Contrary to popular belief, being promoted at work doesn’t just depend on how well you perform.
Whether or not you receive a promotion is influenced by your supervisor’s subjective perception of your ‘promotability.’ Their perception is heavily influenced by how you behave, specifically, on how well you self-promote yourself.
Career development tends to be presented as a rational process, whereby you should acquire the appropriate skills, knowledge, and experience if you want to enhance your chances of career success.
So it’s normal to feel confused when you fail to obtain the promotion you anticipated, having met the required criteria. But the reason could be that you’ve failed to self-promote yourself. And admittedly, it’s not an easy skill to master, especially in the early years of your career.
Of course, you don’t want to be that junior employee that takes every opportunity to toot his own horn. But it’s a powerful tool that you can’t afford to overlook if you’re working for career advancement.
“Self-promotion is a leadership and political skill that is critical to master in order to navigate the realities of the workplace and position you for success.”― Bonnie Marcus, The Politics of Promotion.
Why Self-Promotion shouldn’t be underestimated
It all comes down to Impression Management, the process whereby an individual seeks to influence others’ perception of their image. There are different types of Impression Management behaviors, including intimidation, supplication, self-promotion, and exemplification. Some of these behaviors are subconsciously favored by women and others by men.
But it’s self-promotion in particular which has proved to be paramount for hiring and promotion decisions. It involves pointing with pride to one’s accomplishments, speaking directly about one’s strengths and talents, and making internal rather than external attributions for achievements.
It’s exactly what you would do in a job interview or a job application. You want to convince the interviewer that you have positive qualities and traits. You promote a perception of competence by talking about your achievements, strengths, and ability to overcome obstacles.
But despite what most people might think, self-promotion doesn’t end there. Think of your current role as a form of interview-process for your next role. You can’t afford not to self-promote. You could be the best employee they’ve ever had, but if nobody knows it, you’re chances of being promoted are limited.
If you want to pursue your goals and move up the ranks, you need to emphasize your strengths and project a confident image by engaging in self-promotion. By failing to sell yourself, you risk falling behind your self-promoting peers.
Self-promotion will help you stand out in a busy work environment and to reinforce your value. It’s a vital tool worth mastering, especially in the early stages of your career.
The hard part is to self-promote yourself professionally. It needs to be organic and humble. You don’t want people to think that you’re ‘arrogant,’ ‘narcissistic,’ or ‘selfish.’ You want to still be likable and approachable; you don’t want to stand out for all the wrong reasons.
So here are eight pieces of advice to help you self-promote with grace.
How to Self-Promote Professionally
1. Be strategic
“You’re talking about stepping into the spotlight, so it’s very important to think about how you do this and where, to understand what your opportunities are today and what you want for the future.” — Marian Cook, CEO of Ageos Enterprises Inc.
As I mentioned, self-promotion isn’t a disposable tool that you throw away after you’ve used it. It’s a sustainable practice, a political skill that you continue to develop throughout your entire career.
So you need to think long-term. Gone are the days where you work in one same place for your whole career. You need to consider where you might want to be in 5, 10, 15, or maybe 20 years’ time.
It’s difficult to plan for the future in detail, so you might not have a specific company or profession in mind. But try to identify your strengths. What strengths do you have now? And what strengths do you want to develop in the future?
It’s a case of pointing other people’s attention to the strengths that you have now, to put yourself up for opportunities that will help you build the strengths that you want to build in the future.
2. Make it relevant
You don’t want to randomly name-drop yourself and your accomplishments into a conversation. It can come across as an interruption. People might think you haven’t been listening to them or that you changed the topic because you don’t care what they were talking about. It’ll shut them off.
Instead, look for an opportunity by finding a link. What are they talking about, and is it vaguely associated with the work you want to talk about?
For example, if they’re talking about something funny; was there anything funny that happened throughout your project? If they’re venting their frustration at an inefficient process at work, did you find any inefficiencies while working on your project? How did you overcome it? And what did you achieve in the end?
And there you have it; you’ve weaved it in. It’s about finding a link so that you can make a smooth transition.
3. Tell a story
Just like an interviewer doesn’t want you to sit and read out your CV, your colleagues and your supervisor don’t want you just to state what you’ve accomplished. They want to hear a story. They want to know what the situation was, what the task at hand was, the action you took, and what the end result was (STAR Method).
You need to tell them a story. Keep them engaged and make them visualize what you’re explaining. Tell them about the challenges that you overcame and what you learned. Think about the experience itself as an achievement; don’t jump straight to the end.
4. Include others
Many people get self-promotion wrong because they approach it with a “me, me, me” attitude. But it’s a sure way to turn people off, and your self-promotion efforts will go to waste.
An accomplishment rarely happens without help from others. Most roles require some element of collaboration with team-mates or with peers from other departments. Instead of discussing your contributions only, discuss what the team did, and mention how other people helped you.
This way, you’ll enhance your own visibility without making others think that you’re hogging the spotlight. Plus, it’s a sure way to express your gratitude for your team’s help and enhance your likeability.
5. Speak in facts
Facts are indisputable. They’re based on tangible evidence that nobody can deny, so they’re a great way to strengthen your position. Instead of speaking in broad generalities, focus on the facts of your contributions.
In business, the likelihood is that your performance will somehow be measured. Is it in terms of numbers? Did you help reduce costs by X amount or increase revenue? Did you help increase the business’ audience online?
It could also be in qualitative terms. Does your company have a way to measure customer satisfaction? Or employee productivity?
In as much as possible, try to focus on things that can be measured. But facts can take a variety of forms. Talking about what you did to overcome a challenge is a fact; the occurrence of a particular event is a fact. Tell people about these. Don’t just say, “I’m a great project manager,” explain why. What do you have to show for it?
6. Make it about the work
Keep your focus on how the outcome adds value to the business. Don’t just talk about what you have achieved, but about how the work that you’ve done is a success for the business in some way.
The fact that you were involved is obvious; there’s no need to point this out. Plus, unless you’re talking to your parents or another loved one, nobody necessarily cares what you’ve achieved.
With the exception of a mentor, for example, who might be interested to know what milestones you’re hitting in your career, your career development is something for you to take ownership of. Other people can’t do much with that information; it’s not relevant to them.
7. Make it valuable to others
Everyone is selfish to some degree. And rightly so — we’re all just trying to navigate life the best we can. So one of the best ways to ensure that people are paying attention is to tell them why they should care. Tell them how it applies to them and how your achievement adds value to them.
More likely than not, you will have learned something from the experience. And this is valuable knowledge that you can share with others. You’ve already walked that path to achieve what you’ve achieved.
You’re the person to go to for anyone else who wants to do the same.
You have first-hand experience in whatever it is that they need to know about. You have credibility. So people are more likely to trust that you can help; they’re likely to value your knowledge and your skills in that particular area. And, your chances of the word spreading increase, as one person recommends you to another.
Sharing your secrets to success makes you a valuable resource. You can train others how to do what you do. And this helps raise your visibility and establish your reputation as a leader. Next time a spot for promotion comes up, you could be the obvious choice.
8. Share your expertise online
The whole world is connected through social media. Leveraging tools like LinkedIn to self-promote yourself is key. A short post to congratulate your team for achieving a particular milestone is a great way to not only share your accomplishments but to show that you’re a great team-player.
Plus, your employer is likely to appreciate the fact that you’re enhancing the company’s online visibility. You’re not just self-promoting yourself and your team; you’re showing the company’s strengths.
Importantly, your online presence is a great magnet for future opportunities. Recruiters and employers can see what your experience is, what a strong team player you are, and how committed to your job you are. Sharing your achievements publicly online can help establish your value and strengthen your negotiating position when negotiating a new job offer.
Above all, the key is to stay humble. No one likes a know-it-all that takes every opportunity to talk about how great they are. That being said, nobody who’s interested in career-advancement can afford to not self-promote themselves. It’s critical for career progression.
The important thing is to do so with grace; to be professional and humble. And to think about self-promotion as a long-term skill that you need to consistently work on throughout your entire career.
It’s not about being arrogant. It’s about taking ownership over where you want your career to go and using your voice to steer yourself in that direction.
So be bold, commit to your plan and consider these 8 tips as you go on your way –
- Be strategic
- Make it relevant
- Tell a story
- Include others
- Speak in facts
- Make it about the work
- Make it valuable to others
- Share your expertise online