Do you self-promote enough? Four questions to ask yourself to step into the spotlight

You know you are great at your job and that your last project was a huge success. But are you sure everyone else fully appreciates that? If you are feeling a little ‘off-stage’, then it’s time for some self-promotion to highlight your value and contributions and drive your career forward. 

Self-promotion refers to communicating your interests, abilities or achievements to others to enhance your professional reputation. It’s a way of gaining visibility and of highlighting your value to your boss or company, making you memorable when opportunities arise.  

However, ‘blowing your own horn’ is still a strategy that many women are reluctant to employ out of fear of bragging or being arrogant, not feeling their accomplishments are worth promoting or even worrying about being seen as unlikeable. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, the differences in men’s and women’s behaviours in professional environments have a large impact on the gender gap in the success of men and women—and studies have shown that part of that is due to the fact that men are far more at ease with self-promotion than women.

Possible reasons for this include the fact that men tend to overestimate their performance while women underestimate theirs, and there is a more general societal approval for and celebration of male self-promotion than that by women. These crucial differences in the amount of self-promotion between the sexes, in turn, contribute to wider inequity through disparity in promotions, opportunities, and pay—reducing women’s perceived power and status in the workplace by removing them from the sightlines for accolades and opportunities.  

So, how can you get more strategic about your career and build regular self-promotion into your BAU? We look at four questions that you can ask to challenge any lingering doubts…and help you step forward into the spotlight. 

Doesn’t my work speak for itself? 

The simple answer to what is often a rhetorical question for many women—is no. While your work may be exemplary and your results successful, relying on luck or others to notice this fully without a little strategic highlighting is a risky approach. We might feel that our performance should be enough, but that is where many women can fall down. Research shows that approaches to self-promotion vary hugely in the strategies of men and women for myriad reasons.  

While men accurately or over-rate their performance, women are shown to habitually underestimate their achievements. This can lead to a reluctance among women to share their progress, ideas or achievements. Men are also more likely to take sole ownership of successes, whereas women often refer to things as team achievements. Finally, men often take a more strategic approach to networking, while women are more social, meaning that their impact reaches a more critical audience. In short, performance is not the sole driver for career momentum, and ownership and visibility may actually be more important in some ways to furthering our ambitions.  

So speak up for your work, and don’t leave it to speak for you. Highlighting, articulating and celebrating your achievements not only allows them to be recognised on a wider stage but, crucially it can also remind you of your worth and the value you are delivering, something that can be lost when you are continually head-down in business as usual.  

What am I afraid of?  

Worried that you’ll sound like you’re bragging? Or seem arrogant? Work out why celebrating your success in a public way isn’t an everyday part of your career, and then step away from such limiting beliefs, reframing it as a means of owning and communicating your achievements. And if you’re feeling an undertow of imposter syndrome, then use this psychological pinch point to challenge the feeling. Everywoman has a wealth of resources and articles to help, including this lively podcast with imposter syndrome expert Clare Josa. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable—so much personal and professional growth rests on this one powerful tenet—and take control of your narrative. Research shows talking factually and asking questions of the other person, sharing when other people are also sharing, (lightly) discussing challenges at the same time as successes2 and even finding intermediaries such as mentors and sponsors to help you spread your message3 can effectively offset any potential to come across as self-aggrandising when self-promoting.  

Finally, remember that self-promotion is magnetic to people when it is constructive, connected to context and full of positivity and enthusiasm that can help you collaborate with the right people, grow your ideas and clear obstacles to progress. 

What do I want to be known for?  

Self-promotion will help you stand out in a busy work environment and reinforce your value, but it’s important to understand what you want to be known for. You will need to have a clear overview of your current situation, including your strengths and areas for improvement as well as your achievements and your goals for the future—and know how they relate to the business…in order to understand your value proposition.  

And then you need to make sure others are aware of and appreciate that value proposition, too. Managers are not mind readers, and while they might have an idea of who you are and what you can do, you have the power to craft your identity through the things you highlight, the choices you make and the way in which you amplify and emphasise strategic elements of your role and skill set.  

Speaking up about your interests and wins is also part of building your personal brand and a leadership skill to practice —leaders are clear on their passions and impacts and communicate these effectively to their teams. Finally, if you don’t value yourself enough to self-promote, remember that others won’t do it for you. Being known for knowing your own worth and not being afraid to discuss it is a powerful message to communicate to all your stakeholders.   

Who do I need to self-promote to?  

Who needs to know how great you and your work are? While your line manager might be the obvious person to self-promote to, consider the potential impact of communicating with other key stakeholders, such as other managers from your function or of cross-functional teams who may have a say in promotions or other opportunities. Use internal channels to report successes to stakeholders, own your successes while recognising your team and partners when you talk and keep key people informed of progress to stay within their sightlines.  

Consider, too, whether you are using all the channels at your disposal to promote yourself, both internally and externally. Self-promotion can range from a simple conversation that expands on the work you’ve been doing with a line manager to a LinkedIn post about your work or interests or even an industry speaking engagement where you can make your expertise and passions visible to a wider audience and build networks. 

As career coach Jessica Sweet notes, self-promotion is ‘not about constantly talking about yourself. But about putting yourself in the way of success consistently.’ So make sure that you are connecting and communicating with a wide variety of stakeholders and contacts on a regular basis and in a variety of ways, letting them know who you are and what you’re doing to give yourself the best chance to be seen and open new doors in your career. 


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