If you’re like most people, self-promotion does not come easily. Research on this topic indicates that women are especially hesitant to advocate for themselves. That being said, we have no issue whatsoever promoting our friends and colleagues. One could conclude from this that we know how to do it, but we shy away from doing so on our own behalf. In fact, we avoid it like the plague, and that has serious consequences to our career advancement.
What about self-promotion is so difficult? It’s the “self” part; the egocentric nature and seemingly aggressive pushiness that makes us cringe not only when we attempt it for ourselves, but when we observe others bragging in a self-centered manner. When we hear other people promoting themselves this way, we tune them out. It reminds us of the insincere sales person who just wants to make the sale and cares nothing about our wants and needs. The result is that this obvious attempt at self-promotion is not effective. If people don’t listen, the pitch fails.
Many of us have been taught to create elevator pitches to promote ourselves. Personally, I believe these pitches fall flat for the same reason. Elevator pitches are all about us. We feel uncomfortable saying them and we often lose our audience when we deliver our pitch. It seems fake, stylized, too rehearsed, and inauthentic.
So on the one hand we don’t advocate for ourselves because we feel uncomfortable. Yet on the other hand we recognize that self-promotion is necessary to create the visibility and credibility we need to get ahead. How can we promote ourselves in a way that takes the egocentric grandstanding out of it? We need a new approach.
I have coached hundreds of men and women to take the “self” out of self-promotion, and it has helped them advocate for themselves to build credibility and visibility.
Here’s how you do it.
Instead of trying to articulate how wonderful you are and everything that you’ve accomplished, focus on your work and how your work contributes to positive business outcomes. Ask yourself, how your work and the way you do it helps the organization or your department reach its objectives.
Here’s an example of one of my clients.
Laura is a sales director for a global pharmaceutical company. Her role is to support the sales team by developing training programs. She also assists the efforts of sales leadership in the field. Laura has a unique ability. She has repeatedly demonstrated her skill finding opportunities for revenue where no one else sees it. This revenue can be with existing customers where she sees avenues for new products and services or ways to upsell current accounts, find new partnership potential. This unique ability to find revenue that is not obvious to others is her unique value proposition.
What is most important is to first understand how you contribute, quantify it if possible, and then look for opportunities to assist others and help the organization reach its objectives.
With this in mind, Laura meets with the sales leaders across the country. Asks them how they are faring compared to their forecasted sales and budget. She asks them pointed questions about whether or not they have challenges with specific accounts. Once she has uncovered their need, she will offer to help by stating that she can help them find new opportunities for revenue; that she can find these hidden opportunities and will help them meet or exceed their projected sales. By offering the assistance and collaborating with the team to bring in more revenue, Laura gets the credibility and visibility she wants across the company. She takes the ‘self’ out of self-promotion and advocates for herself in a subtle but much more powerful and effective way using her value proposition.
If Laura were interviewing for a new position internally or with another company, she would also call upon her value proposition to demonstrate why she is the best person for the job. Instead of reciting her accomplishments and experience, which anyone can find on a resume, Laura would ask or find out by doing her due diligence, what are the goals of the company or department? With this information, she would then communicate how she can help the company reach its objectives because throughout her career she has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to find hidden revenue and that has contributed to ‘X’ amount of sales. Quantifying is powerful.
What you want to do in a job interview is not dwell on past accomplishments as much as articulate how you can help the company move forward. Use your value proposition to position yourself and inform them exactly how you will help.
Going to a networking event? Leave the elevator pitch at home and instead ask people what they do and what challenges they have. You get their attention by connecting the dots between your value proposition and their needs, keeping the focus on them, not you.
For example, if I were going to a networking event, I would ask someone about their challenges with self-promotion. Maybe ask them if they have an elevator pitch and how’s that working for them? Do they hesitate to self-promote because they feel uncomfortable or don’t know how to do it well? How has the fact that they don’t advocate for themselves affected their career? Then based on their answer, I would tailor my response and let them know that I’m an executive coach who helps women learn how to do this effectively and authentically.
If you are networking internally, identify decision makers and influencers. Learn about them directly or by gathering information. What are they hoping to achieve? Do they have any challenges? How will your work help them be successful? Build credibility by offering to work on their favorite projects or problem. This is how you use your value proposition to nurture important relationships and gain visibility.
By taking your ‘self’ out of self-promotion and basing it on your work and value proposition, you achieve a number of things. First, when you identify your value proposition, you understand how your work benefits your company and colleagues. You are no longer pitching yourself per se, you’re offering to help based on your work and how you can contribute. It’s easier to use this approach in conversation with others because it starts with asking questions and learning about the other person. You don’t need to lead the conversation with a pitch about yourself. Also, because it lacks the egocentric approach, you are more likely to advocate for yourself this way. And most importantly, people want to talk about themselves and would love to learn how you can help them, therefore, you have their attention and it works. It’s a win- win!
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