The Subtle Braggart: How to Promote Yourself at Work
How do you promote the good work you do without pounding your chest?
Project managers, and any of us with career aspirations, have to find ways to let our bosses know what we’re doing and how we’re succeeding. Demonstrating – and highlighting – success are prerequisites for career advancement, but no one wants to be tagged as a boring boaster. You want to self-promote with grace, confidence and comfort.
“The best self-promotion is something you will consistently do,” writes career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine in her Forbes column Self-Promotion Lessons Inspired by Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women. “Consistency is key because putting yourself out there isn’t a one-time effort but rather something you must regularly do.”
Get a self-promoting strategy
To start, it’s important to figure out what to promote about yourself, who to promote yourself to and how. Decide whether you want to engage in an active or passive promotion, or whether you want to go broad (your industry) or targeted (your management team). And then, be specific with your accomplishments, skills and experiences – and share the most relevant ones. You also want to share information that resonates with your target audience. So, if you seek a leadership role, speaking to examples of successful project ideas and strategies will be more effective than talking about the successes you’ve had as an individual contributor.
For women in the workplace, the subtle braggart role might be a hard one to play but even more important. A recent Northwestern University study found that women tend to downplay their successes at work, which might be holding them back. “Men tend to overstate how well they do relative to women,” said Paola Sapienza, professor of finance at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “It would help women to be more self-promoting.”
Promote ideas that matter
Another good tactic is to focus on promoting ideas instead of promoting yourself. Make yourself the vehicle – and a critical one – but not the primary beneficiary. Think and act along the lines of, “My organization would be better off by adopting this idea.”
Here are 10 quick tactics for the subtle braggart:
- Be prepared with an elevator pitch. When asked, “What are you working on now?,” don’t talk about personal ventures or weekend plans; talk about your job’s project milestones.
- Talk about your team’s success, especially if you’re shy. Don’t neglect to talk about your leadership role in the context of the work.
- Pick the right pronoun: Overusing “I” feels like boasting. Use “we” to share credit with your team.
- Don’t roll out a laundry list of your successes. Do it intermittently.
- Frame your success with a story. Weave your accomplishments into a pithy narrative. If you rescued a failing project, describe briefly how the project ran off the rails and how you got it back on track. (And don’t forget to use “we”.)
- Deliver success. You need achievements to brag about. Be accountable. If you fall short of success, ‘fess up and take responsibility. Don’t offer excuses.
- Keep it short and sweet. The most effective “boasts” are aimed at keeping your boss abreast of work progress.
- Seek alliances: working well with customers, fans, mentors and co-workers is a very helpful testimonial.
- Define your targets more broadly than just your boss – as opportunities to shine exist both inside and outside your company. Competitors, potential clients, customers, executive recruiters, media, investors, even networking contacts should all be part of your audience.
- Network, network, network. Inside and outside your company.
To prosper at work, it’s important to manage your career – so don’t be shy about your accomplishments. “Bragging is something that everyone needs to do,” states Peggy Klaus, author of the book BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.
And then, it’s how you go about doing it that makes all the difference.