The Smart Way to Promote Yourself

promote yourself

By Yvonne Milosevic

Now and then, getting ahead in your career requires some self-promotion. A bit of preening, if you will. Some of you may be thinking, “I’m totally down for letting the world know about my successes!” Meanwhile, others would rather gnaw off their arm than crow about their accomplishments. No matter which camp you fall into, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Leslie John can help you improve the way you promote yourself. She recently stopped by HBR IdeaCast to share three research-backed tactics to own your achievements—without annoying your colleagues.

Avoid the Humblebrag and ‘Boomerasking’

Humblebrag: Noun. “A statement intended as a boast or brag but disguised by a humble apology, complaint, etc.”  

The word entered our lexicon way back in 2002. But, thanks to social media, cringy examples of people trying to downplay an impressive accomplishment with self-deprecation or a complaint have exploded in recent years.

“I was so bored—so I wrote a book.” (Example of an academic’s humblebrag.)

The humblebragger thinks he’s cleverly disguising a boast. Yet most people see through the pretense and feel exasperated by the faux modesty. Researchers from Harvard Kennedy School found that the better tactic is to brag outright: it comes off as more sincere.

The second ploy to avoid is boomerasking. That’s when you ask a question to temporarily let your conversation partner have the floor while you wait to boomerang the conversation back to you. Researchers led by Yale School of Management’s Ryan Hauser found that “Posing a question not because you want an answer but because you want someone to ask the same of you makes a worse impression than outright bragging.”

Brag only when self-promotion is expected and accepted.

John admits she more a fan of the “keep your head down and let the work speak for itself” method of self-promotion. But she acknowledges that job interviews are one place where it’s beneficial to brag.

promote yourself

In this setting, you should promote yourself—and it would be weird not to. Imagine an interviewer asks you to list your strengths. If you reply that you don’t feel comfortable saying, the hiring manager is going to get suspicious. And will probably cut the meeting short.

Not answering or being coy about such questions may cause people to think you’re unlikeable or untrustworthy, John warns. But, she adds, “Those who took time to outline their strengths, experience, and achievements were more likely to be rated by their interviewers as suitable for the job and of greater interest to the organization than those who didn’t brag as much.”

Promote Yourself via Surrogate.

Finally, John shares this winning strategy for prudent self-promotion: have someone else do it for you. Look for mentors, bosses, or peers who can speak up on your behalf.

promote yourself

People see intermediaries as less self-serving, and so this provides an aura of objectivity, she explains. And make sure to reciprocate the gesture. “Research on ‘positive gossip’ indicates that people are more highly regarded when they brag about others,” says John.

Ultimately, by learning how and when to promote yourself and your accomplishments, you’ll be able to advance your career without harming any relationships along the way.