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Advice / Job Search / Networking

Stand Out for Success: The Secrets of Self-Promotion

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The Climate Reality Project/Unsplash

Once upon a time, you got almost everything you wanted with hard work and determination. You studied hard, kept your head down, and did a good job, and you were rewarded with good grades, strong test scores, and admission to the right schools.

Yes, we women are great at working hard, keeping our heads down, and doing a good job. We’ve earned more college degrees than men since the mid-90s. Today, nearly 40% of MBA students are women, and we’re close to 50% of the paid workforce.

So we’re being rewarded for those efforts, right?

You’ve read the stats: In Fortune 500 firms, 15% of senior leaders and 3% of CEOs are women. Only about 10% of women-owned firms receive equity capital. And our elected officials are overwhelmingly male.

It’s time to realize that our careers operate under very different rules. Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research on women and careers shows that men outscore women, hands down, in understanding some critical realities about career advancement. Women, the study found, are likelier to feel that hard work alone is the key to the top—and that means we often underestimate the value of being visible and well-connected in an organization.

Truth is, in most companies, you’re probably not going to get ahead just by doing a good job. To get promoted, you first have to promote yourself. You have to talk about your accomplishments, get out there within your organization and industry, and build a supportive network around you. So try these four self-promotion techniques to make sure your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Talk About Your Results

Maybe you led a team that completed a big project on time and 10% under budget. Or you breathed life into a failing client relationship and made a sale. When you complete a project successfully, don’t wait for that annual performance review to be recognized for it! Instead, send your manager a brief email outlining the result—as soon as it happens.

No, this doesn’t come easily to everyone. Many women fear that they’ll seem like they’re bragging or self-serving. But keep in mind that self-promotion isn’t actually about you. It’s about the impact of your work—and that’s not something you want to hide.

You can also think about it this way: When you succeed, so does your manager, and so does the company. Sharing your results won’t just make you look good, it will make your boss happy, too.

Get Noticed in Your Company

Does your company have an internal newsletter, a town hall meeting, or an annual report that reports employee news and successes? Learn how results are made public in your firm, and how accomplishments land on the agenda. Maybe you just need to speak up and share your latest project at a meeting, or submit an article to the newsletter editor.

Of course, use your judgement: Not every achievement wins (or deserves) air time, and when in doubt, seek guidance from your boss, a mentor, or peers with more tenure first. Try asking, “I think the web redesign we’re working on would be a great addition to the CEO’s internal email. Do you think that would be appropriate?” The point is, you don’t have to sit and wait for someone else to publicize your accomplishments for you.

Be an Industry Expert

You should also seek to be visible outside of your firm. For starters, be aware of how you’re perceived via your social media presence. Be strategic on LinkedIn, Twitter, even Facebook—anywhere you’re connected with professional contacts—and use those platforms to communicate about what you want to be known for (i.e., your strategic marketing ideas, not your Friday night activities).

Beyond the virtual world, you can promote yourself as an expert by writing or speaking about your area of expertise. Industry publications and websites often need contributors—check out the guidelines for the ones in your field, and propose a topic or submit an article.

Or, consider giving a presentation at an industry conference. And don’t wait to be invited—contact the organizers and propose a topic or ask about a panel you’d like to sit on.

Build a Custom Network

Boys’ club networks are time-tested platforms for men to help each other advance their careers. So, where are the girls’ clubs?

They’re out there, but the real action goes beyond industry and alumni groups—for women, it’s often not about finding a old, established club you can join. Instead, you may have to create your own network—your own web of relationships with like-minded people.

Whether its five people or 50, consider how you can create or foster a group that’s dedicated to sharing resources and helping each other succeed. Consider a now-famous group of female healthcare executives who came together in the 1970s to regularly share information about their industry. Their goal was to help each other become visible leaders in their organizations and fields, and they met and shared ways to promote themselves, as well as to promote one another.

And it worked: Several of these women—Sandra Fenwick, Judith Kurland, Linda Shyavitz, and Elaine Ullian—are still in CEO roles today. Developing a network of relationships now will bring you create long-term career value—both for you and your fellow participants.

Hard work is the foundation of success—but it’s not enough. If you’re going to get the opportunities you want, you need to make those stellar results visible to others. So don’t just keep your head down, get it out there where others can see it. Remember, these are the new rules.