.

Regardless of venue, audiences quickly bore of anyone’s biography that reads for more than a couple of sentences. Ironically, people with legitimately lengthly biographies don’t need them, since their reputation precedes them. Ask anyone reading your biography to keep it short. Help others and yourself by picking in advance the two key points from your accomplishments to highlight. But don’t just pick any two — choose the ones that the audience you’re being introducing to will likely care about (whether that audience is an individual, group, or conference).

For example, when speaking to a prospective client, I’ll often highlight an accomplishment I’ve had in my career related to their industry. If going to speak to an academic audience, I’ll mention my graduate degree, but probably skip the industry accomplishment.

Finally, the reason to have someone else introduce you takes us right to the third point…

3. Highlight Third Parties

Never doubt the power of a third party. Let me explain:

Almost every time I get one of our cars serviced, the lobby of the car dealer is plastered with with plaques showing “diamond service” and “five star excellence” awards. Looks impressive.

But on closer examination, almost all the awards are from their own company. I’ve never walked into a car dealer that didn’t have their own company’s awards all over the wall. As a result, they appear fairly meaningless to me. Of course their own company is going to say nice things.

There’s nothing wrong with highlighting your own accomplishments occasionally, but it’s a lot more impressive (and credible) when it’s somebody else tooting your horn. Whenever possible, demonstrate what another party has said about you, rather than what just you or your organization have said.

For example, I could tell you that How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a great book and you should read it (which it is and you should). But of course I’m going to say that, I work for the company.

What if instead I told you that the book is the #47 bestselling book in the world on today, despite being first released back in 1936?

Which is more credible to you?

Likely the fact, since it’s from a respected, third party. Even if you had doubts about the book, it would be hard to argue its popularity.

Highlight what others say about you way more than what you say about yourself.

4. Change Your Mindset

Finally, and perhaps even more important as the other three, it’s incumbent upon many of us to change our mindset.

A lot of us were taught to be humble, not toot our own horn, and not gloat about our past accomplishments. Good advice we should all adhere to.

Except when we shouldn’t.

There are times that it’s appropriate to highlight accomplishments, such as when working on a resume, meeting a key industry contact, getting introduced at a conference, or writing a professional biography. You are doing both your audience and yourself a disservice by not positioning your professional credibility.

Employers, industry leaders, and your customers will provide more opportunities when they can better appreciate how you’ve helped them (or others like them) in the past. Doing that well gives you the starting point to earn the ear of a new audience.

If you’ll assert your accomplishments professionally using these strategies, you’ll open doors to gain attention, serve people better, and grow your career.

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