Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Though most of us probably know in theory that self-promotion is important for career advancement, we often find it harder to advocate for ourselves in practice. No one wants to be the person who goes on a long-winded spiel about her accomplishments. No one wants to come off as self-important. We’ve been taught from an early age that we shouldn’t toot our own horns and that modesty is important.

But sometimes, our efforts to avoid sounding like a braggart mean that we’re ultimately just selling ourselves short — which has important implications for our careers. If you’re meeting with your boss during an annual performance review, downplaying your achievements can mean getting passed over for a promotion, leadership role or project assignment. Minimizing your expertise or experience from previous roles can make you seem less impressive or qualified during an important job interview.

Even as millennials are disparagingly referred to as the “Me, me, me” generation, or characterized as particularly self-absorbed, young people also face pressure to minimize their successes. We may feel as though we are under-qualified or have less to offer than older people in the workforce. Having grown up in the midst of a devastating recession and financial crisis, and in the context of a precarious and changing economy, millennials may feel less comfortable openly asking their boss for a raise or a promotion.

But self-promotion is undeniably a crucial component of career advancement, and there’s ways to own your successes without coming off as boastful:

  • Brag a little. Peggy Klaus, a leadership coach and the author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, recommends perfecting a “bragalogue” — a short narrative (similar to an elevator pitch) incorporating information about who you are and what you’ve done.

Use this as an introduction when you meet people for the first time, or when you’re having a quick check-in with your supervisor.

  • Don’t put down other people. You can share your accomplishments without belittling others or making comparisons in an unfavorable or uncharitable way.
  • Emphasize the work that went into your success. Humble brags or generalized, sweeping comments (like “That was easy” or “I barely tried”) can sound arrogant. Instead, focus on the details of how you actually accomplished a project or highlight the positive results.

Let the achievements speak for themselves. Additionally, make an effort to acknowledge your coworkers and give credit and gratitude where due. Lifting up your entire team is a way to highlight your accomplishments without overly centering yourself (though you shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge your own leadership role).

In short, don’t sell yourself short. Striving for humility or trying not to stand out in an ostentatious way can mean missing out on opportunities to get ahead. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your accomplishments.


This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.


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Martin Nera

Sometimes it can be hard to stand out in a collaborative environment or team, so I’d definitely recommend highlighting your roles and responsibilities that went into a project or work’s success.