In our hyperbolic business environment, all working people—Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and everyone else who must earn a living—are expected to promote their successes and ambitions in face-to-face conversations and social media platforms. Everybody has to be “on,” i.e., camera-ready and prepared to roll out an elevator pitch to prospective clients, an investor pitch to potential backers, or a sales pitch to browsing would-be customers.
Job-seekers sell their skills and work experience to search committees. Apartment-hunters sell their credit rating and rental history to landlords. The marriage-minded package and promote what they hope are desirable traits that will persuade Mr. or Ms. Right to swipe right. Everyone is pressured to sell themselves, but sounding like you’re selling is a turn-off. No one one likes an obvious self-promoter and heaven help you if people think you’re bragging.
While we’re busy telling possibly interested parties how talented, resourceful, creative and dependable we are, we risk violating a powerful social norm in American culture that prefers modesty, cautions Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of MA /Amherst. Bragging is not popular. Do an internet search on bragging, and you get 55, 900,000 results, including How to brag without making people hate you.
Communications consultant Peggy Klaus says the fear of being perceived as pushy and vulgar can lead professionals to hide behind modest self-effacement, even when speaking up about their accomplishments would be perfectly acceptable. Klaus, the author of Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It (2003), says that the very thought of self-promotion is difficult for many to embrace, including those who are fully aware that they must create business in order to survive. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, that many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” writes Klaus.
Valerie DiMaria, Principal at the 10company, a New York City firm that helps high potential executives at companies such as Verizon, L’Oreal, Raytheon and BNY Mellon reach the next level in their careers, offers encouragement to the introverted and shy. She points out that if the goal is to make a strong, positive impression at work, you must be willing to tell your story and bragging doesn’t necessarily mean boasting.
Di Maria suggests taking a calm, confident, matter-of-fact approach to sharing what’s special about you. Her firm offers leadership and communication coaching and she recommends these five tactics:
- Define your brand One of the best professional investments you can make is to learn to articulate your own value proposition, also called your personal brand. DiMaria explains, “A brand describes who you are, what sets you apart from others, what you contribute and what you want to accomplish. In this information-overdosed world, a brand helps you cut through the clutter and make a memorable impression.” So it’s important that you spend time thinking about how you can convincingly describe your secret sauce.
- Give your pitch at every (appropriate) opportunity DiMaria recommends that you “master the art of speaking up.” Create scripts that you can use in different business and personal encounters: an elevator pitch that is also a self-introduction, to use at networking events; a “small talk” version of your elevator pitch to use at social or quasi-business gatherings; and stories you can use whenever, to illustrate how your hard work and ingenuity produced results for an important project.
- Give credit to everyone, including yourself Always thank others for their contributions and don’t shy away from acknowledging your own contributions as well. Do not relegate yourself to the background. DiMaria wants you to remember to find a way to weave in your own role when recognizing achievement. “If your team accomplished something significant, you likely did something wonderful as well,” she says. “You’re not stealing the spotlight by describing how everyone contributed; you’re sharing it.”
- Amplify your reach with social media Complete as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as possible, so that visitors will find solid evidence of the depth and breadth of your professional and volunteer experiences. If you have only one or two recommendations, ask a colleague to write one for you that highlights a strength you’d like to highlight (and offer to write a recommendation in return). If practical, upload examples of your work to the Portfolio section, so that browsers of your profile can understand what you do and gauge the quality of your work. Search for groups associated with your profession and join one or two. Be sure to select the option to receive updates, so that you can join conversations every once in a while. If you don’t have a flattering photo that complements your professional aspirations, have one taken. If you’re feeling brave and ambitious, open a Twitter account that you’ll confine to business purposes and announce conferences that you’ll attend or courses that you’ll teach, if those are things you do regularly. If you get a promotion or receive special recognition at work for a job well done, share the announcement. You can do the same on Facebook. Always respond to replies and inquiries, since generating conversations is an important objective.
- Avoid the humble brag It’s impossible to ignore that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with humble bragging posts that try to disguise boasting with a nasally whine (“Now that I’ve reached 500,000 followers, I never have time to cook or do laundry….I barely have time to sleep….”). Everyone sees through the humble brag and it does nothing for your integrity. If you have a success to share, own it because you earned it.
Finally, choosing to remain silent about your accomplishments can diminish your earnings. “It’s those who visibly take credit for accomplishments who are rewarded with promotions and gem assignments,” writes Klaus. As our economy has resulted in less job stability, self-promotion has become more important. Even if you aren’t a Freelancer or entrepreneur, advises Klaus, you need to think like one and start talking up your most valuable product: you.
Thanks for reading,
Image: Narcissus (1597-1599) by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610 Milan, Italy) courtesy of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome