Self-promotion in a professional setting is an art form that can be learned and perfected over time. However, there is a real danger: Overdoing self-promotion can backfire.
As reported in the Harvard Business Review, many ambitious career people find themselves caught in the seemingly contradictory zone between self-promotion and the socially expected personality trait of humility. It’s a mental balancing act, and it can leave some professionals feeling paralyzed and frustrated as they seek career advancement.
The conundrum boils down to finding the answer to this big question: How can I make sure key players in my career recognize and appreciate my accomplishments without coming off as conceited or, worse, narcissistic?
Before diving into how you can answer the big question above, let’s examine the reasons why an individual who hopes to advance professionally should master the art of self-promotion:
- To seek a more challenging, higher-paying job
- To develop business and professional contacts
- To earn plaudits and admiration throughout your industry
No one is a better cheerleader for your career than you. Only you know exactly how much hard work went into a particular achievement. Only you can determine your true value to an organization or to a specific project.
Think of that internalized information as the foundation of your personal brand. You know what you have done and what you can do. How, then, are you to let others know?
And not only should others know what you can do; a well-built personal brand allows them to instantly associate you with all that an achievement-filled career entails: talent, competence, prestige and reliability.
That is what is meant by “personal brand” – the impression you create among key players along your career path. That impression is formed primarily over time and through exposure to your working style. On the other hand, by focusing on the right self-promotion strategy, your reputation can proceed you in many instances and smooth the way for a productive working relationship.
Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, a true character of 1930s baseball and later a popular broadcaster, was known for his swagger. His most famous quote is useful for today’s inwardly ambitious, but outwardly humble professionals:
“It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”
In other words, merely stating the fact of a personal accomplishment is not a sign of conceit. That said, statements of fact issued without tact and grace can be perceived by others as braggadocio and even inauthentic.
In order to balance the conflicting need to advertise your worth while not sacrificing charisma, these tactics might prove effective:
- Pick your spot. When discussing your strengths or a specific accomplishment, be sure that it occurs in the right context. Don’t try to “one-up” someone by countering one of their achievements with your own, and don’t bring up past honors or accomplishments out of the blue. Pay attention to the context of a conversation and make appropriate use of personal anecdotes that cast you in a favorable light.
- Praise others when appropriate. Without seeming sycophantic, acknowledge the strengths and accomplishments of others in your professional sphere. This accomplishes two goals – it helps build your charisma within a professional setting (most people like to have their strengths acknowledged publicly), and it could turn the conversation toward one of your own strengths either right away or in a future conversation.
- Do not spread negative gossip about others. Remember, this is about building your personal brand, promoting your strengths and accomplishments. It is not about tearing down someone else’s reputation. If you find yourself tempted to criticize someone behind their back – no matter the reason – don’t do it. It likely won’t help you advance, and being seen as an office gossip could be detrimental to your potential advancement.
Practical Steps for Self-Promotion
Of course, without actual accomplishments to promote, your career is likely to plateau early – no matter how charismatic you are. Any self-promotion you attempt should occur in the context of your current position and your long-term career goals.
According to career website Monster.com, it begins with expectations. No matter what position you occupy within an organization, you should have a clear idea of short-term goals, mid-range goals and long-term goals. If expectations are not clear at the outset, ask a supervisor. If you are the supervisor, make a plan and stick to it.
Once you know the expectations, keep regular records of everything you accomplish. In this case, it is important to “sweat the small stuff.”
Most careers are built on a succession of accomplishments. Transfer a completed to-do list into an accessible, easily shared document. You will be amazed at how much you achieve over the long haul by checking off all of those small daily tasks, and you will have a written record to share with your supervisor if and when you need it.
Finally, once you have established a fool-proof system for meeting (and, ideally, exceeding) the expectations related to your position, try to lend a hand in other areas within the organization. Go above and beyond by taking on extra assignments or conducting research into ways to improve organizational efficiency.
Make sure that you volunteer for tasks and assignments that are specific, memorable and important to the goals of the team or the organization as a whole.
Finally, when you believe you are ready for your next career challenge, if you feel you have earned greater responsibility and a better salary, ask for a promotion or apply for an internal position that advances your career. If nothing that fits your ambition is available within your organization, sharpen your resume, strengthen your LinkedIn account and start networking with others in your chosen industry.
They can’t offer you a job unless they know you’re in the market. And the only way for them to know you’re in the market is to tell them you’re available – and then give them a reason to hire you.