The Art and Science of Self-Promotion
Have you ever uttered one of these phrases?
“Oh, thanks, it’s not that difficult.”
“It’s no problem. I had a lot of help.”
“I don’t want to sound cocky.”
“…” Also known as silence.
The discussion on women in leadership roles has been a hot topic lately following the publication of the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Many people in the conversation have suggested one possible reason women are not as likely to climb the career ladder is because we often don’t self-promote. There is a stigma that women who are confident and point out their strong skills are somehow unpleasant whereas men doing the same thing are born leaders. Agree or disagree, being able to self-promote and having the confidence to outline the details of your success is crucial for all Career Girls.
I recently had a performance review and thought a lot about how to tackle the topic of personal achievement. Here are the tips I’ve come up with to help the shy Career Girl:
Numbers. I can’t stress this enough. It’s not enough to say, “I’ve been ____ more.” The word “more” doesn’t give an accurate description of the point at which you started and where you are now. “Last month, I made it to one networking event each week and added ten contacts to my network, letting everyone know about our upcoming conference.” Doesn’t that sound nice? It’s an easy task for me because my job is in marketing, so I can measure just about everything in concrete numbers (Facebook likes, email opens, etc.). If your job doesn’t have involve math, be creative. “I was six days early on month-end reporting every month for the last quarter,” or, “I joined two new committees to represent our company in the community.” It’s the same reason why you should quantify weight loss, budget goals, and so on. You can’t tell how far you’ve come if you didn’t mark where you started and where you are now.
Credit where credit is due. If you you worked with other people on a project and they did a great job, it’s wonderful to let your boss know, but don’t overlook your own work. You were still a part of the group and you used your specialized skills to do work that was likely above what was asked of you. Try framing it like this: “We worked well as a team. I worked hard to make sure my pieces were finished two weeks early, and that I did two extra proofs to produce the best final product we could.” In an era where everyone needs to justify their position at a company, you can’t afford to be modest about what you actually do and how much you contribute.
The self-promotion sandwich. It’s especially difficult for me not to point out an area where I can improve. In order to accommodate that tendency and still shine, I put it between two things that I excel at: “I have really nailed the community involvement pieces that I’m doing by going to every meeting and introducing myself to someone new every time. I think I could get better at initiating conversation, but I’ve invited several people to our events and know of five that made it last month directly because of me.” Boom. Roasted.
Just smile and say, “Thanks!” It used to be so uncomfortable for me to take a compliment. I’d turn red and mumble, “Oh, yeah, ya know…” That doesn’t make you look like a big time Career Girl at all! Not that everyone needs to be self-obsessed, but take the compliment. You’re happy that I joined the team and I’m invaluable to my department? “Thanks, it means a lot to me that you see how high my standards are for my own work.” Was that so hard? Of course not. You’re wonderful and smart and probably very fashionable, so learn how to say thank you without feeling like an awkward kid.
If all of these things still feel weird and you are not comfortable doing them, then you have two options:
1.) Do nothing and just hope your boss will know you do a good job and deserve the pay and promotions you want, or
2.) Fake it.
I’m serious! Pretend like you are confident and don’t feel weird complimenting yourself. Practice in mirrors. Have conversations in the shower and imagine what you’d say if you were talking-up someone else. Eventually you will see the results that will boost your self-esteem and awareness of how valuable you are, and when prompted, you will be able to have honest conversations about what you bring the table. I promise it will work better than silence!