Get promoted without shameless self-promotion: 12 ways to rock that tightrope

Sure, you are talented, but promotions are for personality more than ability. If you're eager, thoughtful and perma-motivated, you're in with a shout.

Image courtesy of [Adobe Stock](

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock

But shouting isn't necessarily the right way to go about it: relentless self-promotion can tire your superiors out and leave you overlooked. Here's some fuel for thought on the tricky balancing act of getting noticed at work, for all the right reasons.

Thought 1: The hygiene factors

To get anywhere on the career ladder, you need to have the basics locked down. You need to write well. Speak well, present well and dress the part. Have impeccable person hygiene.

If you're scruffy or stinky, chances are you're going nowhere. Provided you're happy with yourself in these areas, go for it. If not, brush up, sharpish.

Takeaway: Maintain 'meet-the-parents' standards at all times.

Thought 2: The traditional advice is – don't outshine the boss – but most bosses will tell you they want to be challenged

"Don't outshine the master" has been career ladder advice since the 1700s at least when Louis VIX had his Finance Minister whacked for having cooler parties in his flashier palace. According to the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Green, all bosses come packing personal insecurities you need to be wary of.

Yet lots of bosses, and most clients, will tell you they are happy to be challenged. The way to play the challenge: Don’t just disagree, be mindful of egos.

Get super-prepared to make the case in ways that move the debate away from opinions into data, precedent and examples. If you have a better way of doing things, then prove it. In private. Always be humble – and don't complain if the boss takes some of the credit in the end.

Takeaway: Be a mindful, super prepared challenger.

Thought 3: Take in direction first time – but don't be afraid to ask questions

It's essential to note that senior people don't like to repeat themselves. But when you're being given direction, if there's the slightest ambiguity, address it there and then until you are 100% sure.

Take comprehensive notes. Taking notes is not only helpful to cement things in your memory, but it's a perfect visual cue that you are diligent and careful.

Takeaway: The time to ask lots of questions is at the initial brief, in that sweet spot where it could be their fault for not explaining it right.

Thought 4: Deserve it without acting as you deserve it

Even though you're working your heinie off, don't ever act like you deserve a promotion.

You should carry yourself like that girl in nearly every Rom Com who is gorgeous, but she doesn’t know it. Walking around the office with an air of entitlement will make you unattractive to the powers that be. You should display confidence, yet always stop short of arrogance — a soupçon of swagger, but never conceit.

Takeaway: The word 'should' is a dangerous one. Cut it from your vocabulary.

Thought 5: Volunteer for everything…but know when to say no

According to Donald Asher's Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't, and why – you should volunteer for everything. Solid advice. But your ability to say no, seeing the full picture and juggling priorities, will mark you out as having leadership potential.

Managing up – a.k.a managing expectations – is a vital skill. Don't grin and bear it through unreasonable demands. You'll never get promoted if you're the one who gets dumped on daily. Instead, explain what you have on your plate and thrash out the real priority levels before setting expectations you are confident you can hit.

Takeaway: Set yourself up to exceed expectations, not stress and struggle.

Thought 6: Even when you're stressed, you have to look like you're enjoying yourself

If you're going to be a real leader, you need to keep calm under fire. So there's no room for snapping at people, frowning or grunting. You need to plaster a smile on your face and be seen to be good for morale.

Takeaway: Smile and the world will wonder what you're smiling about. Use the air of mystery to your advantage.

Thought 7: Nail your role, and help your competition nail theirs

To get ahead, of course, you should be nailing your role. You're probably not the only one who fancies more money, more power, access to the fabled secret toilet.

So work at starting projects early if you can, completing ahead of schedule if at all possible. And here's the kicker – help others do the same, even though they might be your direct competition. Helping others is the best way to expand your sphere of influence in business. You’ll get asked your opinion more. You'll come to understand peoples' roles and responsibilities – setting you up nicely to be their boss!

Takeaway: Be a subtle helper, not a know-all busybody.

Thought 8: Keep quiet…but when you speak, make it count

Be the one who listens more than they speak. If you're going around taking a genuine interest in people, operating on empathy, not ego, working in a way that's not all about you, then you've made of the right stuff, and you'll get noticed.

Particularly if when you do speak up, you have something insightful to say. When you're mostly quiet, you have a little bit of mystery. People will wonder what you’re thinking. This gives you an advantage – what you say will cut through and hit home. (Thanks to Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, author of Quiet Influence, for some inspiration on this.)

Takeaway: Speak when you need to, not because you can.

Thought 9: Highlight problems and issues – but never without bringing a solution

As far as your boss goes, your job is to make their life easier. To please them, never mention a problem without telling them your solution straight after.

Plan to deliver it positively. Think of it like a newspaper article: the headline is the problem. The first paragraph is your well-thought-out solution.

Takeaway: Get intimate with the problem, and you're the solution.

Thought 10: Never miss the office party, but don't party too hard

If you miss office parties, you're not a team player. Whether you agree with that or not, that's how it will be perceived.

You need to party properly. Get into it a bit, let your hair down, don't be corporate and talk about work the whole time. Instead, chat about your out-of-work passions and discover other peoples' too.

Just don't get steaming drunk and let it all hang out. (How far to go varies from organisation to organisation. Results may vary. Don’t come crying to CB).

Takeaway: Plan to stay late. Eat before AND during. Be a person.

Thought 11: Be a good mixer, with your finger on the pulse, but never gossip

If you don't socialise with the team, you're missing out on vital information, like who's job hunting and what opportunities are coming up. But avoid joining in with gossip and negative energy. Higher-ups don't like gossipers (maybe because they've all got shedloads of skeletons in their closet). So if you want to become a serious player, steer clear of all temptation to gossip.

Takeaway: Gossiping creates a negative image that can mean the real influencers steer well clear.

Thought 12: Be consistently excellent, but not a perfectionist

Another tricky one. Perfectionism is widely considered a form of anxiety. You don't have to face rejection if you haven't finished or don't like your work anyway.

All in, all or nothing perfectionism can hamper your chances of promotion. If you're pulling it off, envy creates silent enemies. If your perfectionism is causing delays, that'll annoy people.

If you want to get ahead, try and lose a bit of the perfectionism. Because if you are a total perfectionist, being in charge of people is going to do your head in, for sure!

Takeaway: You don’t need to be perfect. Just consistently good.

In summary

It's nigh on impossible to fake all this, and there are no easy hacks. You have to want it, and go after it representing your authentic self. If you're organised and unfailingly enthusiastic in the face of adversity, you're most of the way there.

To take it to the next level, practice being observant. Be genuinely interested in what's going on around you. Learning to think from the perspective of the leaders and the rank and file at the same time is probably the greatest skill a boss can have.


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