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Career advancement and self-promotion go hand-in-hand, but how do you avoid undesirable side effects like appearing narcissistic or looking like an obnoxious over-sharer on social media when trying to get ahead?
Some swear by the so-called PIE self-branding model, which focuses on Performance, Image and Exposure. But alas, PIE is flawed. For starters, performance is overrated. Reasons You Were Not Promoted that are Totally Unrelated to Gender, a sardonic piece published on the daily humor website McSweeney’s, deftly describes the quandary:
“You’re abrasive, for example that time when you asked for a raise. It was awkward and you made the men on the senior leadership team uncomfortable.”
But equally likely, the author notes, is a criticism like:
“You don’t speak up. We’d really like to see you take on more of a leadership role before we pay you for being a leader.”
Did you notice how performance wasn’t exactly an issue in either case? So how are women supposed to navigate such ‘lose-lose’ scenarios?
The key is to base your career-building efforts on confident and well-orchestrated (as opposed to calculated or manipulative) self-promotion. Unfortunately, lack of confidence continues to hold many women back. The 2009 bestseller Womenonics: Write Your Own Rules for Success highlights that self-doubt pervades even among women at the top of their game.
Examples of this abound. Last fall, I attended a conference for hopeful female MBA applicants at an Ivy League university and repeatedly noticed the timid stature, humility and deference displayed by many of the women there. On the bus ride home, I remembered my former job at a tech company, where I could not get a word in edgewise with the engineers unless I interrupted and spoke loudly to own the room. At another former employer, I had to encourage my younger female colleagues to speak up, while a male college intern let his opinions be widely known—even during his first week.
Confidence is a huge factor in how people are evaluated. No advice can magically confer confidence, but there are some tried and true strategies that you can use to get noticed and build your career.
Consider my CARE model (Confidence, Approach, Risk-taking and Exposure), which centers on building and using confidence to propel your career to the next level.
Start by learning how to own the “room” no matter the audience size through eye contact, a strong speaking voice and a modulated, well-paced, statement-oriented tone. For tips on body language, just watch psychologist Amy Cuddy’s 2012 presentation at TED Global for some “power poses.” Cuddy’s talk illustrates how standing in a posture of confidence can affect your brain chemistry—and maybe your chances for success.
Meanwhile, in a 2014 study (“Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market”), researchers conclude that young adult female voices exhibiting “vocal fry” (low pitched, creaky-sounding speech) are perceived as “less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable.”
Equally detrimental are practices such as ending your statements as though you were asking a question, using filler phrases like “kind of,” or peppering your sentences with the likes of “actually” or “basically.”
You have already gone a long way toward projecting Confidence. Now it is time to hone your approach to others. That means actively managing your career by networking. Of course, texts and emails aren’t enough: You need to approach others in person by strolling into corner offices, striking up conversations with higher-ups and, of course, having something interesting to say. Consider reading Susan RoAne’s classic How to Work a Room and Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.
In the latter book, Ferrazzi suggests that instead of avoiding the most senior people in the room, you should approach them and bring something to share. (At a minimum, introduce yourself.) RoAne’s advice includes specifics on how to “break and enter” a small group and then gracefully exit. The goal is to significantly enhance your confidence, both real and perceived.
Next, ramp up Risk-taking with respect to career opportunities, new ideas and solutions. If you have been talking to enough of the right people, you will have contacts to advise and support you. Make sure to learn your manager’s top values and priorities and deliver on those prior to taking a risk like asking for a raise. Whenever you approach your manager, come with solutions to share, not just questions or problems.
Finally, we have Exposure. In some fields this is critical. A recent c-suite placement at a fashionable fitness organization in New York City was reportedly hired in part because of her social media following. Figure out if leaders in your field are active on social media. If so, get involved. A word of caution: be sure to ask yourself the typical reporter questions first: who is interested, what are they interested in, when is it best to post, where are the networks that are most appropriate, and why will this help me further my career. That way, you won’t be just a narcissistic over-sharer. Your social media profile will have a clear purpose.
It is 2015, and times are changing—but not fast enough. Use the CARE model to kick-start your advancement and get ahead in the workplace.