How to Promote Yourself Without Bragging

We all know how powerful networking can be when we’re on the hunt for a job – but what we don’t often talk about is how important it is to network within your organization while you’re happily employed. If you’re looking for a promotion, a pay raise, or to avoid being downsized, you can’t just sit back and hope your supervisors notice what a great job you’re doing. It’s time to start actively marketing your skills.

But wait, isn’t that bragging? Professional self-promotion walks the fine line between humility and arrogance – you need to be confident of your achievements, but without turning into an obnoxious braggart. No one wants to be that guy or gal who’s constantly talking about themselves!

Many of us (especially us women) have been raised to think that talking about ourselves is distasteful. We deflect compliments, downplay our achievements, and often undervalue our skills.

It can be hard to overcome that innate aversion to talking about ourselves, but there are ways to market your strengths at work that don’t make you come off as a braggart.

Accept recognition without reservations

How many times have you brushed away praise by replying “It wasn’t a big deal,” or “It didn’t take me long at all,” or “You should really be talking to so-and-so, she’s the one who did all the hard work.” If you have a hard time being in the spotlight, chances are your default response is to belittle your own achievements, or attempt to defer the praise onto a coworker.

Instead of downplaying your own successes, practice accepting recognition with a simple, “Thank you.”

Make yourself visible by helping others

If you want to be recognized as being good at something, sometimes the best way isn’t to go around telling everyone you’re great at it. Instead, seek out opportunities to show off the skill you want to promote. Say you’re great at organizing events. Volunteer to help organize organizational events, to lead committees, or to head up a holiday charity drive. Involving yourself in high-profile causes will not only help your organization and your community, it will help others notice your skills, as well.

Look for other ways to demonstrate your expertise while helping others, such as contributing articles to industry trade journals, or writing an email to your organization’s leadership praising the achievements of a team you lead.

Brag to yourself

We could all use a good pep talk from time to time! Start by recognizing to yourself when you’re doing a good job. Keep a Word document, or a physical journal where you keep track of your achievements. The things you track can be as big as finally launching that new initiative to as small as asking a new friend out for lunch. Don’t just write down what you did. Include why it was important to you, and – if relevant – how it helped your coworkers and the organization. Document what skills you learned, what challenges you overcame, and positive comments that others made about your work.

The idea is to create a reference file of your best moments that you can review when it comes time to ask for a raise or sit for a performance review. (Or if you’re just having a rough week.) Getting in the habit of recording your successes also will help you raise your confidence when it comes to talking about them with other people.

Practice telling your story

In her book BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, Peggy Klaus suggests turning your accomplishments into a “bragalogue”: a short story similar to an elevator speech. Rather than just giving a laundry list of your skills and accomplishments, turn them into an engaging story that tells what you’re able to do now.

“Bragologues are powerful in getting people to think about you in just the ways you want,” Klaus told Kathy Caprino in this interview on Forbes. “These pithy and entertaining ‘monologues’ are woven together with a few memorable or impressive nuggets of information called brag bites – pieces of relevant facts, such as clients that you’re working with, how long you’ve been in the industry, or a project you’ve recently completed.”

You can have a variety of “bragalogues,” for when you meet someone new, or if you’re in the elevator with upper management. Practice them in front of a mirror or with a friend, and you’ll be prepared to share them next time a golden opportunity presents itself.

Seize those golden opportunities to self-promote

You’re waiting for the coffee to brew when your boss walks in and asks how things are going. “Great,” you probably say. “How are you?” He says he’s doing well, and walks back out of the kitchen.

Remember those golden opportunities to share your “bragalogue?” That was one of them. Take opportunities like this to catch your boss up on your latest accomplishment, or the progress of your latest project. Mention the new skills you’re learning in a training course. Recount what you learned at last week’s conference.

And, finally, if there’s any time to really toot your own horn, it’s during your performance review. A review isn’t just a one-way conversation – instead, it’s a great time to promote your accomplishments over the last year. Check through your accomplishment journal and prepare a list of projects you rocked, challenges you’ve overcome, and positive feedback you’ve received from your peers.

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Deborah Button

This statement is so true, “We deflect compliments, downplay our achievements, and often undervalue our skills.” I intend to create my “bragalogue” and have it ready. Also, intend to practice saying “thank you” instead of deflecting.

Jessie Kwak

Awesome, Deborah. This is one post that I’m really going to be taking to heart for myself. I love the idea of a “bragalogue,” and I definitely also need to stop deflecting compliments!

Lori Winterfeldt

Instead of keeping a word document or journal to track achievements, what I do is keep a folder in my e-mail entitled “kudos” and I put all e-mails related to the items (e.g., thank yous, compliments, info about completion of projects) that I may want to “brag” about or promote. When I need to list or account for my achievements, I then go back to this file. It’s a great way to “track” these items without putting a lot of extra time into the activity.

Sean McGowan

Great post! I particularly appreciate the part about making the most of golden opportunities. By their very nature they always have a way of catching me off guard, so it’s an excellent idea to prep ahead of time.

Patrick Fiorenza

There’s a lot of great tips in this post, really enjoyed it. I think the first step is to just commit and be ridiculously good at what you do. Standout and top performers shouldn’t have to brag or feel like their accomplishments aren’t being noticed, but they do have to communicate their career goals effectively to managers. I’d say if you find yourself in that environment –where you believe you are doing great work, but not getting recognition from your manager –you need to take a different approach, because your attempt to self promote could really backfire. There could be countless factors as to why it’s happening…and if you settle in on the wrong assumption, you could be in for some awkward conversations with your boss. There’s really an art to navigating this one, and its super interesting how folks address it. Some people hate recognition, some can’t get enough of it – some indifferent.