February 23, 2016 Practice Points

Navigating Self-Promotion: An Art Worth Investing In

By Diana E. Mahoney

The art of self-promotion was praised as an essential tool for career advancement in a recent article by Nneka Orji for the Glasshammer. In this regard, studies show that self-promoters experience faster career progression and associated compensation growth than their peers. One such study noted by the article was a 2011 report by Catalyst, (a nonprofit organization with a stated mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion), which found that by “making achievements visible” through, for example, seeking credit for your work, requesting additional performance feedback, and asking to be considered for promotions when deserved, both men and women (although less so for women) saw positive gains in their career progression. While Orji concedes that self-promotion can generally be less effective for women than men, it is still an art worth investing in.

Orji notes that in some cultures, self-promotion is discouraged and differentiation is based on hard work alone, while in other cultures, such as America, it is culturally very acceptable, and standing out from the crowd requires proactively seeking recognition. Faced with this reality, women must embrace these benefits and begin to develop a self-promotion skillset. Thus, “global dexterity,” or the ability to grasp how self-promotion is viewed in your cultural setting and adapt your behavior accordingly, is extremely important. A mastery of this skillset can help prevent an employee from becoming an “invisible,” or being known for hard work and potential but lacking the motivation to stand in the spotlight and embrace recognition.

Orji recognizes that self-promotion can be difficult and that many women choose to avoid the proverbial “spotlight” for a variety of reasons. Some women prefer to keep their heads down and focus on their work, while others hesitate to invest themselves in tactics they perceive as “offensive.” Orji explains that there is a fine line between self-promotion and constant bragging or narcissism (which, according to a study by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, is more prevalent now (25 percent) compared to 1982 (15 percent)), which will not have the intended impact.

To be successful at self-promotion and achieve the desired outcome, Orji recommends focusing efforts on the following five steps to ensure that your contributions are acknowledged and credit is given where due:

1. Confirm your specific objective and think about why you need to promote yourself. An example might be to highlight specific achievements ahead of your performance management reviews, so you are fairly recognized during appraisals.

2. Be selective about the recipients of your spiel. Detailing your strong performance with your peers will not have the same effect as doing so with your manager—not everyone needs to know.

3. Take an objective and fact-based approach in telling your story. “The client highlighted that the way I led the delivery was critical to the project’s success” might be easier than “I led a very successful project.”

4. Always remember your team and acknowledge contributions from others. Self-promotion should never result in alienating your peers.

5. Say “thank you.” Express appreciation and confidently accept credit for your work in a way that is both gracious and humble.

Ultimately, Orji urges women to embrace some level of self-promotion today—because “if you don’t do it, no one else can (or will) do it on your behalf.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, self-promotion, career advancement, Nneka Orji