You (According to Them)

Uncovering blind spots that impact your reputation and your career

Go Ahead, Toot Your Horn, It's OK

Self-promotion: What have you done today to help your career?

For years, we were warned about the evils of tooting our own horns. Don't brag. That's not polite. Always be humble. Truth is, the world is a different place today. Workplaces are frantically busy. People are focused on their own tasks. If we sit around silently and hope someone else will recognize our value, we might be stuck in that same spot forever. That's right: in 2013, you have permission to toot your own horn! Unless we make a point of gracefully educating decision makers about our capabilities and contributions, we might never receive the recognition we deserve.

The people who struggle to break that pattern – keeping their self-promotion volume on low – suffer from what I call Faulty Volume Control syndrome. These are the professionals who are uncomfortable promoting themselves, their skills or achievements to other people. Perhaps they came from families where touting accomplishments was discouraged. Or maybe the important people in their lives influenced them to adopt this low-key pattern of communication. Despite the reason, their careers will become stagnant as they compete with many exceptional people for a dwindling number of jobs. Modesty and humility are only virtues to a point.

One of my clients named Graham suffered from this blind spot. Graham was a bright MBA student, preparing to take the corporate world by storm. Sadly, the volume for his self-promotion was barely audible. In fact, it was virtually on "mute." Job candidates like Graham may have stunning resumes with 4.0 grade point averages from great schools, impressive credentials and shining recommendations, but they can't compete in the job market unless they learn to communicate those qualifications effectively. The points of differentiation between people in terms of functional/technical skills have become extraordinarily narrow. To be distinct, we have to show people exactly how we bring our skills to the table and display the passion behind what we do. Make sure the decision-makers know more about you than what they find on your resume. How did you generate your results? How do you relate to other people on your team? How do you perform in leadership roles? How do you respond to adversity?

Self-promotion is also critical even when you aren't applying for a new job. Long ago, it was fairly common to have the same boss for decades. Today, managers come and go—and with each one, we face the task of educating that new supervisor about our work and our areas of specializa¬tion. The competition continues, and we can no longer identify ourselves long-term with our companies or employers. Promoting your unique value is an ongoing task, whether you are looking for your first job or angling for the corner office. The key is sharing that value in the right way.

One way to increase your self-promotion volume level without going over¬board is to use stories that highlight your skills and talents. You don’t need to announce to your team that you can save the day because you know the required software program better than anyone on the planet. Instead, you could explain a similar challenge that came up last year and describe how you were able to successfully use that program to get the desired results for the team. At the end, they’ll still know you are an expert but the perception will be quite different.

How's the volume level on your self-promotion? Are you getting the credit you deserve? Stay tuned for my next blog, which features Faulty Volume Control syndrome from the other end of the spectrum. (Yes, horn-tooting gone wild.)

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, career strategist and the author of a new book, You -- According to Them: Uncovering the Blind Spots that Impact Your Reputation and Your Career.

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