Why You Shouldn’t Try To Humblebrag In A Job Interview

Why You Shouldn’t Try To Humblebrag In A Job Interview

Humblebragging is notoriously obnoxious, but it feels necessary sometimes. For example, in a job interview, we’re often told to answer the dreaded “what’s your biggest weakness” question with something sly, such as “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” People see through this. It’s better to either be honest about your bragging or be open about your weaknesses.

Picture: Samuel Mann

With some colleagues, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino conducted research on humblebragging. They instructed a group of subjects to write down how they’d answer the “greatest weakness” question in a job interview. Over three-quarters of subjects answered by trying to reframe a positive statement as a negative one — better known as humblebragging. The researchers hired assistants to evaluate subjects’ answers. Here’s what they found:

Interestingly, this strategy was not effective: The research assistants indicated that they would be much less likely to hire the humblebraggers than those who seemed honest. These findings suggest that in job interviews, showing we are self-aware and working on improving our performance may be a more effective strategy than humblebragging. After all, authentic people who are willing to show vulnerability are likely to be the type of candidates interviewers most want to hire.

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that it’s not just potential employers who are put off by this. Gino says those studies show people actually prefer braggers and complainers to humblebraggers. She reported:

What these results seem to suggest is that when deciding whether to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be self-promoters should choose the former — and at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere…Together, these studies point to an important truth: Our intuitions on what types of strategies will create a positive impression on others are often wrong. We believe that humblebragging will be more effective than simply bragging, when, in fact, it backfires. And we also believe that catering to others’ interests and expectations will make us look good, when in fact simply being oneself delivers better results.

The old “be yourself” adage might be boring and cliche, but these studies suggest it’s true. Sure, we’ve talked about how being yourself can backfire if you have personality “quirks”. But that doesn’t mean you should be phoney either — we suggest taking a deeper look at those quirks. The point is, people seem to prefer authenticity, even if that authenticity is negative. To read more about this, head over to the link below.

The Right Way to Brag about Yourself [HBR]


  • My biggest weakness is that it can be intimidating that I am objectively the best at everything ever.

  • Yeah.. no. I wouldn’t call it humblebragging but if you want to make up a new word and call one of the pieces to the art of interviewing well by that word.. well that’s fine.

    I’ll keep on “humblebragging” and keep on getting “you interviewed better than anyone else” compliments and consequently higher paid jobs.

    Thanks all the same though.

    • This. I don’t believe for a minute the person who gets the job will of given some open weakness for that question, or that the person who does answer honestly will not be at a disadvantage. It’s a loaded question that can never be expecting an honest answer.

      • For 3 years I did graduate recruiting interviews for my group in a large Australian bank. We did ask this question pretty much every time (I know a lot of people hate it, but it gets a reaction and in interviews that’s what you want). Anyone who gave me a mealy-mouthed humblebragging response like “sometimes I just lose myself in work” was generally out. Not because of that response, normally by that stage they were already gone, but that kind of attitude it stems from is the opposite of what we want.

        If you want to do well, discuss a flaw you know you have and discuss what you do to overcome it. If you don’t think you have any flaws, go join the clergy or somesuch.

        • If I interviewed light487 he would be seen as obnoxious and arrogant unless he works by himself in the basement he would not fit into the modern office. Its important to consider cultural integration with the current team. The fact that he is so overly self serving mean his fake answer to in interviewer is probably his fake answer in a LH post.

          • Yeah, I was a bit grumpy when I read this article, so I did come across as a bit grouchy. I am just sick of these articles that come across as being the right and only way of interviewing and harping on about things that clearly the article writer or the person being interviewed for the article dislikes themselves.

            I always answer this question with an honest answer but it certainly does come across as a humblebrag, in the definition of this article, however due to the honesty of the answer and the follow-up to that question (ie. what I’ve done to address the flaw) it is always well received.

            Interviewing shouldn’t be about answering questions rightly or wrongly, it should be a 2-way conversation. The moment an interview becomes a person being interrogated by one or more people sitting on the other side of a table, is the moment the interview is being done incorrectly by all the parties at the table.

            My completely honest answer to this question is that I am overly generous with my time and often end up over-extending myself due to being willing to help out all the time whenever I am asked. This is a flaw if you over-extend yourself because it speaks of poor time management and the inability to say no when you need to. So it is a weakness I have but it certainly sounds like humblebragging.

            It depends on how you give the answer too. If you just go “Oh, I’m too generous with my time.” and that’s the end of your answer, then you failed definitely.. it’s about having a conversation.. not answering questions.

      • I answer this question in a honest way but it also highlights something else I am good at, for example. My biggest weakness is my short term memory, its terrible. I make up for it by keeping notes, schedules and using apps to stay onto of or ahead of my responsibilities. Which means I am organised.

        Someone who humble brags when I interview them is instantly removed in my memory as a candidate and is often not a good cultural fit.


        • This works
          “I used to take on too much, but I learned to better prioritise – not everything is priority 1 – make notes on what to come back to, and delegate if possible.”

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