Research shows that women are more inhibited when it comes to self-promotion compared to men. At the same time, Fairygodboss research suggests that unfair promotion practices are one of the top gender equality issues women face at work. With the chips seemingly stacked against women, it seems all the more important to identify various ways to promote oneself at work.
The following ideas for how to promote yourself are intended to be practical and tactical – as opposed to general guidelines. Some of these activities are relatively passive and simply require you make simple tweaks to your LinkedIn profile or resume, while others require active conversation or more proactive effort.
1. Write an article about an area of your expertise
This sounds like a time-intensive activity but the truth is that everyone has learned something in the course of their work that is valuable experience. Even students with very little internship or work experience know something about an area they have studied, or have a hobby (e.g. social media) where they have become a minor expert or can showcase their voice.
Considered another way, most articles online are filled with opinions, and yours is no less worthy of publication. The hardest part is getting started and you can begin with a very modest goal of posting one short article to Medium or LinkedIn or some other content site. Work on the piece until you feel proud of it, and as you get into the swing of writing, you may find it’s easier than you think to get into a regular rhythm of publication, whether that’s once per quarter, or once per month.
The truth is that while you may feel very self-conscious about putting pen to paper, the truth is that with so much online content, it actually takes a lot of work to make sure people actually see – much less, read -- your work. So after you write your piece, be sure to share it with your friends and post it on social media for others to consume.
2. Prepare a 3-sentence bio.
Again, this may seem daunting especially if you don’t have a very long work history but you’d be surprised at how important it is to nail down the highlights of who you and what you’re proud of, in 2-3 sentences. The bio below gives you an example:
Georgene Huang is CEO and founder of Fairygodboss, a jobs and career site for women. Fairygodboss has helped over 400,000 women get hard-to-ask information from other women about what it’s like to work at a company, maternity leave policies, pay ranges and whether women feel supported at their workplaces. Previously she was an executive at Dow Jones and Bloomberg, and studied economics and law at Cornell and Stanford.
Georgene is proud of the company she's building, and her professional and academic accomplishments so that’s the focus of her biography. If you think you have nowhere to put that biography, you’ll be surprised. If nowhere else, it can certainly go on your LinkedIn profile. Also, you’ll have your bio handy if someone invites you to speak on a panel, since your name and biography will likely be printed in the program. If you write a piece, typically there is a place to put your biography. Finally, it’s good practice to incorporate the key facts of your written biography into any in-person introduction you’re making whether it’s at a neighborhood picnic or a networking event. Writing a short biography down is part of perfecting your elevator pitch.
3. Practice (and deliver) your elevator pitch.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking to yourself. Why would I need an elevator pitch? I’m not selling anything! I’m a teacher/graphic designer/dancer/social worker.
The truth is that you’re always selling yourself whether you realize it or not. You meet new people all the time and you need to tell them who you are. You may not want nor expect to receive anything from these new people you meet, but remembering to talk about yourself the way that you want to be known takes practice. And making sure people know what you’re about is at the core of self-promotion. So the next time you meet someone new, deliver your elevator pitch. Adjust it for the situation, by all means, but deliver it in different situations. Invite a new colleague out to coffee and tell him or her who you are. Introduce yourself to someone at a party and use your elevator pitch.
4. Build a website
If you’re an introvert and have a hard time talking about yourself, you can communicate who you are, what you do, and what you know through your own website or blog. There are many free or inexpensive tools out there for you to provide your portfolio of work, to write a biography (the 3 sentence one you already created, right??) and to provide information you think are otherwise difficult to convey on platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn because you want to keep your social media identities separate.
5. Invest in a flattering, professional headshot
Fair or not, we are all still overly influenced by first impressions and your first photographic impression should be a good one. We’re not talking about getting plastic surgery or dressing up so much as having an appropriate professional photo (read: not a spontaneous selfie while you are working out or at a party with friends).
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring a cheap photographer, just ask a friend to take a series of photo of yourself (headshot and fuller length image) while you’re dressed professionally and feel put together.
6. Start by promoting others who worked with you (your direct reports, your manager)
Many of the ideas described so far are things you don’t necessarily have to do in person. However, even if you’re an introvert, at some point you will have to speak up about yourself. In the workplace, promoting yourself effectively means being able to talk about your accomplishments and pointing out your achievements. If you don’t always feel comfortable doing that, you can start by offering something nearly as good: promoting the work of your own manager or your direct reports. Not only will you win brownie points with them, you may be able to figure out a way to obliquely bring yourself back into the mix, e.g. by saying things like:
I just wanted to share with everyone that John delivered an amazing client presentation today. He and I worked on the presentation together, and after I helped address the client’s concerns about implementation, the client seemed very impressed and told us he would probably hire us for his next marketing campaign.
In addition to endearing yourself to the team, they may reciprocate the praise and you have also elevated yourself in a collaborative way.
7. Practice bragging in a “safe” environment
Self-promotion, like any other skill, requires practice. It’s okay if you feel you need to practice talking about your accomplishments in a safe environment such as at home or with friends. For example, you can ell your children when you’re tucking them into bed that you gave a very good presentation that day, you can tell your friends over a beer at Happy Hour that your business plan impressed your boss, and tell your parents when you visit them on the weekends about how you really nailed your latest project at work.
8. Use facts and stories – rather than state opinions
Many of us will probably find it easier to say something like “I worked hard and was able to deliver 10x the sales results compared to last year” than “I’m really good at delivering impressive sales results.” Facts are facts and they are more compelling – and less likely to be perceived as bragging since they are objective.
Another way to talk about yourself in a positive light without bragging, per se, is to share a story of something that happened that paints you in a positive light, rather than simply state superlatives about yourself. For example, if you exceeded your annual sales targets, you can place emphasis on the story of how you won over a specific prospect but also mention the fact that this sale was one of the ones that took you over your goals for the year, as an aside.
9. Say “Thank you”
Thanking others (i.e. bringing them along with you) when you talk about your accomplishments can make you seem less of a braggart and gracious at the same time. Just be sure to frame your gratitude for others’ support in a way such as not to overshadow your own accomplishments and achievements. For example, resist the temptation to play down yourself and your achievements but saying “I’m thankful for my team’s support in being able to turn around this business and achieve profitable growth for the past year” still puts the focus where it belongs: on you.
10. Ask for Endorsements – Digital or Real-Life Ones Are Both Good
Asking for references is common practice, but it doesn’t just need to happen when you are looking for a new job. If you believe that your colleague or manager has sway or someone who is making a decision to improve your salary or benefits, ask him or her to consider putting in a good word for you. Digital endorsements matter too. These can be literal (as in the case of LinkedIn) or be more subtle in the form of comments or sharing of your articles or website or simply your posts on social media.
While it can feel uncomfortable to be self-promotional, with practice, you will get better. Moreover, if you do at least some of these things, you’ll be more likely to get promoted and receive the pay raise and recognition you deserve!
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