• Michelle Kinsman

How to Shamelessly Self-Promote in the Workplace

You know you are kicking ass.

But, do others know?

If you are kicking ass but no one knows it, you are not kicking ass.

Let me put it a different way for clarification and emphasis.

If you are kicking ass, but the RIGHT people don’t know it, you are not kicking ass.

Self-promotion feels like a dirty word. Done obnoxiously, it sounds skeevy—used car salesmen come to mind. Done gracefully, it ensures you are on the radar screens of influential people.

Self-promotion is one part science and two parts art. It combines formally documenting your wins and informal humblebrags. It’s information you share yourself and what other people say about you. And, as with any art, it gets easier to do with practice and time.

Let’s examine the elements of successful self-promotion.

Success Strategy #1: Utilize the informal humblebrag.

First, one of the most influential tools at your disposal is the easiest to carry out. There are many ways to approach the informal humblebrag. But, the key is it has to come from a modest place. If you share with a #humblebrag tone, it taints the victory.

Tone is important. Position your contribution in the context of the business or the team. This way, it reads as a status update on your progress toward a more significant mission, as opposed to a “check out the great thing I did” flaunt.

The easiest way to ensure your tone hits the mark is to approach your update from a “we” point of view, not an “I” point of view.

Suppose you just solved a team problem or accomplished a large action item. Cc’ing your boss on that victory email is tempting, but I recommend you don’t. It’s like dancing in the end zone after a touchdown, and not in the fun way. Don’t send the wrong message.

My favorite way to humblebrag is a little thing I call the “FYI Email.” Take the email chain that shows your win and forward it to your boss with context. For example, if you received a lovely note from a client expressing gratitude, forward it to your boss with a note that says something like, “FYI, wanted to share the below client note. I’m really proud of the way the team delivered on this project!”

Or maybe you want your boss to be aware of some badass accomplishments but have no specific request for them to take action. Take an email that shows the latest status and forward with a note stating “FYI, no action required.” Add a simple statement that gives proper context, like “Just keeping you in the loop on this project—we made great progress this week!”

That’s it. It’s as simple as making them aware of your contribution.

You can deliver the update in person, too. The drive-by “heads up” office visit is my go-to. State the problem and how you solved it. Make it clear that you’ve handled it, but you wanted to inform them in case it came up. Bosses love to be up to date, especially if they don’t have to clean up a mess. If you made their life more convenient, bring it to their attention.

The other thing about the humblebrag is to use it wisely. Your boss doesn’t need to know everything you have done or solved. That’s your job. It’s why they hired you.

But you know when you made an impact, so don’t be timid about bringing it up. The humblebrag is for those small wins.

Success Strategy #2: Use formal status updates for bigger initiatives.

You should put more effort into sharing your larger-scale accomplishments. Be sure to keep your boss abreast of your big wins.

If you are working on a large-scale initiative that will take time, use official channels to share your progress and document the journey. For instance, is there a status report you can share with your manager or other key stakeholders? If not, consider starting one. Pick a format and frequency that will make it easy for them to digest. (No one wants to read a wordy document every week.) It can be as simple as an email, but its format and timing should be consistent.

Once you begin, you need to deliver this report consistently—keep that in mind when determining how you want to provide the updates. If you miss a weekly update because you’re bogged down with work, it’s going to look like you’re not in control of the project. As a general rule, people will assume the worst in the absence of information. If your regular report disappears, they will most likely think you are dropping the ball. Be honest with yourself before you commit to this update; you must stand by your commitment, or risk it backfiring on you.

You should also share the output of these larger-scale wins. When the report is complete, share a copy. When the work is finished, be sure they see it. If you can share it electronically, do it—that way your boss can forward it to other stakeholders, like their boss or other company leaders.

Make sure the right people are aware of the great work you are accomplishing.

Success Strategy #3: Apply a little polish to everything you do.

Think about the last time you splurged on a small item, like an expensive lipstick or piece of jewelry.

It came in a pretty box, wrapped in beautiful tissue paper, and the sales clerk walked around the counter to hand you that well-made shopping bag.

You felt like you bought something special, something luxurious.

Sure, it was just a lipstick. And, okay, maybe the quality of the product itself was better than one you could have gotten at the drug store. And, yeah, the lipstick will still get beat up in the bottom of your purse, just like the drugstore versions do. But at that moment, it felt more significant—good, even—all because the store made that everyday item look special.

You can apply this same logic to your daily work style. A little polish and packaging can go a long way.

Consider how you can bring a little extra polish and sizzle to everyday work items. For example:

  • Don’t just bring notes to your weekly one-on-one meeting with your boss. Type up an outline, email it one day in advance, and have a copy for her.

  • Make sure you include an agenda for every meeting request and bring printed copies to the meeting.

  • Be a notorious editor of your emails before you hit send. Every email should give easy-to-digest insight into what you need from every recipient. Bolding the most important sentences is an effective tactic. Is the email meant to keep them informed, answer a question, or drive an action? Be clear and deliberate with your words.

  • Always open an email with a proper greeting and end it with a proper salutation. Starting an email without a “Hi So-and-So” or “Good morning, Team” is coarse. It’s like walking into a store and saying, “I want to buy this” to the clerk without saying “hello” first. Also, don’t get too cutesy with your sign-off. Don’t include inspirational quotes or strange fonts. A simple “Thank you” or “Best” with your name works just fine.

  • If you have an idea you want to run by your boss or your team, put together a short presentation. A PowerPoint document or Keynote presentation projects as more together than a Word document. It’s the roughly the same word processing effort but looks much more polished.

  • Keep your workspace neat. Even if the system makes sense to you, the stacks of paper and loose files will scream, “I’m a hot mess!”

The possibilities are endless. A little extra attention to how you present yourself in everyday matters will help you build a kick-ass reputation. People will notice.

Success Strategy #4: Seek opportunities to increase your visibility.

Even in small companies, people become insular. You have the team you work with day after day, and most people keep their interactions within these boundaries.

You’ve been kicking ass and doing the right things to build your reputation with your boss and team. Why not push this boundary and let others in on the secret of your badassery?

Find ways to connect with people outside of the everyday grind.

Be part of making a difference at your company. A special task force is looking for volunteers? Raise your hand and contribute!

Volunteer for committees focused on issues you care about or pique your interest. The subject doesn’t need to center on work. Perhaps someone in another department is organizing a team to take part in a charity walk for a cause meaningful to you. Join the club!

Look for industry-related events or special interest groups within your company. A group of people is gathering to go to an industry happy hour; why not go with them?

You notice a small book club that meets every month in the cafeteria. If it sounds interesting to you, why not ask if you could join?

Be known as a hand-raiser.

You’ll be happier.

You will also build a network and make connections outside your direct team. This will help you develop your reputation beyond the small circle of people you see every day.

Success Strategy #5: Do the heavy lifting in formal performance reviews.

Formal reviews give you more than feedback; they are an opportunity to gain a written record of your badassery, along with a documented roadmap for your next promotion. So you need to take the annual review process very seriously.

Do not be passive about your formal reviews.

Don’t wait for the invite.

Don’t just wait to see what your boss has to say.

Hop in the driver’s seat and do some heavy lifting on your own behalf.

Your company will likely ask you to prepare a self-evaluation as part of the process. Whether or not they expect this, you should do your homework and organize your thoughts on the matter. Although the first draft will be a self-journaling exercise, you should edit and polish this document to present to your boss as part of the discussion. That’s right; you should give this document to your manager.

As you craft your self-assessment, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • What accomplishments make you proud?

  • Did you achieve the goals you set out? Summarize these wins.

  • What did you learn in the past year?

  • What challenged you most?

  • How could your manager help you become more successful?

  • Are there any new experiences or challenges you want exposure to in the upcoming year?

  • Are there training opportunities you want your manager to consider for you?

Deliver your self-evaluation to your manager well before your review meeting. I suggest emailing it so you’ll have an official record. Give your boss enough time to react to your self-assessment as they prepare for the review discussion. Sending it the day before your review is a waste of time.

At the meeting itself, do your part to make your review discussion a genuine dialogue, a real two-way conversation.

Be prepared to hear feedback that may make you uncomfortable. Ask questions to clarify. Take notes and digest. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the input. Any feedback you receive from your manager has items you must address to be successful in their eyes. I repeat, to get ahead with your boss, you need to act on their feedback.

Don’t phone in your review. Seriously. If you know the meeting should be on the schedule by now, follow up and request a date. Many managers mean well, but they might suck at the “people” side of their job. Don’t allow their weakness to become a missed opportunity for you.

Finally, make the most of your conversation. All too often, annual reviews become squandered opportunities. This is your career. Take advantage of this opening. It’s your chance to get your kick-ass qualities and accomplishments acknowledged and documented.

Here’s your chance to get objective feedback on how you can kick ass at the next level. Make the most of it.

Use these tools to ensure the word gets around about how great you are.

This content was an excerpt from

“Real-World Feminist Handbook: Practical Advice to Find, Win & Kick Ass at Your First Job”

by Michelle Kinsman

Book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Indiebound.


The Writer Behind the Writing

Michelle Kinsman is a full-time advertising executive, part-time author, and all-around badass. She is passionate about women’s empowerment and her rescue pets and spends too much of her disposable income on rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts and CrossFit workout gear.

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