#Humblebraggin' It: How to Sell Yourself Without Sounding Like A Jerk

#Humblebraggin' It: How to Sell Yourself Without Sounding Like A Jerk
by Kit Warchol
September 21, 2016
Studies show that self-promotion is essential for propelling your career forward. And yet, women loathe doing it.
Before I go any further: women don't like to brag. And society doesn't like women who brag. In fact, the word "brag" definitely falls into the insult category.

These are gross generalizations, but they are also facts. Countless studies reveal that women rarely engage in self-promotion compared to men. Even Sheryl Sandberg suggested in Lean In that when interviewing, women should focus on describing any accomplishments with a team-based mentality, "We did this," "we did that." The truth is candidates get dinged for using "I"—we come across as ungrateful or egotistical (and you know what? It works. I landed a job three weeks after reading Sandberg's book—and believe me, I "we"ed it up). Bragging? Not exactly an ideal past time. 

We can thank gender norms and a cultural emphasis on female modesty for this, and that harsh reality really, really sucks. But deploring the situation is no longer enough. Because the thing is, if we as women don't start self-promoting, we're simply encouraging the cycle. Digital marketer, Maggie Fox, puts it plainly enough: "I don’t care how distasteful you find it...I’ll make this very clear: women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self-promote are letting all of us down."

Here are a few things you can do to self-promote in a way that works for you. Some of this might make you feel uncomfortable, sure, and that's OK. Push yourself anyway. 

1. pick your moment

"A lot of it is about timing," said...my mother when I asked her how she's promoted herself over the course of her career. She's spent most of her work days in newsrooms across the country, one of a few women in an industry that idolizes Ernest Hemingway's wartime journalism punctuated by bouts of machismo and booze. According to her, in most industries, there's a right time to throw in some self-promoting comment—and then there are definitely wrong times. And there's an art to picking your moment.

If you haven't had formal experience pitching projects or speaking in public, now's probably the time to start practicing. Those tools will help you when self-promoting. Just like pitching an idea in a boardroom, you'll want to catch people when the mood is right.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza decides to leave every social interaction on a high note? George isn't exactly the poster child for bragging without stepping on toes, but the man had something there. Plug your accomplishments and skills after you've blown a project out of the water. Likewise, if you'd like to show off some new skills you've learned, mention them when they provide value. Think: "Hey, I should mention that I'm pretty great with Photoshop—I'd love to help with some of the design work if you'd like." Oh, and don't promote your skills or accomplishments when everyone's had a lousy day. 
You know more than you think you do. This is one of those universal, yet elusive truths.

2. Back it up with Evidence

You wouldn't walk into a client meeting and just ask for money, would you? Selling yourself is like selling anything, people want to know exactly what they're getting for their investment. In this case, it's them investing time and attention in their busy lives to hear your story. So make it a good story—one with evidence and data that backs you up. Think about why you trust The New York Times over, say, a conspiracy website. The proof is in reliable sources.


Allies. Women allies. We've talked about them before in reference to bringing down sexism in the office, and the same rules apply here. Regardless of whether it's a small team of five or a group of 50, it's essential for you to network with women in your field and to also help promote them. 

Creating a collaborative and supportive network does two things:
  1. It provides you with a safe space in which to discuss your own accomplishments openly
  2. It helps you reward those discussions by building up others who dare to speak out. In fact, there's a term for this process—shine theory—and it's the way that women gained traction in Obama's administration. Fact.
So where to start? Joining networking organizations, of course, is the common advice. But actually years ago, I read a blog post (for the life of me, I couldn't find the original article so if you know it, please share) that suggested a genius alternative: throw a party.

Here's How to Do It 

Think of it as a party with a theme—career growth—which really isn't much different than a book club. Invite friends to come to your house for wine and cheese, tell them to bring at least one friend with them. Once you've got a group of women in the room, some of whom you know and some of whom you don't, do this: 
  • Have everyone write down three things they want help with. This could be: finding a job, improving a skill, meeting more women in their industry, whatever.
  • Take turns going around the room and reading the first item on each person's list. If anyone can help the person accomplish the goal, they'll raise their hand. 
  • After the first round, split off for a few minutes so that people can touch base with the connections they found.
  • Repeat.
It's a great way to both create a safe place for women to talk about their work and how well they do and also to help them get even better.

And, of course, don't forget to plug your friends' accomplishments any chance you get.

4. Take to social media

We're actually all self-promoting daily—we just think of it as "sharing" online. Whether it's showing off your trip to Seattle or your new apartment, your Instagram shots are self-promotional, plain and simple. Why do we feel so uncomfortable talking about our work and careers when we can share (sometimes overshare) every other aspect of our lives? 

Get proactive about starting to share your own work and professional accomplishments online. If you blew a client project out of the water, feel free to post about it on Twitter. If you got quoted in an article, post that everywhere. In writing her thoughts on self-promotion, Kat Stoeffel of the Cut points out: "'Sad' seems to be the prescribed reaction, for women, to the dissolution of work-life boundaries. But there might be a silver lining to it happening online, in public."

The more we take to social media, the more comfortable we get sharing our lives. And that should include our work and accomplishments. She goes on:

"Social and work life have always been inseparable, to a certain degree, and the boys’-club whiskeys were often even more elusive for women than a seat at the boardroom table. If women can shake the vestigial embarrassment of striving for professional success in public, they might also be able to work the people-pleasing social skills they’ve been cultivating all along (not necessarily by choice and without pay) to their own advantage. Why humblebrag, in other words, if you can bring the smoke-filled room online?"

Get tweeting. 


Does this piece of advice make me a total hypocrite? Maybe. But the thing is, women tend to "humblebrag" because it's not as risky as just, well, bragging. And thus we're continuing the cycle. Stop yourself. Don't say "Here's this thing I wrote." Was it really just a thing? Or did you spend hours laboring over it? How accomplished do you feel now that it's in the world? What's wrong with celebrating those accomplishments?

Try instead: "My new article went live. BOOM." If that's still too scary, sell the value "Here's a piece I wrote on humblebragging. Read it (because you know you do it)." Don't downplay your work. It deserves credit, too. 


You know more than you think you do. This is one of those universal, yet elusive truths. Maybe you have a few years of experience working in your field. Maybe you're an obsessive reader about your industry. Maybe you're just really good at working with people regardless of what jobs you've had. You can be an expert in something. Start speaking about that topic, whatever it is. Keep reading about it. Offer your help when coworkers need advice in that category. Be the person they seek out when they have questions. That is a great way to prove your worth—by helping people first, showing off the genius you are will come naturally. 

Do you have any tips for self-promotion?