Career Tools: The Art of Self-Promotion

Tips for making your aptitudes and accomplishments more visible

Veronica Whitley has advanced in her career at Duke from lead food services worker to office staff assistant. Photo by Marsha Green.

Veronica Whitley opened a Word document and typed accomplishments for the past month: "learned how to do background checks, registered for a Buy@Duke class, met all deadlines."

She saved the document and scheduled a reminder to repeat the exercise the next month.

"Once I write down my accomplishments, they stay in the front of my mind and it is easier to bring them up in a conversation," said Whitley, who has advanced in her career at Duke from lead food services worker to office staff assistant.

According to Dorie Clark, author of "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future," articulating accomplishments in conversation is a critical skill in the subtle art of self-promotion. 

"It isn't bragging," said Clark, adjunct professor at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. "Self-promotion is demonstrating to others what you are capable of so they can appreciate your leadership potential and involve you in new tasks, discussion or even new jobs."

Clark suggests the following actions for self-promotion:

Prepare for a performance review

Whitley's monthly list of accomplishments is a powerful tool during her annual review. "Performance reviews are often considered an administrative burden, but they are a great time to talk about successes that might otherwise have been forgotten with the sands of time," Clark said.

Volunteer to be visible

A leadership role in a committee or professional association can raise visibility and confidence, Clark said. "Even if the group is not related to your career ambitions, being in a key role allows you to be seen as a leader chosen by your peers," she said.

Acquire advocates

Clark recommends cultivating colleagues who can speak about your skills and accomplishments. One way is to eat lunch with colleagues to share expertise and interests. "At the end of a year, you can amass a network of people across the organization who can mention your name in conversations," Clark said.

Double check perceptions

Picking up pointers on how others perceive you can help in self-promotion."Honest feedback can head a lot of problems off at the pass,” Clark said.

Whitley, the office assistant, got surprising feedback when she and participants in a class sponsored by Duke's Professional Development Institute recorded and listened to their voices.

"It was excruciating," Whitley said. "I realized I had to learn to pronounce words better, speak more slowly and use more formal language in the office than I do at home if I wanted to be taken more seriously."

Help others. Clark said helping others is the most effective way to promote your brand.

"Everyone needs help in some way, even if it is just offering a listening ear or a new perspective," Clark said. "If you can be helpful to those who are influential, that is an incredibly savvy career move."