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Three Keys to Self-Promotion Without Guilt

Self-promotion is the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one’s activities. So why do so many of us, women in particular, feel guilty or uncomfortable doing it? Or avoid it altogether?

Self-promotion is both strategy and art. It requires self-awareness as well as knowledge of your environment. The failure to master this skill can have big consequences in the workplace, from missing out on promotions to better assignments.

And if promoting ourselves was hard enough to do in-person before pandemic shelter-in-place, how can we self-promote via a computer screen? Here are three ways that work, both in-person or virtually.

Barriers to self-promotion

Before we dig in, it’s important to address that there is a wide range of research that points to how culture and gender impact the way men and women take risks and promote their skills. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests gender differences when it comes to risk aversion are, like most gender differences, a product of socialization. In other words, the way we raise girls and boys is likely directly related to why women are less willing to take risks than that of men.

Gender barriers also impact how women and men promote themselves. For some women, it tends to be much easier to share about their interests and passions, but much harder to share about their professional accomplishments. For men, it tends to be easier to speak about their professional accomplishments, versus their interests and passions.

Cultural upbringing can also impact our self-promotion efforts. My personal experience, having been raised in an immigrant Latino household, my parents instilled the beliefs that you needed to be humble, “keep your nose down,” and people will always notice your good work. Self-promotion in any way was considered being a braggart. I learned though that these cultural beliefs were not going to help propel me to be visible or successful in the workplace.

My personal branding journey has included finding ways to overcome my gender and cultural barriers. For those that have also experienced either of these roadblocks in your career, extra work may be required to be more self-aware of barriers that may inhibit you from self-promotion without the feeling of guilt. Here are three keys to feel comfortable promoting yourself:

1. Self-promotion needs to provide a reciprocal benefit

Learn to distinguish between self-promotion and bragging. Bragging is talking about yourself or your achievements in a way that can make others feel less than you. Self-promotion, on the other hand, is information-sharing about yourself in a way that helps people see how you might be able to help them, or in other words, how can your information-sharing be a form of giving back?

For example, compare these two statements. Let’s pretend your colleague is sharing information with you about their latest efforts on a marketing campaign. How do both statements make you feel?

Statement A: “I just led this quarter’s marketing campaign for product A, and we killed it. The new tactics we tested gave us metrics that went through the roof. I can’t wait to share our results with the rest of the department.”

Statement B: “I just led this quarter’s marketing campaign on product A, and it was very successful. Remember those new tactics the team had discussed using? Well, they worked, including metrics that gave us consumer insights that helped us tweak the campaign along the way. I know you are leading the next campaign, let me know how I can help you. I would be glad to share our best practices, lessons learned, etc. I’m happy to help in any way that I can.”

If you hadn’t guessed it already, Statement B, was self-promotion in the form of information-sharing that should have made you feel like your colleague was not only sharing their success, but also more importantly, they were giving back to you by offering their time, knowledge and experience. When you self-promote, your communication should be about as much as the person you are speaking to as it is about yourself. It should be about building relationships that are reciprocal and mutually beneficial. Self-promotion needs to provide a mutual benefit to other parties.

2. Brand Ambassadors can be allies in self-promotion

Learn to self-promote through your brand ambassadors. Brand ambassadors are those friends and colleagues who, when you are not in the room, will be able to speak about your strengths, experience, and generally your value, and in turn help promote your brand.

A client, a Latina city attorney, once turned down participating in a press release to be written by her employer to promote a national award she had received because she considered it to be “bragging.” Had she been more self-aware of her own personal gender and cultural barriers, she might have realized that highlighting her achievement was not a lack of humility but a powerful statement about her accomplishments and that of her organization. Understanding the importance of brand ambassadors as allies in self-promotion, and having allowed her employer to be the one to promote her national award would have helped her to let go of any shame or guilt and ease into the idea that it was okay to promote both her award and good work.

Think about who you know as a colleague, in your network, friends, and others that can speak to your expertise and positive qualities on your behalf.

To shine through that box, you need to be your confident, authentic self. Pre-interview, take time for stillness by blocking off however much time you need to organize your thoughts and get energized.

During the interview, anxiety and adrenaline often sabotage even the best of preparation. Slow down. Breath. Smile. Confident people tend to take their time when answering questions. If you need a moment to compose your thoughts, say, “That’s a good question. Let me think about that for a second.” Also, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer for clarification.

Interviewers will remember your energy as much as, if not more, than what you said. Even if attributes like confidence, enthusiasm, and authenticity aren’t listed as part of your personal brand, exhibiting those will augment your brand while scoring you major bonus points with your audience.

3. Don’t listen to that little voice in your head

The origin of that “little voice in your head” can be personal, gender-driven, or cultural. Another client was appointed interim superintendent of a school district through an internal promotion, along with a pay raise. She refused the extra money, even after her boss urged her to accept it, because she wanted to be “nice” and save the district money. Upon subsequent reflection, she realized that she did not feel good about passing up the raise and that this tendency to turn it down came from her own upbringing. It had cultural and gender implications that included the beliefs that she was selfish if she put herself first, and that under-valuing her skills and knowledge was a way to not feel as if she was bragging. Besides being aware of our individual gender and cultural paradigms, pay attention to that little voice in your head and those thoughts that lead you to think that you are not capable, worthy, or good enough.

Start start to self-promote without the guilt

As a brand specialist, I see the huge impact on clients when they learn how to create, implement, and maintain their brand. Learn to apply these three keys to self-promotion in your daily activities. Remember, that when done properly, self-promotion feels more like sharing; and, more like offering help. Self-awareness is crucial because successful self-promotion requires building a plan and practicing it consistently. Your messaging must be strategic, purposeful, and genuine. When we share ourselves and believe in our message, we are credible and have a sense of service to our audience. This is how self-promotion becomes a “win-win” for all of us.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Guisselle Nuñez (Assoc VP, Strategic Marketing and Communications, San Francisco State University), along with esteemed panelists, Yvonne Chen (VP of Marketing, Udemy) & Laurie Dewan (VP Customer Insights, Healthline Media) all joined in a discussion with Laliv Haider (AMA SF Board Member & VP Marketing & Brand, InVision Communications, as these senior women marketing leaders shared how they are navigating their professional lives and the “new normal” with both purpose and vigor.