How to promote yourself... without overdoing it!

In this viewpoint, Rachel looks at how you can best promote yourself at work without getting a reputation for being ‘try hard’.

Rachel Dean

Rachel Dean on 02/08/23

Promotion. One definition is ‘the act or fact of being raised in position or rank’. 

One definition is ‘the act or fact of being raised in position or rank’. Love it or hate it, promotion of ourselves is a powerful – and necessary – part for most, professional roles. And developing our own personal brand in the workplace is an important part of the journey to promotion because it’s what makes us memorable to others. A Harvard study suggests it takes less than 10 seconds for us to make a first impression but on average 6 or 7 more interactions to reverse a bad one.

Talk of self-promotion or ‘building your brand’ often conjures unpleasant feelings; a sense of pressure to be or do something more in order to get ahead and with busy working schedules and social commitments in our evenings, you may feel the struggle I do to fit in another networking event in the hopes of raising our profile.

There are also negative perceptions attached to self-promotion. We all have that colleague – a bit too self-confident; always telling anyone that will listen about the deal they just completed; always angling to be seen, heard and recognised in the office. It comes across as annoying and braggy…and yet these individuals seem to be the ones rising up the ranks the quickest. 

So, what’s the secret to promoting ourselves without overdoing it?
General consensus seems to focus on two key factors: (1) for peers and superiors to know you do a good job and are a safe pair of hands and (2) for them to like you. Sounds easy right!? Well, it can be.

Self-promotion done well should look like effective communication, confidently managing up (and down), balanced networking, information sharing and relationship building – all very positive and respectable skills.

Doing a good job and being a safe pair of hands

Being regarded as competent in our jobs should be a standard bar in terms of self-promotion. If you’re working in the legal sector, chances are you’ve got pretty good technical ability and are able to do the job at hand well. It can be easier to go above and beyond than you may think, simply by asking the right questions of those you are working with and communicating expectations effectively. Asking how and by when the task is to complete and then keeping everyone involved updated will work just as well with your boss as with external clients or internal stakeholders and gives them the comfort that you know what you’re doing. This lays the foundation of your self-promotion.

And if your boss/clients/stakeholders feel safe and happy with your service, chances are they will do some promoting for you without you even having to ask!

Likewise, with colleagues, be the one who others can approach for work chat as well as a bit of banter. That way you are able to share your knowledge and experience without it being braggy. It’s in those so called ‘water-cooler’ breaks that you will often be given the opportunity to self-promote, maybe even in the presence of your boss if you all happen to be in the office together. It’s win-win. 

If situations like the one above don’t seem to naturally happen for you, try to create them. If you’re new to a role, be proactive with simple email introductions to your team or main stakeholders saying ‘hi’ and that you’re looking forward to working with them. Ask for some time in the office or over a Teams call to get to know them and to learn more about the piece of work you’re going to be doing together. Take an interest.

Maybe you’ve been in the same role for years and are feeling a bit stuck or looking for a step up. If your company utilises an appraisal system (most do) then use that as a forum to explain your aspirations and set out your business case for it. Your boss will want to know how you’re doing and the ways you’re hoping to develop but likely won’t always have the time or capacity to seek out that information from you. Unfortunately, talent doesn’t always directly track with recognition. Accomplishments and work achievements speak, but telling people about it in the right way speaks louder. This is the perfect opportunity to promote yourself without overdoing it. 

Being likeable

The second element of effective self-promotion is to be liked and for others to enjoy your company. To do this well requires a delicate balance of confidence and humility; something Joanna Gaudoin refers to as the strength/warmth equation in her webinar series ‘Self-marketing’, the third of four parts of which is happening on Zoom on 9 October. You can sign up for the webinar, and find more offerings from Joanna on the website. We need people to see us as competent professionals and also as friendly and approachable.  For some, this does come naturally but maybe others find it harder to integrate and develop relationships with colleagues, clients and stakeholders. 

If the latter is true for you, remember the old adage – everyone loves talking about themselves and their life. So, ask them! Strike up a conversation whilst making a brew or waiting for the lift or after a client/project update call and ask about their life outside work. Take a genuine interest in what they tell you and then find an occasion to raise it again later. A super easy example might be asking how their holiday was or how their child’s exam went. 

Another sure fire way to be considered likeable is to celebrate others’ successes in work – to share in their wins and be happy for their achievements. If your company has any kind of internal award programme, use it to say thanks and promote your colleagues. You will likely find that they reciprocate that back without you even having to ask. 

Get started!

Some readers may find it easy to crack on with promoting themselves, whilst others are still feeling cringey thinking about doing this. The act of self-promotion doesn’t have to be awkward – if done right, it should naturally further your own growth and position in your job, but the great thing is it actually benefits others too because none of us work entirely alone, so positive recognition and praise for us should have a ripple effect to our wider team and even the reputation of our companies.

It hopefully goes without saying that all of this has to come from a place of authenticity. It’s all too easy to see through a mask of fake praise designed to highlight ourselves. But the bottom line is that we all appreciate genuine people in our workplaces and passion is infectious so if you believe you do a good job and are a nice person, put that out into the world and watch what happens!

Related content