Having met my father’s colleague Juan many times, I knew he was an amazing person. So when I read Juan’s obituary I didn’t think I would learn much new.

Instead, I was surprised to discover that Juan was even more amazing than I thought.

There was so much I didn’t know and never asked about. And being humble, he didn’t tell us. Like having to go back home as a freshman in college to provide for his family when his father died unexpectedly. Yet Juan still managed to graduate at the top of his class.

I’m sure Juan didn’t try to hide this and if I had asked, he certainly would have told me. But most people don’t ask, and he wasn’t one to engage in self-promotion.

By the time I met Juan, he was already a giant in his field and didn’t need the extra advantage that comes with people knowing more about what made him special.

But when you’re earlier on in your career and still looking to advance, it’s essential that people know who you are and what makes you tick. And sometimes, the only way is for you to tell them yourself. Also known as engaging in self-promotion.

So let’s talk about

  • Why you need to engage in self-promotion
  • What the “good” kind of self-promotion looks like
  • When to talk about yourself, and
  • What to do if you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself

Self-promotion is critical for your career success

Self-promotion isn’t about bragging and talking about yourself doesn’t mean telling people the good, the bad and the ugly.

But it is about giving people insights and information that can help them figure out what opportunities would make sense for you and to help them see you in the best, most accurate light.

When people lack information, they make assumptions. And often, those assumptions aren’t favorable. Like people assuming I wouldn’t want to travel for work because I had three young children when the opposite was true (we had help, my husband’s schedule was flexible and he loved taking care of our daughters).

Also, they may promote you into seemingly prestigious roles without realizing they don’t suit your interests. For example, you might love being a product specialist but get promoted into a role where you manage other product specialists. Without realizing it, they’ve pulled you away from what you love and placed you into a role that sucks the joy out of your work. All because they lacked critical information about you.

So, what kind of self-promotion do we mean?

In a career context, the “good” kind of self-promotion is about giving people insight into who you are, what makes you tick and the value you bring.

Clients, managers, colleagues and team members will be trying to figure out some combination of what drives you, whether they can trust you, how they can make use of your best talents and what those talents are in the first place.

This isn’t about “small talk” like your favorite restaurant or movie, although those can offer some useful clues about your interests. Instead, it’s usually part of your background. Your “back story” or a vignette about key turning points and situations in your life that have made you who you are.

You may not see these incidents or facts as significant or special because they’re just part of what’s normal for you. And sometimes you’ll discover their importance only after you’ve said them without thinking and then see others’ reactions.

Like the quiet young man who I knew as a great person and former athlete. But when he told me that his father was an academic with 11 degrees and how he inherited that same love of reading and learning, that raised my perception of him even higher.

Which brings us to the next point.

Be aware of when it’s most important to talk about yourself

There are critical moments when sharing those key facts about yourself can make a huge difference. Like in interviews or conversations with your sponsor or others who could advocate for you… if they only knew more!

There are also natural openings that will come up. For example, casual moments during a team building activity, at an offsite or over a meal.

Either way, when you have your thoughts ready, you’ll be better able to recognize those key moments and feel prepared to share them.

For example, in a final round interview for one of my first jobs I could tell the interviewer was sizing me up, trying to figure out whether I had the drive and toughness to succeed in the role.

None of my prepared answers seemed to work. In frustration, I finally blurted out the full truth: that I have a lot to prove since my family is full of achievers – my father is a prominent scientist, my uncles were government ministers, my grandfather was president of a university – and that’s what drives me.

What I had thought was “too much information” was the glimpse they needed into who I really was deep inside. And that helped differentiate me from the dozens of other candidates being interviewed that day to put me in the “yes” category.

But what if you’re uncomfortable with talking about yourself?

If anyone was raised to be humble and avoid any form of self-promotion, that was me. But in the western business world, it meant I blended into the background like part of the wallpaper.

What helped me get past my cultural conditioning was thinking about my values and what motivated me. Then identifying the slice-of-life examples that I could try out in conversations.

This reframe helped me see that I wasn’t over-sharing or “self-promoting”. Instead, I was judiciously providing key insights in specific moments when people needed to see that particular aspect of me to feel comfortable with and trust me. And to understand what I’m all about.

If I can do self-promotion, you can do it too

People are forming impressions of you all the time, whether or not they’re accurate. Imagine the benefits of providing the real insights people need so they can understand your true value and help unlock the right opportunities for you and your career.

In my case, being quiet and not speaking up led some people to assume I was smart while others thought I was meek. Still others who knew the quality of my work wondered why I was selfishly holding back my ideas when others would benefit.

Instead of holding yourself back, think of it as helping others understand how to get the best from you. And in doing so, you’ll be setting yourself and your organization up for greater success.

So, what’s one thing about you that would help people understand you better and create more opportunities for enhancing your relationships and advancing your career?

Leave a comment below to share what that is. I’d love to know!