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EP 281: How to Brag about Yourself Without Sounding Obnoxious with Selena Rezvani, rebroadcast

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Episode Description

Today's episode is a rebroadcast of an earlier podcast full of tips on how to bring your best self to the table. When Carol asks for Selena Rezvani’s best advice on how to “be a fierce self-advocate” as Selena says, and how to reach out to people to help in a job search without coming across as opportunistic, Selena explains this is all about demonstrating executive presence! Selena is a popular Leadership Speaker and Inclusion Consultant as well as a LinkedIn Learning Instructor. Her book “Pushback” addresses how self-advocacy is critical for professional success. Selena hosts a weekly show on LinkedIn Live, an invite-only platform, all about ways to elevate women at work. Tune in for a dynamic conversation.

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Selena Rezvani

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3 ,2, iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co founder of iRelaunch, and your host. Today's interview is a rerun of a past episode. We do this from time to time so that our newer listeners don't miss out on the gems of helpful information and inspiring stories that have been shared in the past, and we think they're great to listen to again, if you've heard them before.

Today, we welcome Selena Rezvani. Selena is a popular leadership speaker and inclusion consultant, as well as a LinkedIn Learning instructor. She writes a column for Philadelphia Magazine on how to make work, and host a weekly show on LinkedIn Live, an invite only platform all about ways to elevate women at work, and I was privileged to be a recent guest on that show. And today I asked Selena if we can talk about topics relating to how to brag about yourself without sounding obnoxious, how to reach out to people to help in your job search without coming across as opportunistic. And Selena told me that that's all about demonstrating executive presence, so that's what we're talking about today, demonstrating executive presence in the hiring process, and here we go. Selena, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Selena Rezvani: Thank you, Carol. It's really awesome to be here and I love your message.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you. Well, we're very privileged to have you on the show. I'm so excited to talk about this topic because it's very, very important to relaunchers.

And I want to dive right in by talking about having to be a fierce self advocate. This is something that I know you talk about and relaunchers are notoriously bad at this. When it comes to advocating on behalf of someone else in their family, they can often be quite effective. But when it comes to advocating on behalf of themselves, they can be weak.

So I wanted to know how you reconcile that. Why does that happen? And what do you recommend?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, you know, I think we have all been there where it's easier to pipe up for somebody else rather than to, to fight what, for what we need. And so what I like to do through, like the courses I teach, through my book, is I teach people a model that puts you a little more at ease with self advocacy. And so whether you're advocating for let's say a job offer, more money, you're negotiating for more money, or a better benefit, or maybe you're saying no to an offer that's wrong for you, right?

Those kind of situations. And so here's the model just to frame up our thinking. One of the most common approaches to self advocacy that probably all of us have seen or done ourselves is to be a little too passive. And advocating for yourself by being apologetic or too appeasing.

And when you do this, you're conveying to the other person, your needs are more important than mine. All the way on the other end of the spectrum is a more like aggressive style towards self advocacy, right? And we've all been in a meeting with somebody like this probably who's very insistent and very domineering.

What they're conveying is my needs are more important than yours. What excites me about self advocacy is like that magic middle, which I call healthy entitlement, where it's your style's direct, it's clear, it's honest, and what you're really conveying there is my needs are no less or more important than yours.

And that to me is what we're shooting for. It's two way with healthy entitlement. It allows other people to voice their issues and needs. And so I think it's really important in our actions, in our words, in our body language, not to be too apologetic, but to show you have that healthy self respect.

You have some healthy entitlement.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Selena, what's the name of your book where you talk about this?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, it's called Pushback. It's called Pushback, how smart women ask and stand up for what they want. And, for that book, I interviewed 20 C-level leaders to understand their advice about how to advocate for yourself, since so many of them said it was a huge part of their career success, being able to do that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I'm guessing, this advice is equally effective for men, too. Can you give us some examples when, about healthy entitlement, the self advocacy, I don't know, maybe a couple of examples. How did, I thought that was interesting, how to turn down an offer, how to ask for more dollars.

Anything you can relate there anecdotally?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, I think, as we think about job search, and finding that next place to launch yourself or relaunch yourself, there's so many things that are negotiable, right? There's the start date. I've, I know people who had offers where the person's very insistent and sticklerish about the start date.

Well, if that doesn't work for the person, there's a ripe opportunity to advocate for yourself. Yeah. The focus of your role, how soon you're going to be assessed in terms of a performance review. That's very negotiable. Sometimes you don't have to wait a full year. You can ask for a, a three month review, so that it's very clear how things are going or you have an opportunity to advocate for more.

Professional development dollars, that's a huge one. Will you help cover an MBA or certifications I'm interested in getting while on the job, often up for negotiations. So I think it's an important mindset to be very open to negotiating and advocating for yourself, because often we don't know where there's more leeway, and where there's less. So it pays to be able to say, I hear you telling me no to X request, but would you be open to granting Y? Sometimes there is more money in the professional development budget than there is in the higher salary budget.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Good point. And I really like it when you actually do the role play like that and say the words, it's super helpful.

And actually, that kind of leads me to my next question. So one of the, issues that relaunchers have is downplaying a lot about prior experience, and how do you put your best foot forward and talk about all of your strengths and relevant experience without coming across as like bragging or crossing that line into sounding obnoxious.

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, that's such a big one. I think we all kind of battle at times, but one of my mentors taught me a saying I love and she said," If it's true, it's not bragging." And I have to remind myself of that sometimes. I'd say one of the most important things, and I know Carol, I've heard you talk about this too, is don't go in cold and brag, especially if this is not easy for you with your particular style or personality. If you know this is going to feel really foreign, I encourage people to role play it with a friend or a family member. And I even tell them, do it twice. The first time ask the person to be neutral towards you as they listen to some of your bragging stories or your great accomplishments.

The second time ask them to be a little harder on you, maybe to be a bit skeptical or to ask some probing questions, to push you a bit. And practice talking about your accomplishments, even with a little pushback, right? Even with a skeptic sitting across from you.

And I promise it's going to feel so much more comfortable when you get to game day, to the real situation, because you will have tasted those words on your tongue. You will have spoken about your accomplishments and I would encourage you to even take it a step further and try to enjoy talking about it. I think a great thing people can do is share a moment of pride. There's something you did that you're really proud of. You could speak to it that way. One thing I'm really proud of as a leader of that project was making change A to B. Because when someone shares a story like that, or a humblebrag like that, it feels more one of a kind.

It feels, it doesn't feel generic like some interview answers can feel. It feels more one of a kind. So being authentic, sharing a moment of pride from the past is a great one. I think one more I really love is to talk about an accomplishment, either framed as learning on your journey, I learned that X is the most important variable when you're bringing lots of different groups together, being able to do that, right?

You're sharing your own best practices, your own learning. Some people even like to share, here's a wrong way I approached something, and then here's the right way that I, I came to and got an excellent result, right? Those are interesting to listen to and they make a person feel real and human. So I would have lots of those in your arsenal.

Some people talk about the acronym SAR, situation, action, result. I love that. If you can talk about a thorny situation that landed in your lap, an action you took, and a good result, I know so many relaunchers have these. Suddenly it's not an answer in an interview. It becomes a story.

It's a fact based story. That's pretty darn compelling, and I think you can't have too many of those ready that showcase your different abilities.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I really like that. So I'm thinking, someone asked you to talk about your strength, a strength and you could say, let me tell you a situation that happened when I had a draw on one of my strengths.

Selena Rezvani: Yes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Is that what you mean?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, I love it. It is what I mean. And I think sometimes people through behavioral interviewing will sometimes ask you for a tough situation, sometimes they'll be more direct in their questions. So they might say something like Carol, tell me about a time you worked with a difficult colleague or a difficult person, and overcame something. Or, tell me about turning around a negative into a positive. So sometimes they'll ask you and then you certainly want to be ready with the situation action result, but I really love your suggestion that, if they're asking you a strength, why not show, not just tell, the story you're showing, and that can be even more meaningful and more sticky.

It's more likely to stick in their minds, the story.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, it didn't even occur to me to present something like that until right now, when you were laying out that strategy. Selena, I want to put you on the spot for a minute. You are tremendously accomplished. So I'm just wondering when, you're a popular keynote speaker, when someone's talking to you about, what, if they said, what is your experience, giving talks, can you talk about how you would brag about yourself?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, I love, forthank you for giving me the chance to be on the spot, because it's good practice. But, again, to me, it goes back to fact based stories. It's my pleasure to speak to thousands of professionals a year around the globe. It's my mission and passion to see the more people move into leadership ranks and to carve out those paths on their own terms, right? Being that fierce self advocate. So that's one way I would do it. Sometimes quantifying, like in the case of thousands of professionals, that can go a long way in people's eyes.

Maybe your number, for those of you who are listening, is different. It's a different metric, maybe. It may not be audiences, it might be something else. It might be a different impact you've had. But I find that can open ears.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So let's go into another Q& A situation that relaunchers can find themselves and that is, you know, how do you tell your story in the best light if it involves like a career break for your own health issue or you were out a really long time doing elder care or childcare?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, this is something that I keep coming back to the same style and approach, no matter if it's a relauncher or someone in a slightly different situation. And, the person who created it, her name is Jodi Glickman, and she wrote a book called Great on the Job.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, yeah. I know her.

Selena Rezvani: Oh, great. Yeah, she's wonderful.

But she came up with a process that I think is just so universally smart, and she says instead of verbally listing your long, impressive, set of life experiences in your resume chronologically, which is what some of us want to do, when we're put on the spot, her process is to share destination, backstory, and finally to connect the dots.

And I want to explain that a little bit. So destination, which is where you want to go, then your backstory, kind of where you've been. And last, what are the bridge statements you can come up with that help those two things make sense together or helps integrate and weave your story together.

So I want to give you an example of this because I know you and I both have examples, Carol. I love a good script or a good, make it real kind of moment. But in my own career, I have a kind of unlikely combination of my background. I have a master's in social work and yet a business degree with that. And so I got my master's in social work first, and so if I was trying to, let's say, get that first job from traditional social work to HR type consulting, which is a move I made, I might start with the destination I'm looking to, arrive at, which in my case could sound something like, hey, I'm looking to expand into HR consulting.

And I want to combine my consultation skills with improving the employee experience. Here we're talking about and we're signaling to someone, I want to expand into this new area, but I'm bringing some things into that experience. With backstory, which is the second piece, you're going more into where you have been, not where you're heading.

So I might say something like, in social service agencies and through my MSW, I've had the opportunity to hone my advocacy and my counseling skills, and empower individuals in non traditional environments. And the last one is where you're sewing it all together. Given my tendency to think people first, this opportunity is a great way for me to combine my people skills with a job role that really speaks to me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, I love this and thank you so much for the example. It's so illustrative of exactly what this, the Jodi Glickman approach is, but also I'm thinking about how well this lends itself to a relaunchers' description of their own background. In a way, it is like what we say a bio does as opposed to, a resume, because when you talk, when you write your bio, you don't necessarily have to say, and then I took an 11 year career break, you could say, I'm doing X and Y and it, reflects a background in Z and experiences in A and B and then you bring it all together.

I love the idea that you are weaving the story of different parts of your background, some of which might have happened during your career break, maybe a volunteer experience, some of my, of which might have happened years ago, and then maybe some of it includes some kind of updating that you've done with a course.

So, very applicable to the relauncher situation.

Selena Rezvani: I love that too, and your example is so great, bio versus resume. I'm taking that note down because you're absolutely right. The beauty of this is you're actively shaping how you're known. You're training them how to see you. And this is something, Carol, by the way, I learned from you, too, taking a page from your LinkedIn profile, because I love the way you addressed your time when you were, getting ready to career relaunch and when you were out of the workforce. You handled that so beautifully and had healthy self entitlement, when you look at the beautiful description you wrote on your LinkedIn profile.

I think it was a great example of actively shaping how you're known and taking a hand in that and training other people how to see you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow, thank you.

And people can go look at my LinkedIn profile and see how I talked about career break in terms of being a community leader, but I really appreciate you saying that.

Selena, what is a good way to reach out to people, maybe, we tell people reach out to people from the past, colleagues, or, classmates that you haven't been in touch with for a long time, and you're usually doing this when you are, for relaunch purposes, when you're starting the job search again, and we tell people to start with saying, I'm in information gathering mode to get them off the hook and not, Oh my God, this person's just getting in touch with me because they're, it's like totally opportunistic.

How do you recommend these conversations happen? whether it's a person from the past, present, or someone you've yet to meet, when you need, you're at the beginning of the job search, or maybe you're in the middle, and you really, you want to get help, but you don't want to put too much of a burden on them, or you don't want to come across as, I'm only getting in touch with you because I want you to help me with my job search kind of thing.

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, it's, you're right, no one wants it to be, feel like a marriage proposal, right? Where there's so much pressure to get it just, and so I would just say, first of all, don't tell yourself no before they do. I think that's really important. Sometimes we can talk ourselves out of approaching another person, right?

And they've never said no, but we've told ourselves, oh, they won't remember me. We hardly worked together. They are so much further progressed in their career than me. We come up with reasons. So I would say Put that aside if you hear that mental chatter, and you're someone who feels that, and remember the healthy self entitlement piece. Most likely you would do this for somebody else, so be willing to approach another person when you need it.

I like to, in a situation like this, tell them when I reach out something specifically I either admire or appreciate about them, and this is real and honest. one thing I really appreciate about you is like your read on our industry, right? Maybe you worked together in advertising before, right?

And this person's always really been on it. I'm exploring my next step career wise, and I'd love 30 minutes with you to discuss, either the role, the company, what have you. And then what's really important to me, and this is something I wrote about in my book as well, is when you pitch somebody, your chances actually improve when you give them an out.

Interesting. No, it's counterintuitive, and I don't think you have to seem, once again, overly apologetic or anything, but I think you can say something simple if that's not possible at this time, I understand that too. Looking forward to connecting. And that way, there's very low pressure, but I think that gives you some pretty good chances of getting a yes.

The one other thing I think is really important is if you do get the call with them, and you're exploring and you're having conversations, I think regardless of where you are in your career, if you are so new to the workforce or you've been out for 25 years, right? It doesn't matter. I would offer to help them too.

I've seen situations where people might think they don't have something to offer, so they won't, but I would offer, I'd always say, is there something I can do for you? You've helped me so much in this call. I'm so grateful to you. Is there a way I could be of service to you? And let them respond, because you'd be surprised.

Someone may say, yeah, I'm, I'm putting out a new website. Would you be willing to look at it and give me feedback or something you're not expecting, but I think it's really appreciated. So I think that's a good way to end a call like that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Very helpful. I should have started with this, but we're talking about this topic of demonstrating executive presence in the hiring process.

Can you define executive presence for us?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, I teach a course on this. It's one of my favorite things to teach on LinkedIn, even doing it virtually and online is a fun thing because what you're doing is you're helping people find that confident factor, that affects the way they act, the way they look, and the way they speak. And those are really the three filters, that I use to define executive presence. But so often mindset is what drives those three things. Mindset, right? Just like we've been talking about, the way you write about in your example, Carol, your LinkedIn profile, the way you write about your experiences, you can either elevate them, or you can negate them, right?

And that's an excellent example. Your body language, when you walk into that room, that interview room, when we're walking into rooms again and not using virtual, do you stride in confidently, or are you hobbling in, like you don't belong there? There are so many ways we telegraph that presence, or maybe that we don't have that presence.

And so I think this is a huge piece and there's a huge opportunity when you're interviewing to showcase that. And that I find exciting.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So that, that's a question that I had while you were talking. I was thinking about, when I think about executive presence, I was originally thinking about it more as related to people who are already working.

But you're talking about now executive presence that the relauncher can have when they're coming in for the interview or, before they actually are in the job.

Selena Rezvani: Right, absolutely. Yeah, because I think, we're getting a read on all of those things when we meet somebody. Again, whether it's like a Zoom video type meeting or an in person meeting, we're getting a sense of that confidence level, that comfort in their own skin, when they're talking about an accomplishment, when they're telling a story.

It's a huge, it's a huge piece of the interview process.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Selena, one thing that you just said about coming across as confident, when you're in the interview process has to do with how you deliver this information about yourself. And earlier you talked about how important it is to have these rehearsals, about what you're going to say.

And, you can see the link between rehearsing and knowing your lines, so to speak, and feeling more confident. And I wanted to know how you view that as part of executive presence.

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, I think there's like a funny balance, actually. I think there's a funny balance, and I think the balance is a hundred percent, if prep gives you confidence, which I would argue it gives most of us more confidence, use it, right? Use it to your advantage. Don't wing it on some of these things. You and I talked about situation, action, result earlier. That's something it's very simple to make a matrix for yourself.

So you have all those stories in one place, even on one page, that you can prep with. So use preparation. It may not sound like the most exciting of your confidence building tools in your arsenal. But boy, it's effective. And most of us would agree when we're prepared, we sit up a little straighter, we speak with more conviction, right?

We're willing to show up all the way when we're well prepared. So don't underestimate it. At the same time, I think when we think of people who have really excellent presence, really great leadership abilities, they're comfortable with off the cuff speaking. They're pretty good at answering off the cuff questions.

And what I like to share with people is you don't have to be the world's best improviser to, to do that. And you can even teach yourself a few scripts or pivots that help you do just that. Let's say you're You've been creating a website about something that's really important or meaningful, as you're getting ready to relaunch a cause, let's say, right?

You could use that experience, first of all, to your advantage. You could say something like, when questioned about it, here's what I know today. Start with what you do know. Here's what I know today. Here are questions that I'd still, I'm still pursuing or that I'd still like to get answers to,

or here are the frontiers we're still exploring. You're driving the conversation in that way. and this is, by the way, one of the first things they teach you in media training. And I know that's a little different. But that's what they're teaching you. They're saying, listen, you may get grilled with any number of tough questions.

It's okay for you to answer with what you do know. Or a really important place you want to steer the conversation. And then afterwards you can acknowledge some of the areas you still want to shore up.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, great advice for media training, great advice for interviews. You get a tough question and you say, here's what I know today and here are the things that I'd be asking and, excellent strategy, Selena, we're running out of time now, and I want to wrap up by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is, what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something we've already talked about today?

Selena Rezvani: I would say this, you know, as you're putting yourself forward, if your presence doesn't make an impact, then your absence won't make a difference. And I say that as someone, I once lost a really important spokesperson opportunity that I was interviewing for. Because when I went for the interview, I gave a really watered down kind of Diet Sprite version of who I am.

The way I dressed the ideas, like I put in front of them, I really lost my me-ness, and as great as it is to research the employer or to think all about them and what they want, I would just encourage you all listening, honor your kind of unique value proposition, you know, the unique parts of your personality.

If you're funny, it's okay to be a little funny. If you know, you're colorful, it's okay to be a little bit colorful. People who hire you generally want someone to bring something to the party that is a little bit new or a little bit different. So, I would encourage you to think about your you-ness and make sure you're bringing that to these situations.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. Excellent closing advice. Selena, how can we find out more about your work?

Selena Rezvani: Yeah, one of the easiest ways is to go to my website, which is selenarezvani.Com, and that's spelled S E L E N A R E Z V A N I. at, you'll see an invite to join my newsletter tribe.

And one thing you'll get right away is 24 phrases that boost your executive presence. So if you like scripts, that's a place you can get them. You can also check out my LinkedIn Learning courses online. They're about confidence. self motivation, executive presence, and my book Pushback is on Amazon, and, if you're not following me on LinkedIn, I hope you will.

Lots of great conversations and dialogues there.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes, and a wonderful LinkedIn Live show that, that's, Selena runs and produces and hosts. And I also encourage you to take a look at that, and the ones that are archived and also the ones that are upcoming,

Selena, thank you so much for joining us today.

Selena Rezvani: It's been such a pleasure, Carol. Thank you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO & co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch, go to and to sign up for our Job Board, go to the Job Board page on, upload your resume so employers looking for relaunches can find it. And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform. And be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, twitter, and other social media. Thanks for joining us.

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