Are you under, over or a balanced self-promoter? - Michelle Gibbings

A microphone on stage in front of a red curtain under a spotlight

One of the questions people often ask me is, ‘How do I get the balance right in promoting myself?’. People worry about over-promoting and coming off as arrogant, and others find talking about themselves difficult.

However, as someone once said to me, ‘Michelle, if you don’t claim the credit for your work, there will be someone standing near you who will happily claim it for you’.

Many professionals, especially in their career’s early days, believe that ‘great work’ should be enough to make it up the corporate ladder. Sadly, that’s far from the truth.

In a competitive job market, you need to stand out. One way to do that is to be ready and willing to talk about yourself. While this may seem icky or uncomfortable for most of us, especially if we come from cultures that don’t encourage self-promotion, there is immense value in authentically presenting your work (and yourself) in ways that help others learn more about you.

Successful self-promotion is the intentional and strategic act of showcasing your skills, accomplishments, and value proposition to relevant stakeholders in a way that cultivates trust, establishes credibility, and creates opportunities for career advancement. Self-promotion aims to accelerate your career, so finding a balance in how you communicate your brand is critical. Talk too much about yourself, and you risk coming across as arrogant or alienating colleagues. On the other hand, if you don’t talk enough, you can miss out on opportunities and career growth.

Self-promotion doesn’t mean you ‘brag about yourself.’ You want to be authentic in building your personal brand and confidently highlight your strengths while remaining humble and receptive to feedback. Self-promotion aims to let people know your strengths and interests and how you can contribute to completing a project or a task. It’s a way to let people better understand you, your skills and capabilities.

Find your balance
While self-promotion can be a career enabler, too much doesn’t help your case. Consider the following:

  • Under-promoter: If you are rarely considered for new opportunities (e.g. training, secondments) or are getting passed over for promotion despite achieving all your KPIs and work-related targets, you are likely an under-promoter.
  • Over–promoter: If you confidently talk about your successes at work and back yourself but find that senior leaders hold mixed views about your reputation because you are not seen as a ‘team player’, you may be an over-promoter.
  • Balanced-promoter: If you achieve at work, have a solid personal brand that supports your career progression, can balance sharing credit and taking credit for work delivered, have supportive relationships with senior leaders and are proactively approached with career opportunities, you likely have the balance right.

To be effective, you need to build and articulate your personal brand without overdoing it.

The Five Elements of Self-promotion
Discovering your self-promotion style starts by paying attention to five critical elements: displaying authenticity, articulating value, positioning recognition, hearing feedback and building relationships.

Displaying authenticity: While promoting yourself, you want to present a genuine and accurate representation of yourself. This means you want to align your personal values with your professional goals. By staying true to yourself and who you are, you can better establish credibility with colleagues and senior leaders.

For example, when discussing your work and capabilities, be specific about your contribution and don’t take credit for other people’s work.

Ask yourself: What are my personal values? How do I live them at work in a way that enhances my reputation? Am I being consistent and authentic in my interactions at work?

Articulating value: Everyone brings skills and capabilities to their work, and how you use them creates value. You want to express that value clearly and precisely.

For example, develop your value proposition statement, which outlines how you contribute to an organisation or team’s success. You can think of this as your ‘elevator pitch’, so when people ask you about what you do, you are ready to go.

Ask yourself: what are my skills and capabilities, and how do they uniquely combine to ensure I deliver practical outcomes in my work?

Positioning recognition: Personality, cultural norms, gender, identity and organisational culture all play a part in helping or hindering how comfortable a person is in engaging in self-promotion. These factors interact in complex ways to influence a person’s approach.

For example, personality traits such as extraversion and narcissism are positively associated with self-promotion. It is the same for people from individualistic cultures that emphasise individual success. At the same time, societal expectations and stereotypes about gender roles have resulted in some women feeling less comfortable engaging in self-promotion than men. Individuals with a strong self are often more comfortable promoting themselves, while an organisation’s culture and the individual’s boss can either reward or discourage such behaviour.

You want to recognise these factors and notice what elements may hinder your approach.

Ask yourself: am I comfortable positioning and accepting recognition appropriately in a way that balances self-promotion efforts?

Hearing feedback: Central to success is knowing how to welcome all types of input and then discern what feedback requires acceptance and action. You don’t want to dismiss feedback that is hard to hear because arrogance and an unwillingness to learn won’t support your career success.

When your manager or colleague provides feedback, listen to what they are saying carefully and consider the insights and takeaways that will aid your development and career progress.

Ask yourself: when I receive feedback, do I genuinely listen and then carefully review it to determine the best approach from now on?

Building relationships: We are drawn to people who exhibit integrity and consistency. So when you are authentic, clear on your strengths, willing to accept and share recognition and open to feedback, you will foster long-lasting relationships that support your self-promotion efforts.

Career progress isn’t a solo venture; you need supporters who will advocate for you. That will only happen if you focus on building sustainable and trust-based relationships.

Ask yourself: do I build long-lasting relationships with peers, colleagues and stakeholders, and do they support my self-promotion efforts?

Uncover the Gaps
Now that you have a sense of your self-promotion effectiveness, you want to go deeper and uncover the specific gaps to address so you can secure a balanced approach across all five core elements.

You can use the following table as a reference point.

Table 1. Uncover the gaps

Download PDF: Download this table as a PDF here.

Steps to find your balance
In striving to be a balanced self-promoter, here are a few strategies you can use to get started.

Tip one – Establish your credibility
Before you can self-promote, you must lay the groundwork. This starts by becoming an effective contributor in your team. Consistently deliver high-quality work, meet deadlines, and strive to be easy to work with. Take initiative and seek opportunities that showcase your skills or align with your interests. Your objective is to be a trusted colleague and to cultivate your expertise in areas that interest you. For example, if you’re keen to learn more about new tech, take on high-impact projects that help you explore how your team or the work you do can leverage Generative AI. In the same way, you can also share your suggestions on how to adapt new trends in the technology space to your team’s needs.

Making yourself visible must start with your performance as a professional. Once you establish how you add value to your team and the organisation, you will be better placed to talk about your contributions authentically and truthfully.

Tip Two – Know your context
When it comes to influencing others, understanding your audience is critical. Different people have different tolerance levels for self-promotion. That means how you affect one individual may be different from another. Some people may appreciate a more direct approach to self-promotion, while others may better respond to subtle, more indirect ways of influence.

For instance, if you’re in a job interview, the hiring manager expects you to share your skills and experience. Being direct about your achievements, interests, and goals will help you reap the best results. On the other hand, if you’re in a skip-level meeting with your boss’s boss, your goal may be to establish a strong rapport and let your work speak for itself. Speaking about a project you’re working on and how it helped you build specific skills may be a better approach than talking only about your past accomplishments.

Tip Three – Back your self-promotion with evidence
You want data and evidence to support your position — for example, quantifiable and objective metrics, such as revenue growth or project completion rates. Be specific about how your efforts have helped the team or organisation achieve goals. Tangible examples demonstrate where your actions have had a positive impact. As part of this, craft a compelling narrative showcasing your achievements, challenges experienced, and lessons learned. You can differentiate yourself by emphasising personal growth and resilience while building connections and relationships.

Tip Four – Build relationships and find advocates
Self-promotion is not a solitary endeavour; it thrives through networks, where you have advocates who back you and support your career growth.

Establishing networks like this takes time and effort. You want to identify the critical stakeholders who can provide guidance and opportunities. And then take the time to nurture those relationships and contribute value to them.

It helps to be systematic about this. Review the stakeholder landscape at work, identify the decision-makers and assess the effectiveness of your relationship with them. Do they know you? Would they advocate for you? Once you know that, you can then determine the best ways to elevate your relationship with them. This might be by finding ways to connect with them, sharing knowledge and insights, and offering to contribute and support the work they have underway.

Tip Five – Share credit and pay it forward
While promoting yourself is essential, it’s equally important to acknowledge others and express your gratitude to colleagues who have helped. Likewise, when receiving compliments or recognition, be gracious and humble.

When you notice a team member has done great work, take the time to congratulate them. Similarly, when a team member contributes to the work you are leading, thank them and acknowledge their efforts.

Sharing credit, recognising other people’s contributions, and being gracious enhances your reputation.

So, the questions to consider are: what’s your current promotional style, and what do you need to do next?


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