Women know we deserve to be recognized for our work. We also know society doesn’t always embrace our competence, wealth, and power. Career self-promotion, then, can be a frustrating double bind: Are we bragging if we toot our own horns? Or are we erasing our own hard work through excessive humility?
It’s important to acknowledge that the problem is not you — it’s society. “You live in a world that hears women’s accomplishments in a different way,” writes Emilie Aries, the author of Bossed Up: A Grown Woman’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together. However, there are some strategies to talk about our work in a way that gives credit where credit is due. Here are 12 tips on how to talk about your career successes without bragging — or being too humble.
1. Frame your achievements in terms of impact
Sure, your achievements are good for you, but they also create value for other people. “Focusing on impact is a more socially acceptable way to brag,” says Aries. For example, instead of saying “I produced an episode of a podcast,” try saying, “Fifty thousand people downloaded the podcast that I produced.” It sounds just as impressive and you just let 50,000 people validate the great work that you did.
2. Remember that your career self-promotion inspires other women
Let the women and girls who may be encouraged by your work grant you the permission to brag. After all, if they don’t see or hear about your triumphs, how are they supposed to know what’s possible for them? “Most women say they benefit from hearing about other women’s accomplishments,” said Amanda Hirsch, a women’s communication coach and founder and president of Mighty Forces. The ripple effect from your career self-promotion could be incredible.
3. Give yourself more credit
Women are usually very fair about distributing praise when acknowledging group work, said Aries. Alas, sometimes we can unintentionally diminish our own contributions through well-meaning humility. “We should err on the side of taking more credit,” says Aries. “Nudging yourself into the spotlight isn’t not bragging — that’s just getting the credit that you deserve!”
4. Tell a story about yourself
Talking about your accomplishments does not have to mean recapping bullet points on your resume. Instead, Hirsch said she advises her clients to craft a story about themselves and their career path. This career self-promotion strategy feels more natural because it has a personal touch. “It can feel like bragging when all you’re doing is listing your accomplishments,” said Hirsch. But telling a story about yourself — well, that’s just being a good conversationalist!
5. Be a person, not a “personal brand”
It can feel like everyone has a “personal brand” these days, and that can make the work of career self-promotion feel distasteful. Hirsch advises that you stop stressing about it. “I deliberately don’t use the term ‘personal brand’ because I actually believe that brands are for companies and products, not for people,” she says. Inside of defining your “brand,” focus on developing the story that you tell about yourself and your work.
6. Use a third-party validator
Maybe you feel like you have to be modest. But does your previous employer feel the same constraint? Career self-promotion doesn’t have to just be about you: Let others brag for you by mentioning their praise — and thus, invoking their validation. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m a really reliable worker’ you could say, ‘My last boss said that I was the most reliable employee he’s ever had,’ explains Aries. “In that way, you’re verbally bringing in a third party to brag on your behalf, which is a really handy way for women to do that.” Genius!
7. Take cues from others
It may feel random to bring up an award you recently won or the company you just sold. But if someone else is talking about his promotion, chime in. Read the room first before engaging in career self-promotion, of course, because it’s all about context, explains Hirsch. But in many social settings, she says, it’s totally possible to flex in a way that sounds natural.
8. View career self-promotion as a way of letting people know you’re available for other opportunities
“When you don’t share what you’re up to, you’re actively withholding that information and limiting opportunities,” said Hirsch. We tend to think of opportunities as being externally granted by others, rather than things we could attract by sharing our desire for them. But how is anyone supposed to know you’d love to open your own restaurant or that you wrote a book that needs an agent, if you don’t talk about it?
9. Be aspirational in how you describe yourself
If we are working towards a goal, we can feel like we’re not allowed to claim it yet. However, it’s all about the framing: Aries shared an example from a time when she used to work as a digital strategist and was starting her own business on the side. Instead of referring to starting her company as a “side hustle,” she called herself a digital strategist and an entrepreneur. Because guess what? A side hustle is entrepreneurship. “It’s OK to be aspirational,” so long as you’re honest, she says.
10. Have a strong online presence that can do some of the bragging for you
It’s great when you can let Google sing your praises for you, and it helps to have a strong online presence. “I recommend that every woman have a strong online presence,” says Hirsch. That can come in the form of a well-constructed LinkedIn page, a public Twitter profile, or a personal website. There’s no need for any humility! Maybe sure anyone who looks you up online can learn all about your achievements.
11. Erase minimizing language from your vocabulary
Women have a tendency to downplay our achievements, reminds Hirsch. Tweak the language that you use to talk about yourself, so that you don’t minimize your skills and accomplishments. “We need to use less cushioning language like ‘I helped,’ ‘I assisted,’ ‘I supported,” says Aries. Those verbs are appropriate if you work in a supporting role. Otherwise, she advises, “I would say ‘spearheaded,’ ‘project managed,’ ‘wrote,’ ‘lead.'” Think: Were you the leader, or were you the assistant? Then talk about yourself accordingly.
12. Accept that some people will feel threatened by your success and that that’s not your problem
When asked about braggadocio, Aries immediately mentioned Megan Rapinoe. The soccer co-captain led the U.S. team to victory in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup — and, well, some people thought she should have been a little more humble about it. “Rapinoe is going to be called ‘full of herself’ for behaving the same exact way that any other male athlete does every day and nobody blinks an eye,” Aries points out. “Not everybody’s going to like you, especially when you’re crushing it.” Accept that some people will feel threatened simply because you’re a woman kicking ass. “That says more about them than it does about you.” So make like Rapinoe and don’t let it be your problem.
Career self-promotion may not feel easy at first, but it’s a skill worth developing. By tweaking the language we use to talk about ourselves, invoking third-party validators, and framing our accomplishments in terms of impact, we can make sure we get credit for our work.
Jessica Wakeman is a journalist who focuses on women’s social, cultural and political issues. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Bust, Bustle, Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Cut, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. You can read her work here.