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The Trick To Tooting Your Own Horn

How to promote yourself without bragging

Bragging“Get out there and sell yourself.” “Toot your own horn.” “Develop your personal brand and let people know about it.” You often hear this type of advice in conjunction with trying to get a promotion or land a new job. Yet many people, particularly women, are uncomfortable talking so boldly about their accomplishments. They may feel like “selling themselves” constitutes bragging or boastful behavior, which they prefer to avoid.

Although these issues are difficult for some, it’s important to learn how to master them. “The issue of self-promotion is huge because it affects not just advancement and compensation, but also opportunities, mentoring relationships, assignments, and evaluations,” says Cynthia Thomas Calvert, president of Workforce 21C.

Fortunately, there are ways to spread the word about your successes without coming across as an aggressive blowhard. Here are five top techniques:

Focus on the Future

One reason that many women try to avoid overt self-promotion is that studies suggest it can sometimes backfire. “As research has shown, women who talk about their accomplishments at work are often disliked, talked about behind their backs, and given fewer opportunities,” explains Calvert.

To keep this from happening, Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, president of Women’s Success Coaching, suggests that the most effective way for women to establish the credibility and visibility they desire without the backlash is to focus on their value proposition.

“Women should consider the unique way they do their work that adds value to the business,” says Marcus. “Once they understand this, they can offer to help others achieve their business goals based on what value they know they can add.” Marcus adds that instead of talking about past accomplishments—which might be interpreted as bragging—women should position themselves as having the potential to solve ongoing challenges in the business. “This establishes them as a leader who is willing to work for the benefit of the organization and not for self-gain,” says Marcus.

Find Ripple Effects

A related recipe for spreading the word about your successes without sounding like you’re bragging is to think about how your accomplishment ripples out to affect others in a positive way.

“Did you close a deal that saved your client thousands of dollars?” asks Jennifer Martin, business coach and founder of Zest Business Consulting. “Did you discover a cost-saving solution for your employer that allowed them to work with 20% less staff? Whatever you have created or contributed to—you want to focus on the value that you brought to that person, group, or entity.”

Use Cooperative Bragging

For those who are modest, it can be a lot easier to brag about others rather than yourself. One technique that can work well for women is to use “cooperative bragging” to help each other out. This tactic allows people to toot horns for each other at opportune moments, such as key conversations or meetings.

Calvert explains that cooperative bragging can be done informally, as situations arise. “One woman can just start doing it—for example, saying in a meeting or in conversations with colleagues something like: ‘Didn’t Mary do a fabulous job settling the Jackson case?’”

Rock Your Interview

While using a soft touch with self-promo can get you further than a loud horn toot in everyday situations in the office, it’s important to turn up the volume on your accomplishments when you’re in an interview situation. Though humility is still important, the interview is a time where you’re expected to “talk yourself up” to get the job. At the same time, doing this effectively takes some finesse, according to Noelle Gross, founder of NG Career Strategy.

“Try to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes: on one side, they are looking for a total rockstar and want (and need) to hear that you are that rockstar,” says Gross. “On the flip side, they definitely aren’t looking to hire a know-it-all, ego-maniac. You have to master a blend of both and also practice if this is something that doesn’t come naturally.” To strike the right balance, Gross recommends staying on track and answering only what you’re being asked, using stories to illustrate your skills and desirable qualities, and talking about specific results. “Bragging will go almost undetected when you speak results as long as you keep the results relevant to the question,” says Gross.

Talk Teams

It can be equally difficult figuring out how to promote your own accomplishments when you’re part of a team, where everyone has added a certain amount of value. How can you let your light shine while still ensuring that others receive credit and recognition where it’s due? Nina Parr, co-founder of The Love Your Job Project, recommends collaborating with your supervisor for best results.

“When you are part of a team, a great way to sell your accomplishments is to start by talking with your boss,” says Parr. “Ask if there are certain areas he or she sees as a strength that you may be able to utilize to help your team members. Or, explain there is a strength you are not utilizing and want to incorporate into your job. Ask if you could present on a specific topic on a team call, conduct a training, or help another team member.” Parr also advises staying on the lookout for team members with similar strengths. “Connect with them one-on-one to brainstorm a way you could partner up to sell your accomplishments together,” says Parr.

Request Testimonials

Having colleagues, clients, and supervisors put in a good word for you can go a long way toward self-promotion without you saying a peep. This is where testimonials can come in. Testimonials are statements from those you work with or for that showcase highlights from their experience of collaborating with you.

While you still generally have to work up the courage to ask others for testimonials, once you’ve collected them, you’ll have a virtual fan club of positive supporters that you can use as needed for self-promotion. Canadian career coach Maureen McCann suggests getting others to use words to describe you that you might not be comfortable using yourself. Says McCann: “This not only boosts your confidence, but it also helps you articulate your accomplishments.”



About Robin Madell

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributing writer to U.S. News & World Report and serves as a copywriter, speechwriter, and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in New York and San Francisco. Robin is the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success.


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