10 Techniques for Strategic Self-Promotion At Work

businessman holding sell yourself card

Self-promotion at work includes any activity, time, and resources, that you devote to networking, promoting your work, and generally “getting your name out”.

This lesson helps you maximize your self-promotion efforts at work.

businessman holding "sell yourself" card

Self-Promotion With Your Boss

In most cases, the relationship with your boss is the most important work-relationship you will ever have.

1. Romance your work 

Being quick is good… In general.

But if you are too quick, then he might think the job was too easy and your results will also look less impressive.
You want your boss to think you are quick because you are good, not because the job happened to be easy.

The solution is to “romance” the process and sell it as part of your personal branding.
A good way of doing it is to use some storytelling and incorporate the difficulties you have overcome:

You: Boss, I am done with the job. The information wasn’t immediately available so I asked Brian from accounting. Some of the figures were missing, but fortunately I could secure a meeting with Cristina and piece together all the missing data -she’s wonderful by the way-.
Here is the final result..

Or, if you do something for him:

You: The IT department was backed up, but I’m happy to report that I convinced the them to repair your laptop ahead of several other requests.
Here it is.
I knew you would need it before you left on your trip.

1.2. Break up your achievements

Imagine you say the following:

You: The project is completed within budget and ahead of schedule

And your boss will think “very good”.

Now imagine you tell your boss the following:

You: Good morning boss. Tonight the application went live.
The project is completed ahead of schedule -one week in advance to be precise-.
Thanks to that reduction of head count I talked you about we also managed to finish within budget.
And we also met all quality requirements.

Now your boss thinks “schedule, check; budget, check; quality, check”. “wow!”.

Research confirms what intuition suggests: breaking up accomplishments makes them seem more impressive as compared to lumping them up.

And if you are writing an email?
Write your accomplishments in bullet points, so they will further stand out.

And remember that the opposite is true: lumping up bad news to minimize their effect.

1.3. Frame things positively

Here are some examples:

Negative SpinPositive Spin
I could have done a better job to remain under budget.It has cost us some more, but we completed the project ahead of schedule.
I didn’t manage to make it within budgetWe finished on time, and almost within budget
I wish I researched his background before making the final decision to hire himAlthough he proved to be a bad match for the team, we learned now who we really want
“You’re right, I might not be the right person for the job—I don’t possess all the qualifications listed“True, I might not have all the qualifications listed, but correct me if I’m wrong, experience doing this kind of work is what you’re looking for, and as we’ve seen, I have that

2. Don’t let him see you bleed

Effective self-promotion means showing how good you are… While hiding your fuck ups.

I remember my very first job, initially supporting a project manager before eventually taking that project over.

I had managed to send the wrong email with all the “important” heavy-hitters in CC.

The project manager was furious. He called me up and reamed me on the phone. That was the biggest scolding of my career. Actually, of my life.
But if you had heard the conversation just listening to me, you would have thought that was the weirdest conversation ever. 
This is how it went:

PM: (very angry) Think before you hit “send”, THINK! Are you able to THINK!

Me: (very calm) Yes, I think I am

PM: Who else was in CC, was it Andy in there too?

Me: (very calm) I think he was, yes

PM: (yelling) What the fuck were you thinking, ANDY was there, you sent ANDY the wrong report on MY project! Do you know who are they going to blame?

Me: (very calm) Well, I think me

PM: (yelling) No, because you’re a fucking junior who can’t do shit and they will blame ME!

Me: (very calm) Hmmmm yeah, maybe you’re right

And so on.

You will notice there was no “I’m sorry” in there.
I just let him yell on the phone and just kept saying “yeah, yeah, you’re right… “.

When he was done yelling. I got up, picked up my mobile, and called the project manager back. I apologized profusely, told him how I was going to make amend… And also told him I wasn’t comfortable with his tone.

Why did I do that move?

Because the first call was on the desk phone and with my boss sitting nearby.
And my boss never got to know of my blunder.
My boss wasn’t directly involved with my work, and he strategically missed quite a few blunders of mine.
A few weeks later I ended that assignment with an “exceeds” in my evaluation.

Had my boss known of all my blunders or had he gotten from me the “non-romanced results”… I don’t think I would have gotten an “exceeds”.

Moral of the story: a mistake that your boss hasn’t seen is a mistake that doesn’t exist.

2.2. Generalize failures, “blame shift” on external circumstances

Imagine your boss or the program manager asks you the following:

“Why wasn’t the project delivered on time?”

If you are the project manager, or if you were taking care of it, then the natural tendency is to immediately explain what you did wrong.

But wait a second.

More than likely, there are plenty of reasons the project wasn’t completed on time that are not your fault. And that’s how you should frame it.
For example:

You: Yes, it bothers me not to deliver on time as I always do. There are two main reasons why this time the project got delayed. First, Jack quit his job when we needed him the most. And second…

After you have provided the extenuating circumstances, then feel free to show that you can also take responsibility.
People respect people who own their mistakes. Just put things in perspective first, and own the right amount of blame.

3. Make your work more visible

Career coach Marie McIntyre correctly points out that if good work remains invisible, then it’s as if it never existed.

And she then proposes the “visibility quadrant”. 
It’s similar to Stephen Covey‘s time quadrant of effective management, but it applies to how visible your work is:

Not Important – Not Visible
Your goal with non-important and invisible is just to make sure it won’t break and attract negative attention while you seek to move out of this quadrant ASAP.

Tasks in this category: data entry, document filing.

Not Important – Visible
Visibility means that you get lots of people’s interaction and/or your work gets lots of visibility from management.
This is a great opportunity to network and get your name around.

Build a reputation for someone who delivers, and then use the visibility to demand more challenging work.
Social skills and political acumen are key here so you can make the most of that visibility.

Jobs in this category include: secretaries, receptionists, project coordinators, support staff.

Important – Not Visible
It’s not bad being here.
You can learn a lot, and you can find ways to make your work more visible.

Sometimes a good idea can be to look for interesting facts and figures in your tasks and make a report with it.
Plus, as we’ve explained above, romanticize your work.

Jobs in this category: account management

Important – Visible 
You’re in the right spot.
Now it’s time to deliver.

It can be a good strategic move to negotiate what you will get before you deliver -see: strategies for rapid career advancement-.

Jobs in this category: sales, management consultants, turnaround specialists, private equity.

Creating Opportunities

1. Elevator’s pitches 

two businessmen shaking hands in the elevator

The elevator’s pitch is a quick introduction of yourself that you can deliver at a moment’s notice.
It should seem natural, but only because you rehearsed it plenty of times.

Once you deliver it, stop.
If the person you can help you, he might provide you with a career-changing opportunity. If not, that’s OK. At the very minimum, you just let a powerful player know that you’re a confident and ambitious player. Executive material.

1.2. Elevator’s ride hunting: engineering “chance” encounters

And of course, smart players don’t leave chance encounters to chance.

When you see a top player approaching, slow down. If you see him ahead of you, hurry up.

If you think this is too out there to work, think again.
I’ve mostly used it for dating, and I ended up meeting and successfully dating plenty of women by maneuvering to make a “chance” encounter happen.

Elevator’s rides are also figurative.
They don’t have to be “elevator rides”, and probably they aren’t going to be elevator rides.

They can be entering the building at the same time, sitting nearby at a cafe, or going to the kitchen when you’re staying late at 9 pm (such as easy power move to pull!).

2. Kitchenette power moves

Do you know when you meet a superior or some high flyer, in the kitchen or at the water cooler and they ask you “what’s up”?

And everyone replies “all good, and how are you”?

Well, right there and then people waste a great opportunity to shine.
Instead, from now on, prepare your little “shine pitch”:

Boss: Hey, how are things
You
: Things are going great, thank you!
I’m very excited on the progress on XYZ project you approved. It’s going better than expected and we may bring in X revenue for the company.
That would be a huge win.

Then if they show interest, ask for their perspective.
You will burn yourself in their minds with extremely positive associations, and you look like an important guy who takes his work very seriously.
Upper management material.

The trick not to seem try-hard is to look and behave like you truly care.
If you make that your “baseline way of being”, then you’re good. 

If you’re not working on anything exciting, it’s OK. Express happiness and excitement for the job, show you love the company and the big boss will love you.

Take Chance Encounters Seriously -Especially If You’re Junior!-

It’s easy to discount informal encounters as “insignificant”.

But if you are in a low-visibility position, the only way the higher-ups will form an opinion of you is based on chance encounters, presentations, and what other higher-ups say of you.

Chance encounters form 1/3 of the higher-ups’ impression of you. And far more if you give little presentations or are not yet known to other higher-ups.

Strategic Self-Promotion

1. Let them hear you shine

On top of using the phone to wait for the right moment to strike, I sometimes also do it to get some attention.
Speaking Italian plus some gesticulation always helps with the ladies.

You can do something similar at work as well.

When you see from afar a higher-up who’s passing by, for example. Instead of letting him see you smoke or loiter outside the building, pick up the phone and pretend you’re doing business. You can also use the occasion for some indirect flattery:

You on the phone: John, please. You know us, StanleyCooper has the great reputation it has because we uphold our values day in, day out

Just make sure you put your phone on mute: you’d hate it if it rang while you played your game :).

2. Leverage storytelling for self-promotion 

When you blurt out a good idea without any build-up, you are selling your genius short.

Just look at the difference between these two approaches:

Old You: We could automate the flow with Zapier, my former company did it

New You: Alright guys, I have been hearing you all and what you say makes sense. And I have come to this idea, hear me out.
What if instead of looking for someone to take over this role, we could get it done, without anyone doing it. Imagine a complete automation of reporting, no time wasted anymore, no more human errors.
Here is how it works..

Now everyone will listen.
And everyone will remember it was you the one with the solution.

Note for Women: Avoid Deflecting Praise

Praises bump people up a notch in the hierarchy.

That will make women schooled in “power dead even” culture uncomfortable, and she will knock herself back down by deflecting the praise or minimizing.

To men, this might look like poor self-esteem -and no executive material-.

See:

3. Go the whiteboard to share a strong idea

man explaining at the whiteboard

Research shows that the whiteboard gives people a feeling you “own” the idea, and it increases engagement and retention of your words.

When you feel you got a genius idea, grab the opportunity to go to the whiteboard.
Even if your idea is not accepted, you still score leadership points for the courage of speaking up in front of an audience.

4. Be the first to applaud (& ask questions) 

This is a tip from Leil Lowndes.

And I have tested its effectiveness more than once.
Even the most seasoned execs are always looking for applause and support. Friendly applause also suggests to a boss that you’re a loyal ally, which is extremely important in male hierarchical cultures.

So when the big guys in your company are giving a presentation:

  • Always sit in front
  • Make questions that make them look good
  • Make sure you are the first to applaud
  • When they’re done, go talk to them and compliment on such an inspirational speech
  • Ask a couple of questions about whatever they talked about

5. More tips

  • Attend company’s parties: absences communicate disloyalty
  • Do go for after-hours, especially if your boss/management will be there
  • Get into the company’s newsletter: make friends with PR / comms, and get a company-wide mention
  • Post wins on Linkedin, and tag your company
  • Like the updates of your boss / founders and share them: trust me, they notice
  • Approach powerful people with something you have in common: research the attendees of the networking events, look up their background, and go talk to them mentioning some commonalities

The Rules of Self-Promotion

Here are the best promotional strategies, depending on where you’re at, and what you’re working on.

High Visibility Work: De-Prioritize Self-Promotion

The logic here is simple: if your work is highly visible, then it makes more sense to spend comparatively less on promotion, since the work is already visible, and more time on work, since the results will matter a lot.

The best of all world is high-visibility work, coupled with someone else promoting you.
In those cases, you can even self-efface. As a matter of fact, when you overdeliver and someone else is singing your praises, you can use the occasion to self-efface and share credit. And you will look like a dream leader.

The reverse of the rule: Donald Trump example

Donald Trump.
Here is a guy with a high-visibility job.

The economy was growing, the stock market was booming… He could have taken a mild approach to self-promotion, given credit around, congratulated America… And let the results and his team do the PR for him.

Instead, he never let up on self-promotion, and he never stopped fighting the press for more good publicity.
Given that as a president he should take care of the people instead of self-promoting, Trump reeked of narcissism and poor leadership.

His handling of Coronavirus was poor for the same reason. He focused on the promotional side instead of the containment work.
Here is an example:

newspaper accuses trump of too much self-promotion

Trump failure is due to “me self-promotion” in a high-visibility job that needed not promotion, but a focus on work and “us leadership”

And here are more examples.

Low-Visibility Work: Prioritize Self-Promotion

If your tasks have little visibility within the company, to your boss and/or to upper management, then you need to amp your self-promotion.

The logic, again, is straightforward: low-visibility work is not going to get you noticed and it’s not going to help you network.
So you have to put in extra effort to notice and self-promote. Enter the romancing your work, “kitchenette moments”, elevator power moves, strategic networking, after-hours cocktails, etc., etc.

Self-Promotion for Career Level

The effort you put into self-promotion changes depending on career stages.

See this table for an overview:

Managers need the most self-promotion, CEO the least

Employees: Focus on Work
Individual contributors are often promoted based on technical skills and work output.
They are also close to their direct managers, which helps their case when it comes to visibility.

Managers: Focus on Promotion
Research has shown that those who get promoted the most among managers are not the ones that spend a lot of time with their team, but those who spend more time networking outside their teams.

Exec: Focus on Work, & Promote With CEO
The exec can spend relatively less time on self-promotion because he only has one person to promote to: the CEO.

CEO: Let Your Team Promote For You
Everyone knows you in the industry, so networking is less critical. When it comes to self-promotion, your business’ results will do most of the talking.
The Machiavellian approach is to best leverage your team for promotion while you look humble, hard-working, and magnanimous.

SUMMARY

Self-promotion is a critical element of career success.

An effective strategy of self-promotion must be tailored to the goal you need to reach, and take into account the publicity you are already getting.

The time you devote to self-promotion comes at the expense of actual work, free time, or skills development.
So, as for anything else, self-promotion must be strategic, and you want to maximize the efficiency and ROI of your self-promotion.

This post helped you understand how, when -and when not- to self-promote for maximum career impact.


This is an excerpt from Power University, the workplace module, where you can find more real-life examples and practical advice.

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