How to promote yourself at work, when you're not right under your boss's nose

Cyan Turan
·5-min read
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

The simple act of self-promoting can help open doors and score, well, actual promotions, yet so many of us still get the ick when it comes to publicising our achievements.

If you're reading this and thinking, "Yep, that's me, self-promotion is my nemesis", then read on.

Because self-promoting doesn't have to be the cringe fest it sounds - so we asked four powerhouse women, who've been there and done it, to give you their best advice.

Stefanie Sword-Williams founded her anti-self-doubt platform, F*ck Being Humble, in 2018. Now she delivers talks to the likes of Google and Unilever. Nicole Crentsil is a cultural curator and the CEO of Black Girl Fest, a creative community and arts festival for Black women, girls and non-binary people. Joanne McNally is a comedian whose sell-out stand-up shows include Wine Tamer and The Prosecco Express. Finally, Jana Starcevic worked as a fashion designer on some of our most-lusted-after high-street brands before starting her stationery company, The Completist.

They’re unafraid to put themselves forward, and score extra opportunities as a result. So buckle up: confidence lessons from these women might just supercharge your career...

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t shout about

“Corporate culture moves so quickly that there’s often little time to big up your wins,” says Nicole Crentsil, who grew Black Girl Fest so successfully that Forbes named her one of 100 women to follow on Twitter and LinkedIn. “What you brag about can feel like it’s dictated by the role you’re in. If you’re a junior and you want to talk about helping to score a big client, do. It’s hard to measure whether your win is ‘worthy’ enough, but working for myself, I had to promote my skills. Now, I brag about the smallest things.”

Shake off the shame

“I didn’t feel comfortable self-promoting when I was employed as a fashion designer, but when you’re an entrepreneur, bragging is almost a necessity,” adds Starcevic. “At my first trade show, someone told me what a key buyer was wearing, so I lured her in with sweets and gave her my pitch. It worked. Wanting to be in certain stores outweighed the shame of self-promoting. If you don’t believe in you, why would anyone else?”

Photo credit: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd - Getty Images

Don’t wait for your review

In Crentsil’s last job before she went freelance, she and her manager had a coffee and catch-up every Friday. “She’d say, ‘What do you need from me? Is there anything I haven’t signed off?’ and I could seek some love for my work. Put those check-ins in the diary with your boss as often as possible.” “It’s about making sure you are having an open dialogue with whoever is in control of your next level-up,” adds Sword-Williams. She also advises altering your approach depending on what works. “Could you say: ‘While working remotely, I want to give you regular updates. Here are three wins that happened this week’?”

Think internal and external

Build your profile in your existing workplace, but ensure you promote yourself externally, too. “Plant the seeds for future opportunities,” says Sword-Williams. “At university, I wrote a blog. I didn’t show a soul other than employers I wanted to impress. Sometimes it isn’t about doing stuff for kudos in your workplace, but building relationships outside it.”

Practise

Weirdly, you’ll find it easier to tell a new acquaintance at a dinner party about something great you’ve done than you would to tell a colleague or a close friend, says Crentsil. “Then, once you’ve done that, say it online. Once you’re more comfortable, make a list of your achievements, and plan how you’ll share them. Maybe you did some work on gender equality, which you could publicise during Women’s History Month.” Be strategic and spread it out, so you don’t bombard people.

Photo credit: luza studios - Getty Images
Photo credit: luza studios - Getty Images

Don an alter ego

Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce. You can be whoever you want. “If I want to be successful and get product orders, I’ve got to find the confidence to stand behind what I do,” says Starcevic. If you need to, you can adopt a different persona. “At one of our first trade shows, we got Selfridges. Having a tangible career milestone like that helped because any time I felt like an imposter, I would say to myself, ‘But I’m in Selfridges.’” If you have something you can pinpoint as evidence of your talent, hold onto it, because it’ll help to reassure you. Besides, it's not a brag, it's the truth.

Use your channels

Comedian Joanne McNally says Instagram has transformed how she communicates with her audience. “I want to sell tickets to my shows, so I would be silly not to use Instagram to do that.” Plus, growing a following online is much easier than finding fans through live gigs and TV. “Through my channel, followers can see when my next show is, and recommend me. It’s a total gift.” It’s also, she says, essential to building a career and making money. “One of my friends is a director, and I’m always asking why she hasn’t posted her latest work. I’m like, ‘You can’t afford to be low-key. You’re not there yet. Phoebe Waller-Bridge can, but you can’t.’"

F*ck Being Humble: Why Self-Promotion Isn’t A Dirty Word by Stefanie Sword-Williams is out now and available here

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