How to promote your work without looking pretentious

How to promote your work without looking pretentious

It’s always annoying to see a colleague getting showered with compliments when your work is just as good as theirs—if not better. The only difference between you and them is that they let their manager know all about the value of their work and their achievements. And their manager rewards them by complimenting them. Like it or not, promoting your own work is essential for your career, but how do you sell yourself within an organisation without coming across as pretentious?

Here are some tips to make you shine casually.


‘Your work won’t speak for itself’

In 1960, Jack Welch joined General Electric as a junior chemical engineer. In 1981 he became the CEO. He wasn’t just a good worker within that time frame. In his book, Jack: Straight From the Gut, he emphasises the importance of self-marketing: “Your work will never speak for itself. You need to speak for it. Make sure that your managers understand how much you have invested and how much you have achieved. A little ‘modest bragging’ will not just help you get promotions, it will also help you discredit any attacks that might be made against you.” Keeping your head down and working hard, hoping that your achievements might get noticed and you will be given the recognition you deserve, is a pipe dream.

When it comes to self-promotion at work, why does it make nearly all of us feel a little uncomfortable? There are several reasons for this. First, there is the myth of meritocracy, which lets you think that the most commendable get promoted and that hard work is always recognised. There is also imposter syndrome, which makes you think that you don’t really deserve to be where you are, and that sooner or later someone will figure that out.

For women, there are other considerations, in particular the double-bind dilemma. Researchers have discovered that when women exhibit the same behaviour as men in the workplace, they are judged negatively. A woman who asserts herself is perceived as aggressive, a woman who asks for a bonus is considered greedy and so on.

Another factor is the confidence gap. This is explained by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Code, in which they state that women consistently underestimate their abilities whereas men tend to overestimate theirs.

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Tips to make your work stand out

1. Change your point of view on self-promotion

Does the idea of telling people how your latest idea completely transformed your team’s lives make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Then you’re going to have to force yourself to do just that. Managers and bosses have a lot to do and a lot of employees to manage, so they don’t hear everyone’s success stories. Letting them know about your accomplishments is not necessarily a sign of arrogance or bragging, it’s just a way of keeping them in the loop.

2. Know your strengths so you can talk about them

You are probably talented in ways that you are not even aware of, because these skills seem natural to you. Are you good at training the newbies? Do you simplify tasks better than anyone else? Are you the person who keeps everyone’s spirits up during tough times? Make a list of your strengths, starting with your technical skills and then your soft skills. Next, think about all the major projects that you have worked on and how these skills contributed to their success. This is what you need people to focus on. Self-promotion isn’t about trampling on other people’s achievements; it’s about showcasing your contribution to collective success.

3. Get your colleagues to single you out

Keep an eye on your colleagues’ work and congratulate them when they are successful. This isn’t only great for morale—in theory, it means they will do the same for you. When you have the chance, you should also reach out to teams in other departments. That way you will become an asset and a reference-point for them in terms of your expertise. Plus, you will make a name for yourself outside of your department, which will always eventually get back to your manager and beyond.

4. Don’t presume anything

It may seem logical to you that you get to be in charge of this project or get that promotion because it appears to be a natural progression in recognition of your work. However, it would be naive to think that everyone else remembers your achievements, and what your hopes and wishes are. When an opportunity arises, raise your hand and show that you want to be taken into consideration, otherwise you will always end up pushed aside.

5. Work on your image outside of the company

Selling yourself in the business world means you have to branch out. Your professional image is also based on how you are perceived outside your company, especially on social networks. Share your ideas and any content related to your profession or sector, and sign up to groups. By choosing to associate yourself with a certain speciality, sector and profession, you will become a point of reference. This won’t go unnoticed in your company.

6. Seize every opportunity to talk about your achievements

“What’s up?” your manager asks at the coffee machine. Rather than making small talk, bring up your projects and the impact they are having on the company. It’s not about shining the spotlight on you; it shows how you have contributed to a project’s overall success: “Between John’s technical skills and the knowledge I picked up from project X, we were able to convince the clients to…..”

7. Share your enthusiasm

If you can’t bear to talk about yourself, talk about the projects you are passionate about. This is easier and more natural to do. “If you’re talking about technology or a project that you are passionate about, the self-promotion becomes a by-product of the passion,” said career coach Curt Rosengren. This is especially true because passion is a contagious emotion. It’s the kind of discussion that will help others remember you and your achievements.

Selling yourself at work is much easier for some than others. Yet this is the only way to take charge of your career satisfaction. In Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It, Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and political consultant, says: “Very few of us ever learn how to reconcile the virtue of humility with the need to promote ourselves in the workplace.” So don’t just wait for your annual appraisal to discuss your performance. Keep your boss and your colleagues informed about your achievements, and above all, stop thinking that everyone already knows how great you are.

Translated by Mildred Dauvin

Photo: WTTJ

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