How to Self-Promote at Work (Without Being Obnoxious)

Let’s face it: We all want to get ahead professionally. But getting your boss to notice your genius can seem impossible. If you’re the brown-noser of the office, your colleagues might lose respect for you. If you’re constantly shoving your accomplishments in your boss’ face, you can come off as desperate for praise.

On top of that, your introversion or even cultural values may prevent you from wanting to stand out. Early in my career, I was unsure of myself on team projects, even though I was good at my job. I feared that standing out from my colleagues–especially receiving praise from my boss–would mean that I wouldn’t be seen as a team player. Any time my boss would compliment me in front of my team, I would hear my grandmother’s voice in my head reminding me to never get a big head, to never be too proud. As a result, I found myself always deflecting my boss’ praise and shying away from the spotlight. And yet, I still yearned for the professional recognition that would advance me.

To add to the complexity, studies show that attempting to humble brag — an indirect boast about oneself — backfires almost all the time. While it may seem like disguising a boast with humility may be the best way to your boss’ heart, it can make you appear disingenuous.

So, how can you get ahead and stay true to yourself? Here are strategies that helped a group of young professionals get to the next level with their boss.

Find solutions your boss cares about, then take the lead

“Show your genius by creatively solving a problem that your team faces regularly.” Candace, 26, Legal

A surefire way to stand out to your boss is to speak their language. Oftentimes, that comes in the form of addressing challenges that they face in their role and creating solutions. When you approach your boss to propose a project or event, it’s important that your idea saves them time, money, and stress.

Use your boss’ own words (something they said in a meeting/memo/speech), or even the language of your company’s mission statement or value initiatives to propose a project that you believe in and will be able to execute effectively. When pitching your boss, however, don’t forget that timing is everything. Deniece, who works as a professor, writer, and speaker, utilizes thoughtful timing for her project pitches because “supervisors don’t like surprises.Tell your boss what you’re thinking well before you execute your plan.

Know when to say yes… and when to say no

“Accept new challenges, but start saying ‘no’ when you feel like you’re starting to be taken for granted.” — Jussie, 26, Education

When asked about how to get your boss to notice you, most people will encourage you to step up to the plate and ask your boss for opportunities. This can include saying “yes” to committee work and special working groups. Sometimes, however, knowing how and when to say “no” can be just as effective. If you don’t think a project is a good fit for you, talk to them about it, and offer one or two alternatives that will help the overall strategy. Offering an alternative plan will show you’re still invested in collaboration.

Always find ways to improve

“If you’re good at something, be great. Never settle.” — Anthony, 29, Healthcare

No matter your position, remember to continuously work on developing your skill set. While positions vary by the types of professional development they offer, you can always start by asking yourself how to approach projects smarter to get more noticeable results. Ask yourself what went wrong or could be improved on a project and create a plan. Always ask for feedback. Additionally, pursue certifications and trainings that will advance you. If you’re feeling lost (and your office has funding available), attend an industry conference for professional inspiration. Talk to fellow attendees about their work and successes they’ve achieved. Build your network!

Involve your boss in projects your passionate about

“The thing that worked best was inviting [them] to my trainings.” Valyncia, 29, Higher Education

Your boss won’t always have time to see you execute all of your tasks like the rockstar that you are. So, share special projects you’re working on with them, and invite them to your events so your work can speak for itself! Select events (programs, presentations, trainings, etc.) that mean the most to you — especially if it could benefit from you boss’ extra support — and invite your supervisor. After they say yes, assign them a special role (with adequate warning, of course) to allow them to imagine themselves as a part of your program’s success. Bonus: Capture your event/project on camera, or write about it, so you can post your company’s newsletter or social media sites. Your boss will likely be more supportive after they see you in action.

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