You deliver a great work product on time -- again and again. But it’s so frustrating that your boss doesn’t notice how hard you’re working. Are you afraid to toot your own horn? If you’re like many women, you feel uncomfortable drawing attention to your work. You want the work to speak for itself.
This strategy worked well when we were students. We prepared (and prepared some more), took the test or wrote the paper, and hoped to see those “A” grades. The system was set up so everyone’s work was noticed.
The Self-Promotion Tightrope
The working world requires a different strategy. We’ve got to perform well and call attention to our work. We can’t just wait around hoping that people will notice.
Studies show that women who become adept at self-promotion are more satisfied with their careers and advance more.
Self-promotion, however, feels hard for most women because it pushes up against gender stereotypes. Women who call attention to themselves or their work run the risk of being seen as too aggressive or competitive. And if women act like they are “supposed to” by being modest and team oriented, they run the risk of being invisible or not being seen as leadership material.
It’s tough to balance this tightrope! But luckily it’s not impossible. It will take some experimenting to see what works for you in your work culture -- and some practice stepping outside of your comfort zone.
How Eileen Got Her Work Noticed
Eileen and Sarah started as associates at a mid-size law firm at the same time and were promoted to junior partners at the same time. They were both excellent lawyers. They had similar caseloads and expertise, but their trajectories changed over time.
Sarah was doing excellent work, but no one was asking her to speak at conferences. She wasn’t getting the choice assignments. She was struggling to bring in new business.
Eileen was named as an up and coming lawyer to watch. Colleagues asked her to speak at conferences regularly and other lawyers often sent her referrals. Senior partners were clamoring to work with her. She started bringing in new business.
What was Eileen doing differently?
Sarah didn’t talk about what she was working on or her successes unless someone asked because she didn’t want to brag. She didn’t want to be one of those empty boasters who talks about himself incessantly. She wasn’t a shy person, but she’d deflect compliments by talking about what others on the team did.
In contrast, Eileen took a proactive approach to getting her work noticed. Her approach was typically subtler than some of the men in her office, yet effective for her. Here are some of the successful strategies she used.
1. Take a team approach
You can still talk up your team without giving away all the credit. You’re an integral part of the team too! Eileen sent out office emails talking about what her team was working on, the success they had, and thanking people for their specific contributions. Yet she also made sure it was clear what her contributions were, including her leadership.
Also, Eileen and her co-worker Tom became informal allies. Eileen would send out all-office emails congratulating Tom when he won a motion. She’d recommended Tom when there was a need for his expertise. Tom did the same for Eileen.
2. Have a service mindset
Your experience can be helpful to others – if they know about it. It’s easier to talk about your experience when you think about it as helping others for the next time rather than just bragging.
For example, when Eileen settled a case in mediation, she’d send an email to other lawyers in the office letting them know the mediator’s approach so that they knew what to expect with that mediator the next time.
3. Get in print
There’s nothing that boosts your credibility as an expert more than a byline. Eileen looked for opportunities to write about things in which she wanted to develop an expertise. She then became the expert by researching and writing on the topic. Published articles in professional publications led to speaking opportunities.
Eileen also told her alumni magazine and the local legal newspapers when she was named partner and when she received awards. They published the news in their updates and it gave her and her firm great PR.
4. Talk enthusiastically about what you’re working on
People will remember you when you talk about your work with enthusiasm. In the hallways, while getting coffee, grabbing lunch with co-workers, and at conferences, Eileen would talk about what she was working on with genuine excitement.
Eileen wasn’t pushy or boastful. It was just shoptalk stating the facts (with enthusiasm). She also listened with interest about what others were working on. That made for real conversations that helped her build relationships. Others then remembered her for future opportunities.
If you're going to do one thing today to bring attention to your work, talk about your work passionately. It's simple. It doesn't take any planning. And you can do it right now.
Over to You
I’m curious to hear what you think. How does self-promotion feel to you? What strategies have worked for you?