Selling Yourself Without Selling Out

Advice for IT professionals on how to promote their accomplishments without crossing the smarmy line.

By Gina Hernez-Broome, Cindy McLaughlin and Stephanie Trovas
Fri, November 02, 2007

CIO — High-performing individuals are often not recognized for their contributions. The antidote to being overlooked is self-promotion—the act of making others aware of your work and accomplishments.

Most IT professionals aren't comfortable with the concept and practice of self-promotion. They view it with derision, as a personal public relations campaign, a way of shouting "Look at me! I'm the best!" Because IT professionals traditionally see their value in making the machinery of a workplace run smoothly, they expect their work to speak for itself.

Unfortunately, doing good work isn't enough. It often doesn't speak for itself, especially IT work, so much of which end users take for granted. (They seem to notice only when systems aren't working, and that doesn't reflect well on you, nor does it represent the bulk of your work.) That's why selling yourself—and your team—is critical. It's key to your effectiveness and long-term success. For example, if your accomplishments are well-known, you'll be top of managers' minds for promotions. Negotiating salary increases will also be easier: You won't have to fight so hard for a raise if your boss and her boss are aware of your many successes. They'll want to give you a raise to retain you.

Your organization can benefit from your self-promotion, too. Organizations are only as good as the people who work for them, and if those people downplay their accomplishments, the organization may not learn what has worked well, nor can it tout the benefits of those successes. What's more, enthusiasm for accomplishments can be infectious and may foster a climate of innovation, ambition and healthy competition among a leader's direct reports, colleagues and the organization as a whole. As a manager, part of your job is to communicate the value of your team.

When you approach it with authenticity and integrity, self-promotion helps you build the credibility, confidence and social capital you need to get people to follow your lead and move forward in your career. Read on for tips on how to sell yourself without smarminess.

Focus on the Work

Even leaders who see the value of self-promotion are often unsure how to proceed. Like most behaviors, self-promotion can be overdone to one's detriment. To strike a balance between bragging and modesty, stay focused on the work and the value it brings to the organization. Talk about the outcome instead of what you personally did to accomplish it. Take yourself out of the equation. Avoid overusing the pronoun I when talking about your work. That way, you won't come across as boastful.

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