“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!
“Self-promotion is a leadership and political skill that is critical to master in order to navigate the realities of the workplace and position you for success.”
Natalya couldn’t believe her company hired an outsider rather than promote her to the position she was vying for. She knew she had everything it would take to succeed in that role. She decided to reach out to an executive coach who was referred to her – I was the person she called! “It sounds like you are producing a tremendous amount of value for your company,” I said. “Now you need to learn how to promote yourself at work (and your actual impact), so others will appreciate and recognize your value.” Here’s the plan we created together.
- Track Your Accomplishments
When put on the spot, it can be tough to remember all the things you’ve done over the past year. Instead of relying on memory, keep a file of all your accomplishments and current projects. At a performance review, meeting with executives, or introduction to a new client, you’ll have just the right examples of particular skills or competencies you want to highlight.
- Write a Success Story About Yourself
Create a short “success story” about yourself so you’re always prepared for high-stakes conversations. The story is created by identifying the problem, determine the actions you took to help solve the problem and the overall results that you ultimately achieved. You’ll now know exactly how to promote yourself when talking to organizational leaders.
- Expand Upon Compliments
When someone gives you a compliment, view it as an invitation to say more about the work they’re praising. This will feel less awkward if you share a piece of quantifiable data to sum up what your accomplishment did for the company. Rather than sharing a subjective opinion (e.g., “I’m brilliant”), you’re sharing something objective. And by focusing on results and outcomes, you’re giving them information that can help guide decision-making.
- Promote the Work of Others
When you promote others, you give them positive feelings about you in turn. This encourages them to speak highly of you as well. It’s like cultivating alliances within your organization, only there’s nothing devious about it. You’re simply working toward your mutual success and building a culture of showingappreciation for good work. Likewise, when you lead your team to success, speak about what “we” accomplished rather than centering yourself. Your boss and team will know you showed great leadership, and they’ll see you as a great morale-builder when you share the success.
- Take on a High-Profile Project
Look for a high-profile project that others can’t help but notice. Outline exactly how you’ll devote time to this project while keeping up with our current workload. (Hint: Delegate as much as possible, which willalso show your leadership skills!) Taking on ambitious projects will build your visibility in the organization, preparing you to exert greater influence.
- Sing Your Own Praises to Superiors
Tell your boss, and your boss’s boss, what you’ve accomplished. Phrasing the news in the form of a “thank you” can make it feel less awkward—for example, you could say, “Thanks for the encouragement to pursue project X. I’m thrilled about the results.” In doing so, you’ll be strengthening these relationships by making others feel connected to your success. Then sum up what the project did for the company—again, citing measurable outcomes. Take a big-picture approach, focusing on how the achievement benefits the company. This not only feels less awkward but highlights your commitment to the organization’s success.
Look for opportunities to connect with higher-level leaders in your organization as well. If you hear about a meeting of organizational leaders and you feel you have something to contribute, ask an advocate if you can attend or send your input with him. You have little to lose by showing some ambition, and at the very least, you’re likely to put yourself on their radar. This is an excellent way to promote yourself at work.
You now have six tactics for promoting yourself that feel more natural. With these tricks in your pocket, it will feel easier to promote yourself at work. Joel can help you implement these tips and do what is necessary to get that promotion you feel you deserve. Email executive coach Joel Garfinkle now with the area you want to work on.
“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”
Client Mary asks: Joel, I’ve just started my new job and it’s been only a few months. I feel like I could be making a better impression on my coworkers. I know there’s more I could be doing to really shine. How can I stand out, aside from producing good work?
Coach Joel answers: Many factors aside from sheer ability to get the work done influence the impression people make at work. Furthermore, an array of social factors affect ability to get the job done as a team. Become a superstar employee by mastering these methods of making a good impression at work, and you’re sure to stand out.
Once you’ve created a good impression of yourself at work, maintaining it is easy. People’s expectations toward others guide how they treat them—in other words, we all tend to behave the way others expect us to act.
- Envision the interactions you want to have
Whether you’re going to a work party or a business lunch, or just showing up to your office in the morning, envision the kinds of interactions you want to engage in. Think about what you want to get out of the interactions. This will help you to focus your energy toward specific objectives.
- Be perceptive about others
Most of us fear that our contributions go unseen. Making a good impression means working to point out your coworkers’ large and small contributions, or qualities that you admire. This will go a long way toward relationship-building. Voicing your observations about little things you’ve noticed will show you have a keen eye for detail—and they’ll appreciate your presence more.
- Know your capacity
Define expectations when taking on a project (or turning it down). Taking on more projects won’t necessarily impress your boss or coworkers, who will quickly realize if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Articulating your capacities—regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no”—shows foresight, self-awareness, and concern for the company. If you do want to accept but know you couldn’t handle more work beyond that project, say so—it will help your boss and team plan better.
- Share your accomplishments
If you don’t point out your successes, people might not notice them. State them matter-of-factly when they happen, knowing they’re not just your personal wins but also the team’s accomplishments.
- Become a good follower
While this might sound counterintuitive, it’s not. A good leader knows how to follow the leadership of others, and doing so shows humbleness. A good follower takes initiative, welcomes feedback, and owns up to mistakes.
- Initiate conversation about ideas
When you have a new idea, get input on it. Likewise, invite others to discuss ideas with you. Brainstorm on important topics with coworkers before a team meeting, so you’ll all have more to contribute.
- Be accessible
Getting back to people quickly about their questions will signal that you’re professional. Whether replying to email or in-person requests, communicate in a timely manner. Delaying a response can feel like a passive aggressive way of saying you don’t want to be bothered.
- Stay out of gossip culture
Gossip undermines the corporate culture. This might seem like a no-brainer, but how often have you heard idle banter that could truly hurt the subject of conversation? If there’s a problem to address and people need to compare notes, that’s fine. If it goes beyond that, however, people should be putting their energy into solving the problem rather than publicly stewing over it.
- Create a 90-day plan
If you’re starting a new job, create a plan for what you want to accomplish in your first 90 days of your job. A plan will keep you on track and help you exceed your boss’s expectations. Try using this strategy even if you’ve been at your job for a while. Imagine yourself coming in fresh, with three months to prove yourself—what would you focus on? Even if you never show the plan to anyone else, it can add an element of excitement to your work.
- Share stories about your life
Develop more positive work relationships with your coworkers and boss by sharing about your life outside of work. You don’t need to relay the most intimate details; things like hobbies, volunteering, and vacations will give people a fuller picture of you. Plus, showing that you have a zest for life outside of work will give people a more positive impression of you. When people realize, “Oh, he’s not only a great accountant; he also loves nature photography and helps a local nonprofit file its taxes,” they’re sure to be impressed. Moreover, they’ll share about their own lives and you’ll find more common ground as a result.
As you take these steps, you’re sure to create a good impression at work, making you stand out to your boss and coworkers. These tips will help you become more of a team player, and people will take notice.
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.
Grayson asks: I’m naturally a shy person, and I want to learn how to be confident at work. I know that confidence is key to coming across as a leader, and I definitely want to advance. How can I stop blending into the background and start exuding self-assurance?
Joel answers: Grayson, you’re right to be focusing on building your confidence. Without confidence, you won’t increase your visibility at work or have the courage to take risks. And without taking risks and building visibility and influence, you’ll have difficulty reaching the next level. This is an exciting time in your career—you’re launching a new, more confident phrase that will take you to places you never imagined you could go. Being confident at work takes effort—here’s how to get there.
- Prepare What You’ll Say at Meetings
Thinking through what you’ll bring to a meeting will help you say it with confidence. You’ll also be more articulate, having carefully prepared your ideas. Everything doesn’t have to be completely polished—maybe you have a few ideas to share in a brainstorming session, and you want to get the group’s feedback. Either way, you’ll contribute with more confidence when you feel prepared. Come to the meeting willing to speak up at work.
- Grow a Team of Supporters
When you know you have star players batting for you, you’ll feel your confidence soar. Build relationships with mentors you can learn from, both within and outside of the organization. Cultivate advocates within your company as well—people with influence and credibility who will talk you up to bosses and coworkers. You won’t just benefit from their sway over group opinions—you’ll gain confidence from the insights these relationships give you. Whenever you feel uncertain, visualize this team of people all cheering you on.
- Ask for Feedback
A confident person doesn’t put her head in the sand, avoiding any feedback. Nor does she believe she’s above all criticism. Rather, she has the courage to be vulnerable by asking for others’ input about her performance. When you solicit feedback, others will perceive you as more confident—it shows you’re challenging yourself to improve every day. Consistent feedback from people you trust will also strengthen your performance, raising your confidence even higher.By the same token, if your confidence is being drained by a critical coworker, remember that your response to criticism speaks volumes. If criticized in front of others, invite the critic to continue the conversation over coffee. Actively striving to learn from criticism and understand where it’s coming from will show self-assurance.
- Find a Problem You’re Equipped to Solve
Pinpoint a problem that you’re uniquely poised to solve—something that others will notice, even though they may keep pushing it to the back burner. Tackling a persistent problem head-on shows confidence and ambition, especially when you took the initiative to solve it.
- Celebrate Risks
When you make a bold move that took some courage, celebrate! If you held your ground in a meeting instead of backing down at the first sign of controversy, that’s a milestone. Whether or not you accomplished what you intended, you showed guts, and that’s a victory in itself. Share what happened with one of your biggest cheerleaders—whether your spouse, a coworker, or a close friend—so you’ll have someone to affirm your success.
Like Grayson, almost all of us need to learn how to be more confident at work as we progress in our careers. Keep challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone while celebrating your wins, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy level of self-confidence.
Joel’s executive coaching can help you fast track your development by building your confidence, visibility, and influence at work. Review his executive business coaching services.
“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”
~ Gore Vidal ~
Nathan felt it was time to raise his visibility. He knew he needed this just to keep his job in a tight market. He especially needed to get recognition if he hoped to advance. But no one likes a show-off or a know-it-all. So Nathan struggled with how to accomplish good self-promotion in the workplace without coming off in a negative way?
He decided to use three simple ways to let other in the workplace know of his good work. It’s self-promotion without sounding like your tooting your own horn.
- Share your accomplishments
You’d love to have your work speak for itself. After all, it’s good work. But merit is determined by people— by human judgement. That’s a blend of information, viewpoint, and emotional filters. In order for the person who determines merit to appreciate your work, several things have to happen, including sharing of your accomplishments.
- They have to know about the work.
- They have to know that YOU did the work
- They have to understand the time, effort, intelligence, and skills it took to accomplish the job
- They need to see how it benefits the company
They can’t get all this by osmosis. Someone needs to at least get them the “Cliff’s Notes” of your involvement in the job. You can do that several ways
- Send a brief report to your boss or the influencer about the job. It could be in the form of a question. “I did this, and this and this…am I on track? What would you like next?”
- Ask a mentor or senior in your organization to publically or privately pass on recognition of your accomplishments.
- Request a co-worker write a letter of recommendation about your efforts on the task.
Nathan read that studies show it’s not the most competent that gets promoted, it’s the most visible. No one likes a boss that is less competent than they are. It’s not good for you or for the company. In self-defense, Nathan needs to have his competence shine. Decision makers need to know of your abilities.
- Speak up in meetings
- Offer to present material
- Check with your boss or others and share what you are working on
- Come to your review process prepared to show and explain your part in the work and in strengthening the company’s bottom line
When you promote others, you often promote yourself as well. Nathan has been producing excellent results for his company. But he had not done a very good job of self-promotion. He hadn’t been sharing wins and accomplishments in his workplace.
He decided to write an email that outlined five specific things his team had done in the past month. He made sure each point had measurable results. He said, “I’m very proud of the work this team has done and wanted to take a moment to highlight their accomplishments.”
Notice it does not look like self-promotion since Nathan is giving accolades to his team. Yet it still reflects well on him.
The CTO wrote back, “Thanks for pointing this out and congratulations to the team. The quiet success of these accomplishments from you and your team has not gone unnoticed. The CEO and senior leadership were much appreciative.” He encouraged Nathan to keep them informed about their work and the value they bring. The CTO recognized that sometimes work that goes well goes unnoticed, yet, he said, “It is important we educate the business on the value we bring.”
Self-promotion, well done, can build your visibility and lead to advancement. It helps management do a better job of recognizing who are their truly skilled workers. It also helped Nathan feel more valued and gain more satisfaction from his job.
If you need to increase your visibility and promote yourself in your workplace, first evaluate your visibility.
What have you done for self-promotion? Has it worked? Has it come off brash, or confident?