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10 Authentic Ways to Self-Promote

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Let’s try a game of word association. What’s the first word you associate with ‘hierarchy’?  Perhaps it’s ‘boss’. What do you associate with ‘colleagues’? Maybe you think ‘coffee’! And now, how about ‘self-promotion’?  Did that make you think of any of these words: ‘chest beating’, ‘trumpet blowing’, ‘in your face’, ‘pushy’, ‘crass’, ‘inappropriate’..?

We’ve heard those last phrases so often at Professionelle networking seminars and workshops! The profound and nearly universal distaste among highly-educated and capable professional women for the notion of self promotion is striking.

Backlash

To explain why this is the case would take a whole book on its own, but the brief version is: Nice girls don’t. And before you beat yourself up for still being a nice girl even though you’re now in your 20s, 30s or even 40s, do note that society reinforces our tendencies. Corinne Moss-Racusin has researched the ‘backlash effect’ which refers to how women who demonstrate too-strong, too-assertive behaviour can be penalised in a variety of ways, not least being labelled as ‘unlikeable’. Men are not subject to the same constraints because society has different expectations and norms for men’s behaviour.

Responsibility

From a career building perspective, self promotion is a necessary tool. They don’t tell you this when you start work, but employment isn’t like school and college where your performance is easily tracked in grade point averages, and where, if you clear the hurdles, you naturally progress to the next level. At work, your bosses have plenty of other things to do besides closely monitoring your performance, passing on regular bulletins about your progress to their bosses, and trying to mind-read what your career plans are.

The person who needs to take responsibility for making sure your successes are known, your aspirations are shared, and your name is familiar (for good reasons!) with those who have the power to hand out opportunities and promotions, is you. Prince Charming won’t be riding by any time soon to rescue your career and make it all work out!

P.I.E.

To recap from the previous chapter, the PIE career framework speaks directly to the issue of self promotion as part of career development:

P = performance. Everyone who is promotable performs. It’s a necessary but insufficient condition for career success. Professional women tend to expect their excellent work to be its own advertising, but, as we’ve seen, there are powerful reasons why it isn’t.

I = image. This is about your personal brand. It’s about what you are known for, from your skills and interests to your attire and demeanour. It’s about what you stand for, and what people know you will and won’t do (because you don’t say yes to everything, do you? Our 6 tips for saying no in How to Say No – And Why You Should! later in this section might be for you if you answered yes!).

E= exposure. This is about being known. We all gravitate to names we know – reflect on what you do when you open your local council voting papers and find forty or fifty names to choose from. It’s much easier to get into decision-makers’ list of ‘possibles’ if they have heard your name, even if they can’t quite remember why, and as long as their somewhat vague associations of you are positive.

Authenticity

The difficulty with self promotion for professional women seems to be getting past the immediate assumption that it means sounding like Tarzan with his bull-ape victory yell. A report, Personal Influence At Work – Diversity Perspectives, researched for Australia’s Women on Boards, began with a 35-44 year old female manager’s answer to the question, what are your biggest obstacles to career progression? Her words clearly show how men’s ways of doing things do not sit right with her, even though she senses she’s missing out:

I do not network the same as my male colleagues. They seem so blatant in their ‘sucking up’! I do not tell the world about my successes. I need to sing my own praises higher and wider. I need to call something done sooner… I need to call it a success at 80% and ride the wave in for the remaining 20%.

There are alternatives which can feel much more authentic and “doable” than the stereotyped view that the only way to self promote is to state loudly and repeatedly to everyone how marvellous you are. The ideas that follow are drawn from suggestions at one of our ‘How to Own Your Career/ Good Girl’s Career Guide’ seminars, as well from our own experiences and wider reading.

Promoting Your Performance (the P)

Idea #1: Email power

When a customer, internal or external, sends you an appreciative or complimentary email, forward it to key stakeholders so they know your performance has been impressive. An extra tip for those of you who fear this is little short of the Tarzan yell: if co-workers contributed, cc them and mention their role in a cover note. And a further tip: save the email in a folder with other such messages so you can read them and build yourself back up on the not-so-good days!

Idea #2: Girlfriend power

One of Moss-Racusin’s experiments tested the persuasive power of women to promote themselves compared to promoting their female peers. It turns out that women are as highly effective at selling the performance and potential of their peers as they are hopeless at doing it for themselves! The tip, therefore, is to send your CVs, applications and cover letters to your professional women friends and ask them to critique your efforts.

I guarantee most of you will hear: “Stop underselling yourself!”

Idea #3: Advocate power

If someone has been impressed enough with your performance to write or to pay you a sincere compliment, ask them to formalise it. For example, ask if they would write you a recommendation on LinkedIn (you do have a LinkedIn profile, don’t you?). Depending on your industry, you could also ask them for a testimonial, or ask them if they would be prepared to be your referee for a particular type of assignment or service.

Promoting Your Image (the I)

Idea #4: Your personal brand

It’s hard to promote something authentically when you don’t know and understand it deeply. That includes you. Take the time to distil the key ways you add value in the organisation now, what others regard you highly for, the kinds of work that bring you ‘flow’, your strengths, the key directions you’d like to develop, the values you hold dear.

This introspection, plus the feedback you seek, will stand you in very good stead as you work on your I and your E – it will guide you to what feels authentic to you. (By the way, authentic does not necessarily mean comfortable and easy!)

Idea #5: Assignments and opportunities

Your boss is not a mind reader. Not only does he or she not always notice when you do a great job, your boss also does not know what you hope for and what interests you. So this tip is to be proactive and ask. If the ‘good girl’ in you quails a little, tell her that asking is not being greedy, it’s a way of showing interest and gumption.

Ask for projects and assignments that are coming up but also for things that might happen, like potential transfers or office exchanges. Check, too, if the opportunity will raise your profile outside your immediate work area, and if it will increase your responsibility or stretch you in some way.

Idea #6: The way you say it

‘Image’, let’s face it, is partly about how we look and sound and small differences can quickly add up. Listen closely to your fellow workers. When they start a sentence with, “this is probably a stupid idea but…” how does it make you feel about what you are about to hear? What about when they apologise for something that isn’t their fault, or when they add endless caveats and qualifications to their ideas? Now take an inventory of your own speech and if need be get a buddy to help you trim back those phrases and tones that stop people hearing clearly and positively what you want to say.

Promoting Your Exposure (the E)

Idea #7: Write!

You know what your areas of expertise or deep interest are, so write an article for an industry magazine or newsletter. Don’t think of this as arrogant self promotion, think of it as sharing what you know in the spirit of helping others who lack the time to research the issue for themselves. Variations on this theme are to write for your company newsletter about your team’s recent successful project, or to lead and contribute to LinkedIn discussions in your subject matter area.

You could write for Professionelle, too. Your 600-1200 word article on a topic relevant to other professional women, if accepted by us, could secure you another page 1 Google NZ ranking for searches on your name, along with your LinkedIn and Facebook entries.

Idea #8: Network!

We couldn’t miss this one. Suzanne Doyle-Morris talks about ‘taking your 10%’, in other words, investing a small part of your time and energy while at work in developing your career and profile. A really important lever is networking, both inside and outside your organisation. Ladies, you can be sure the men don’t feel guilty about taking time to have a coffee to build a new contact and share information while you’re sweating at your desk to perfect the last details of your report. Take a look at the gender balance in any café at 10.30am if you don’t believe me…

And if you think networking is all about ‘sleazy selling’ and absolutely not something you could do authentically, read our article on networking “Professionelle’s Passion for Networking in Book 1: Begin with Success, and others on our website – all written by professional women, for professional women.

Idea #9: Talk!

There’s no faster way to make yourself known to a large group of people at once than to speak at a conference, or to participate in a panel – or even to go on TV as an expert, as some of our members do! The chances are that at first you will need to drive this, i.e. to express interest and offer topics to the organisers. However, if you have been writing, networking and getting your name out there, then the chances are they will come to you and it will be up to you to decide if the fit is right.

A Final Thought

Idea #10: Aligned values

This tip came from one of our ‘How to Own Your Career’ seminars. It’s much easier to feel comfortable and confident and to gauge what is appropriate and what will be effective if your values align well with those if your organisation. We couldn’t agree more!

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