Mon, July 15, 2024

Self-Promotion: A Double-Edged Sword

While my participation on social media is fairly limited, I do visit LinkedIn regularly. Although I do not post very often, I keep my profile up-to-date and enjoy using it as a way to follow the careers of my former colleagues and students with whom I do not regularly communicate. It has also provided a means for me to reconnect with some of them, and also with some high school and college classmates and those I served with in the Air Force whom I have not seen or talked to in many years. However, probably the most important things I do with LinkedIn are to help connect people within my network with others in my network who I think can provide value to one another, and to reach out to those in my network to provide encouragement and assistance as appropriate.

Since I spend a decent amount of time on LinkedIn, I have noticed that many use it as a vehicle for self-promotion. As someone who believes humility is one of the greatest strengths a person can have, I often struggle with this. I had a colleague who believed that self-promotion is critical to one’s career, and particularly so for women. As I have grappled with this notion, I have settled on the fact that some self-promotion is necessary, but overdoing it can be a career killer. In today’s column, I will discuss when and how to best self-promote, with a keen eye on being sure not to overdo it.

One of the things that I have always told the people who I supervised was that no one cared more about their careers than they did. Therefore, I also told them that the best time to self-promote was when they were interviewing for a new job or when they were being evaluated on their current job. While I value humility, I value performance even more. So, I recommend that your most important time to self-promote is when you are either pursuing a new job (internally or externally) or during a periodic review which may determine future raises and/or promotions. If you do not demonstrate the value of your performance, it is likely others will not either. However, the caution here, as in all self-promotion, is for it to be authentic. Do not take credit for other people’s work, efforts, and ideas. Share your skills, talents, and accomplishments, but do not fall prey to the temptation to inflate them. It has never been easier to verify data and your references will usually be checked. In addition, ultimately, you have to live up to the claims that you make. If you raise expectations to a point that you may not be able to reach, your tenure in the new position will likely be a short one.

The use of self-promotion in other instances is much more questionable. LinkedIn is littered with posts of people promoting themselves, and how others feel about those posts vary. Like most things, self-promotion will be more effective when practiced in moderation. When overdone, it comes off as conceited, egocentric, annoying, and obnoxious. Therefore, if you are going to self-promote on social media, be cognizant of your volume of such posts and observe others to see how you feel about both their volume and type of posts. If you find their posts to be off-putting and “braggy,” you should probably use those as models of what not to do. No matter how good someone is at something, people tire of hearing about it, particularly from them. It goes back to what athletes are told when they celebrate excessively: “Act like you have been there before.”

As you can probably tell, I am not the biggest fan of self-promotion. I guess in my book, I consider it a “necessary evil.” However, if you want to increase your marketability, it is important to share with others your skills, talents, and accomplishments. There are ways to ensure your self-promotion is much more palatable to those observing it, particularly on social media, like LinkedIn. Here are some tips:

  • Balance: Ensure that your posts are not focused solely on self-promotion. Use your posts to also highlight other things, such as others you work with, good things going on in your community, and tips that might improve other people’s performance. This will temper your self-promotion from seeming over the top.
  • Mutual Success: Be sure to celebrate team or company success as much as your individual success. Identify things your company and others on work teams are doing that lead to success. You can include your success here, but when you couple it with others’ successes, it allows you to self-promote in a way that does not seem so egocentric.
  • Gratitude: When celebrating individual successes, be sure to identify those who helped you be successful. Identify mentors, coaches, supervisors, collaborators, and/or anyone else who you learned from or supported your efforts. This demonstrates self-awareness that you did not do it all by yourself.
  • Authenticity: As noted earlier, do not overplay your hand. Be authentic as to what you achieved without overblowing it.


Finding the right amount of self-promotion can be tricky, so take some time in developing your self-promotion plan. Observe others and see how their self-promotion comes off to you. I know that I am a little bit “old school” and would rather that my performance tells the story, but I have learned over the course of my career that some self-promotion, using the tips provided above, can have a significant positive impact on your career.

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