Toot Your Horn, Baby: Why Self-Promotion is the Key to Success
By Tory Johnson
We hear over and over that networking is a critical component to any successful job search. By now you know that you've got to get out and meet new people to find the best leads. But there's something else that goes hand in hand with networking: Self-promotion is a crucial element to your success in finding a job, moving up to a better one and negotiating a raise.
Many negative connotations typically come to mind when thinking about self-promotion, all of which unfortunately keep most people, especially women, from feeling comfortable and confident when talking about themselves. You know all of the immature favorites: conceited, show-off, braggart, arrogant, egotistical. Nobody wants to fall victim to such name-calling.
Yet if you're not comfortable claiming your achievements and promoting yourself, it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to get ahead in your career. That's right, you've got to toot your own horn! And toot it proudly! Women often talk about our responsibilities rather than our achievements. We'll rehash our previous job descriptions instead of boasting about our accomplishments. We do this in our resumes, cover letters, conversations and interviews, which often holds us back from getting the job, raise or promotion we deserve.
In my new book, Women For Hire: The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job, we provide advice and exercises to help you turn every responsibility into an accomplishment. Make a point of going through your resume to make sure every sentence and every bullet reflects an accomplishment that can be quantified or qualified.
This isn't always possible, but in most cases you'll find statements that can be tweaked for a powerful improvement. Throughout your career, maintain a file or notebook to track all of your achievements – big and small.
Whether it's a "job well done" email from a colleague, a thank you note from a client or any other type of praise. At any given time you should be able to identify three to five of your biggest and proudest professional accomplishments.
Knowing what your achievements are will enable you to seize opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. Remember that job searching is all about sales: the product you're selling is you! If you're unable to convey the "product" benefits, it's more challenging to convince a potential buyer to go for it!
Once you know what you're selling – and why it's such a special product – practice saying it over and over. Practice writing it too. When you're in networking and interview situations you'll want to be able to smartly and succinctly convey you're greatest strengths.
Many otherwise smart people blow great opportunities because they're unprepared when meeting someone new. One way to never be caught off guard is to always be prepared with a mini pitch about yourself. The more you say it and the more you practice it, the more confident you'll feel about delivering.
Beyond that, when promoting yourself to new contacts and asking them for help in your job search, you'll want to be as specific as possible with your request. For example, when I get calls or emails from people seeking very generic help, it's too time consuming for me to respond.
The person who says, "I have a wide variety of interests and I'm open to anything" is forcing me to think too much for her, which means I'm not likely to respond. On the other hand, I'm much more likely to respond to the woman who says, "I'm looking to get into pharmaceutical sales" or the lady who writes, "I want a job in corporate public relations."
In those cases I'm apt to offer suggested contacts and resources because they're making it easy for me to offer a few minutes of advice. It's completely acceptable – in fact in some cases encouraged – to have more than one pitch if you're exploring careers in different fields. You can position and pitch yourself as an expert in three different fields, as long as you're able to describe your strengths, successes and passion about each of those areas. You don't have to pigeonhole yourself to one thing, but it's essential to make sure you are targeting each of those efforts.
One of the biggest complaints recruiters have about jobseekers is a lack a focus. This is especially true in an economic climate that has seen longer periods of unemployment than any of us would want. As the bills pile up and the frustration grows, jobseekers find themselves more desperate. That leads to the "I'll take anything – Just give me a job" approach, which is a huge turn-off to potential employers.
When there are many highly qualified candidates vying for the same positions, it often comes down to attitude. The candidate with the best outlook, the most positive personality and the more passion for the position usually gets the job.
Your self-promotion should never include any negatives. Keep all professional conversations positive and proactive. Leave the baggage behind. The last and perhaps most important issue to realize is that you've earned the right to celebrate your accomplishments. Many times when something great happens to us we can't believe it and we wind up questioning ourselves as to whether or not we deserve it.
This is especially true for women, even more so than men. Women have a delicate concern about being considered obnoxious or egotistical. We worry that someone will wonder "who does she think she is." Fortunately, the most successful women have gotten over that fear. They're not afraid to tell everyone who'll listen how great they are, and frankly we should applaud them.
If you don't toot your horn, nobody else will do it for you – except maybe your mom, but she can't call every employer on your behalf. Be proud – very proud – of yourself and your accomplishments. You've earned it.
Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire, the leading producer of high caliber recruiting events for women. She is also the co-author (with Robyn Spizman and Lindsey Pollak) of Women For Hire: The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job (Perigee; $15.95).