Being great at your job is, well, great, but is it enough? Your stellar resume, recommendation letters and LinkedIn profile may tell a great story about your skills and career prowess, but there are times (often) when a working mom needs to market herself and talk up her accomplishments and talents in person.
Problem is, talking ourselves up is something a lot of women don't do so well.
You see, it's generally true that women are socialized to be cooperative, nice and considerate. But this can work against us when it comes to worrying about how we'll be perceived if we tout our own achievements. "Women just don't do it. We think working hard is enough, and then think 'if I just keep my head down and I’m a good girl and I work really hard I’ll be rewarded,'" says Grace Killelea, author of The Confidence Effect and CEO & Founder of leadership development firm The GKC Group, which which organizes/runs coed and women's leadership programs.
"Women need to make sure people know the positive outcomes of something that’s attached directly to their efforts," says Killelea, who believes we're too focused on competence and not focused enough on confidence—though both are equally important. "Some women don't even apply for promotions because they opt out. They say, 'I only have eight of the 10 required skills, so I’m not going to apply.' A man will have three of the requirements, apply for the job and potentially get it. Women have to be their own advocates."
So how to tell your boss about your successes at work to be considered for a promotion, stretch assignment, or just considered more highly overall—without sounding like you're full of yourself?
1. Don't view it as bragging.
If you're hesitant to talk up your work to your boss for fear of sounding arrogant (chances are you never sound arrogant), change your mindset. Bragging often has a negative connotation, and no one wants to be seen as that person when discussing their accomplishments, so view the self-touting as positive self-disclosure instead, Killelea suggests. When mentioning how you've earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for your company, view it as just stating the facts—that you're skilled at what you do and you know how to deliver. "At some point you can’t worry about the impression that you’re giving," asserts Killelea. "You have to start by acknowledging what you’ve accomplished. Nobody is going to shout on a mountaintop for you if you don’t it yourself. You’re the CEO of your career."
2. Practice acting confident.
As with learning any new skill, you have to be thoughtful about learning to be confident. Killelea suggests asking yourself what confidence looks like to you. We may not be very confident, but we have an idea of what confidence should be or look like. Take some cues from the most confident people you know: how they walk, how they speak and how they interact with others, for example. In this case, fake it 'til you make it couldn't be more appropriate. "The more you act as if you’re confident, the more it will become real for you," she adds. Over time, it will come naturally.
If you have a problem speaking up at meetings, you might want to practice feeling confident when public speaking. If your problem is with people stepping all over you since you're so soft-spoken and demure, focus on improving your physical presence. And if you're afraid of failure, maybe try taking a risk, Killelea recommends.
It's not bragging if you can back it up.
3. Regularly report your achievements.
Don't wait until the annual review to tell your boss how great of a job you're doing. Schedule a talk with your boss, and start by saying something like, "I want to touch base so you know the status of the projects I’m working on and have completed," Killelea says.
4. Use metrics.
Killelea quotes Muhammad Ali to help explain this tip: "It's not bragging if you can back it up." The same goes for speaking confidently about your work. Anyone can say they're a diligent worker, but if you can back it up with figures (say, you increased website traffic to your company's site by 500 percent), you're not bragging, you're painting a very clear and effective picture of what you've been doing for your company. "When I use those numbers when I speak about my career, people remember. It’s giving gravitas to the work that you do," Killelea says.
5. Don't use diminishing language.
When explaining what you do or what you've accomplished, avoid reducing your title or responsibilities. Don't say, "Oh, I just work in HR" for the sake of modesty when you actually manage 13,000 people in 14 states. Be specific, and again, use metrics to help illustrate your point. This applies to receiving compliments as well. If someone congratulates you on doing a good job, accept it; don't just attribute it to "luck" or everyone else when you know it was the result of your own hard work.
6. Have allies.
Building relationships is also crucial to career success. When you aren't around, it's helpful to have friends in the office, like colleagues from other departments, acknowledging your accomplishments for you. They may relay your big goal achievement to a higher-up, for example. And of course, don't forget to return the favor when they've truly shined at work.
7. Learn to delegate.
While not exactly a confidence-boosting tip, this is definitely a career-booster. Contrary to popular belief, working very hard may actually be detrimental to your career, Killelea says. "Saying yes to more work is not positive—it's just perpetuating a cycle. You may stay in the same role while people get promoted around you because they've learned to delegate and get other people to carry the heavy bags for them while you’re doing something else." In order to get ahead, assign tasks to others, if you can, so you can focus on what's truly important. By doing this, you're lightening your load and developing your management skills, and the person you train gains new knowledge. It's a win-win. If you don't delegate, and you choose to just become extremely competent at your job, it's possible your company may not promote you—since no one else could possibly do your job except you.
At the end of the day, Killelea reminds us that confidence is a choice.To advance your career, confidence will be a necessary part of the equation. And enable you to confidently practice the humble brag.
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