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The 5 Commandments of Self-Promotion

The 5 Commandments of Self-Promotion

When I was in a marketing role at a Fortune-100 Company, I had a mid-year review that started like this. My supervisor looked down at my written self-assessment and uncomfortably said, “Most of the people who report to me struggle with making their work sound important, worthy of praise and even award-winning.”

Long pause.

“You don’t have that problem.”

He may have meant this feedback as a way to keep my ego in check—a plea for me to tone it down a notch, but I remember smiling and thinking, “I nailed this.” For the rest of our meeting, I provided rationale for my assessment with data from my projects and indeed won him over. That year was the first in my tenure at the company where I went on to receive the highest year-end rating and an award for innovation.

This was also the year I realized that self-promotion, which comes naturally to me, is not an easy fit for many. In fact, it’s something many of my clients, friends and colleagues dread and even resent.

Here are my 5 Commandments of Self-Promotion that can help you stand out from the pack and be recognized as the leader you already are.

1) You’re the person responsible for driving your career forward.

Yes. Only. You. It’s wonderful if you have a boss or mentor who proactively helps you manage your career. If you do, you’re the exception and not the rule. YOU are the person who needs to be thinking about your next conversation, your next opportunity and the relationships you need to build. When I hear people blame their lack of promotions or raises on their boss or their company, I ask, “What are YOU doing to get yourself there?” If the answer to that question is “working hard," - guess what? That’s not enough. That’s just the cost of entry!

[Related: Investing in Yourself is a Habit You Need to Build]

2) A small task can make a big impact.

Sometimes you do something small that changes the trajectory of a project or a relationship; you may even shift the entire foundation of a company. You made a call. You connected two people. You had an idea. Because it’s small, your instinct may be to overlook it. Don’t. Focus on the results you’re driving or the impact you’re making and not how long the task took for you to complete. Just because an idea came to you in a millisecond doesn’t make it any less brilliant! Make sure you spread the word about the importance of your results with the right people, so that your achievements will be remembered.

3) Just because it’s easy for you, does not mean it’s easy for everyone else.

When you’re doing the thing that you do well and you’re in the flow, you can assume that this is how it feels for everyone. Your excellent writing skills can feel like no big deal or your Marie Kondo organizational prowess may seem a dime a dozen. They’re not. They’re highly coveted skill-sets! Be sure to talk about these things more than the two times a year you have your review.

4) Be generous with praise, feedback and giving credit where it’s due.

Employees are desperate for feedback and even if you’re not an employee’s direct boss, you take on a leadership role when you’re able to provide well-observed and thoughtful feedback. When you recognize others for their strengths, you create a culture where employees feel appreciated and they in turn will celebrate your good work. You shine when you help others shine and often times leaders forget this.

5) Seize your moments.

If you have a meeting with a senior leader about a project, use it as an opportunity to talk about how well your projects are going, what you’re learning that can impact the company, and how you’re doing in your career overall. These are moments you can use to leverage your exposure, so don’t waste them. They only come around once in awhile…grab your chance! By taking a risk to take the conversation to another level, you’re demonstrating the courage it requires to be in a more senior role or to be in the rooms that bring you one step closer to the promotion you desire.

If any of this makes you bristle, which it can for some, remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Who do you want to help? How do you want to help grow the company? What kind of life do you want to provide for your family? Remember, by getting your good work out there and noticed, you’re getting closer to that “why.” When people are excited and proud of their work, all of the commandments I mentioned feel genuine and authentically part of conversation. It takes practice, but it’s absolutely achievable!

[Related: How to Enhance Your Personal Brand: A Toolkit For Female Leaders]


Rachel is a Career and Leadership Coach helping women re-invent their careers after the life-changing (and mind-blowing) milestone of becoming a mother. She’s passionate about re-setting expectations so that, as a working mom, you don’t aim to “have it all.” Instead, you can focus on having the things that are important to YOU.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

Community Discussion
Melissa Beseda
Melissa Beseda

Thank you for writing this, Rachel. I love that this article really challenges my thinking about my accomplishments and my career, but I get caught up in the tactical - how do I write a self-promotional email outside of the context of my yearly review? How do I spread the word about the importance of my results as an individual contributor?

Monday, Feb 13 4:51 PM EST

Justine Miller
Justine Miller

This was very thought provoking. I especially like that you touched on the importance of identifying and highlighting the strengths of others in the overall concept of self-promotion.

Friday, Jul 28 3:45 PM EDT

Nithya Chandar
Nithya Chandar

I like how you have said- A small task can make a big impact and how these tasks are overlooked more often. Thanks for the interesting article, Rachel!

Monday, Jul 31 3:48 AM EDT