Humblebragging, a skill that comes naturally to someone who thinks a little too highly of themselves, is something you never want to do in a job interview. Or anywhere, in fact, you don’t want to come off sounding like a douchebag.
What is humblebragging? It’s the act of boasting in the form of a complaint:
“I’m really eco-conscious, so while I wish I could bike everywhere I go, having a Tesla is just too convenient.”
When it comes to job interviews in particular, a new Harvard study suggests you spare employers the douchebaggery because it’s a huge turnoff.
For example, let’s take the notoriously terrible job interview question, “What’s your greatest weakness?”
A humblebraggart would say something like, “My greatest weakness is that I work too hard.”
“Oh really? You are actually too much of a good thing?” the employer should then ask sarcastically.
In everyone’s defense, a hiring manager who asks that question is a terrible interviewer and may possibly be asking for candidates to come up with a creative humblebrag of their own, but researchers suggest an alternative way to handling the situation.
In the study conducted by Harvard Business School, students were asked to write down their answers to the greatest weakness question and their reasoning for why they would answer it that way. Researchers then evaluated their answers for effectiveness, honesty and job candidate hireability.
More than 75% of the participants humblebragged, and most answers included being a perfectionist, working too hard, being too nice and being too honest. Researchers determined that most candidates were being strategic about their answers to the question rather than what they should have been: honest.
The researchers concluded that they would be less likely to hire the humblebraggarts and opt for candidates that seemed more honest.
“We show that although people often choose to humblebrag when motivated to make a good impression, it is an ineffective self-promotional strategy … Moreover, humblebragging is less effective than simply complaining, because complainers are at least seen as sincere.”
So how should you respond to this question?
For this, we turn to Quora. User Jason Ewing gave the most upvoted answer to the question, “In a job interview, is your answer to the question ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ a perfect humble brag opportunity?”
“What I appreciate in an interview is honesty. Having someone squirm to make their chosen ‘weakness’ seem like an asset doesn’t help me form an opinion of the person at all.
You know what impresses me? When someone describes a genuine weakness, and then goes on to tell me how they work to acknowledge it and work with it. I’ve had a candidate (we hired him) tell me that it was hard for him to remember follow up tasks because he got very focused on what was currently in front of him. Then he went on to describe how he’d used calendaring in outlook to manage reminders, follow ups, and adapt his workflow to that blind spot. He owned that it was something he still struggled with, but that he was also very aware of and actively working on.”