How to Promote Yourself at Work (Without Feeling Icky)

Sarah is a Senior Accountant working for a large municipality. She sent me her seven-point case for a pay increase, yet among her concerns about asking for a raise was this:

I have improved several processes, but I don't think my work has really been recognized, so they may not approve my pay request.

In fact, unless she's communicated the value of those improved processes, they won't be recognized and Sarah won't be duly rewarded. Let's see how she can turn that around.

How to Self-Promote

I just got her email this morning (as I write this), so I don't know her yet as a coaching client or Pay Raise Prep School student. But from what she said, it seems that Sarah struggles with self-promotion and self-advocacy, a common challenge for many working women.

Do you hold back on self-promotion?

Are you busting your tail and expecting your hard work and outcomes to be recognized on their own merits?

It's not working, right? That's because it's too indirect.

Does this give you a better understanding of why you might be under-earning?

The reality is: self-promotion is essential in your quest for a bigger pay raise. You need to regularly communicate your value to your manager and others of influence.

The good new is: you can do it in ways there are comfortable for you and agreeable to others. Really—it doesn't have to be icky.

Prime the Pump All Year Round

When you regularly communicate your value—and I’ll describe what that looks like in a few minutes—you’re implanting your value into your manager’s mind.

Think of communicating your value like priming a pump. So when the timing is right for you to ask for a raise, the pump is ready to gush out your better-than-mediocre raise in response.

For the pay raise conversation to go well, prime the pump all year long. That way, when the budget cycle comes around and management is making decisions about pay increases (which typically happens a few months before your performance review, by the way), it’s easier for them to set a higher projected raise amount for you.

Let’s say, for example, that you deserve a Merit Raise, and based on your assessment of several factors, your Aspiration Point is a 6% salary increase.

If you haven’t communicated your value consistently, if you haven’t advocated for yourself, if you haven’t set expectations for your rewards, your pay raise positioning is weak. 

In fact, without the influence of the primed pump of positive positioning, you make it easy for management to give you a run-of-the-mill 2% or 3% increase. Sigh.

On the other hand, if you’ve paved the path for management to set your raise higher, if you’ve been priming the pump with Performance + Self-Promotion, you make it a lot easier for management to set your projected raise at a higher point at decision-making time.

Your value is fresh in their minds and their decision about your pay increase reflects that.

Let’s say they decide on a 5% salary increase for you. Now the difference between their number (5%) and your Aspiration Point (6%) is only one percentage point apart.

You can see how your pitch for 6% will be a lot easier to navigate and negotiate: you’ll have a much higher prospect of success than if your negotiation conversation had to bridge the gap from 3% to 6%. See how that works?

Communicating Your Value Helps to Build Connection

There’s another strategic reason to regularly communicate your value to your manager and others. (And if it helps, think of self-promotion in those terms.) That communication is an opportunity to build the relationship, i.e., to build connection and trust over time.

Connection and trust are foundational factors to a fair and principled negotiation between two parties. You want those in place at the time of any negotiation, including your performance review.

Have I made a convincing case for your year-round self-promotion? I want you to remodel the thinking that says you don’t deserve it. Or that you’ll look bad for asking.

Do you remember some of those perception issues (fears) I shared before from women who took my pay raise survey?

  • “My manager will think I’m being greedy and ungrateful.” 
  • “[I'm afraid of] being seen as greedy or pushy compared to other employees.”
  • "I’m worried that there will be negative consequences to asking for a pay raise."

Year-round self-promotion and advocacy in an agreeable manner counters that misguiding thinking.

What Does Agreeable Self-Promotion Look Like?

Negotiation expert Lee Miller says your boss should hear about every success, “…but in a way that does not appear to be bragging.” He endorses developing a relationship with your boss which allows you to “…just call up or drop by and matter-of-factly deliver the news whenever something good happens.”

If you don't work in the same office, you use email, chat and other techie means to give your manager breezy, by-the-way updates about a recent accomplishment. Deliver a mix of both individual and team wins over time. 

You know that job journal I recommend you keep regularly? That’s one place that holds some news for your brief matter-of-fact reports. Cherry-pick from there.

Consider working with a career coach to develop these communication and self-advocacy skills. My friend and colleague, Darcy Eikenberg, has some free career visibility tools that are worth a look. Her two-minute "bragging without gagging" video has some specific tips to try.

​There's a time for formal presentation of your job achievements; that's covered in the Build Your Case section of Pay Raise Prep School's training. What we're talking about here are informal communications to fill in the gaps throughout the year. 

I like this self-promotion advice from Bonnie Marcus, writing for Forbes:

“Understanding your value proposition is the foundation of authentic self-promotion. Your value proposition is the unique way you deliver the work that contributes to positive business outcomes.

Positioning yourself to help others achieve their goals is a powerful way to highlight your accomplishments and potential. Tailor your conversation to align your value proposition with others’ goals and interests.

The result is they know how you impact positive business results, and you are now on their radar screen for future opportunities. Positioning yourself as part of a solution is effective self-promotion because it is based on past achievements and future potential.”

I especially like this tip: Tailor your conversation to align your value proposition with others’ goals and interests.

That mirrors what I teach about aligning your activities with your manager’s priorities. In this scenario, you’re aligning your conversations, as well. Savvy move.

Here are more agreeable self-promotion tips from Where Women Work:

  1. Talk outcomes: Be clear about what you achieved and why it was important.
  2. Be matter-of-fact: Don’t use irrelevant emotional adjectives (e.g., enormous, exciting).
  3. Make it relevant: Put your achievements in the context relevant to your audience.
  4. Draw future application: Make it obvious how you can build on your skills and achievements.
  5. Individualize: Combine your strengths to provide a unique and competitive picture.

THE SELF-PROMOTION CHALLENGE

My challenge to Sarah and to you is to do the following: 

  1. Describe three ways that you can communicate your value at work.
  2. Choose one way that you will actually use this coming week. Get specific about what that will look like. Write it out, if that helps. Rehearse it, because that really helps. Rehearse it again.
  3. Then try it out. Apply that self-promotion idea at work this week.
  4. Rinse and repeat, i.e., plan ahead to communicate your value regularly.

Self-promotion—communicating your value all year round—has an impact on your pay raise results. Start today to make it a regular part of your career development activities.