Published 7 June 2018 by Alaina G. Levine
Self-Promotion: The Right Way
Self-promotion is a necessary and honourable action in career development, no matter which career path you choose. But unfortunately, many people, including scientists, think that self-promotion is not professional, is equated with bragging, or involves lying or embellishing the truth. No one wants to hear you are awesome, right?
You must champion your own value. You must communicate what problems you can solve for another party if you are going to advance in your field and career. And quite frankly, you must share how you can contribute value to the profession and to humanity’s grand challenges if you are going to follow the Lindau leitmotif of Educate, Inspire, and Connect.
There is nothing wrong with self-promotion, if you do it appropriately. Most likely you are already promoting yourself – in fact, many of your outputs that naturally are associated with being a technical professional are self-promotional in nature. For example,
- If you have written a published paper (or aspire to do so)
- If you have given a talk in “public”, i.e., to at least one other person
- If you have applied for a job
- If you have served on a committee
- If you have introduced yourself to someone
- If you have done anything that demonstrates to members of the public, and more specifically to your community, your brand (your promise of value), expertise, excellence, skills, talents and so on, you are already doing self-promotion.
Networking itself is a self-promotional activity – you are introducing yourself and your brand to someone new, discussing ways in which you can exchange value, and looking to solve problems utilising your mutual talents. To do this, you have to talk about yourself.
And let’s say you author a grant proposal. Do you write in the proposal “my work is ho-hum, a bit on the boring side, but give me €5 Million”? No, of course not! You would write about how your work is important and relevant to the field, how the solution you propose could lead to a result that would make a specific impact in scholarship, and why the funding agency should invest in you. This grant proposal is a perfect example of appropriate and necessary self-promotion or marketing.
In fact, let me give you a very specific definition of self-promotion so you know exactly why it is so relevant to your career advancement.
- Authentically and truthfully
- Provides strategic information
- About your value
- In an appropriate form and ecosystem
- That encourages me to make a decision
- To engage you in some positive manner
Note the certain aspects of this definition and how it relates to you championing yourself to ensure you are able to find and nurture enriching, impactful collaborations:
- You always tell the truth about yourself and what you do – you don’t lie, you don’t embellish, but you do tell the full truth of the extent of your value.
- You always communicate something of value to the other party, such as a skill, problem-solving ability, or experience that will help the other party in some way.
- You always and only market yourself in an appropriate time and place and channel, i.e., you don’t go up to a laureate a say “I am awesome. hire me now!”
Interestingly, no matter what professional path you choose and no matter where you are in your career, you are always going to have to engage in appropriate self-promotion, to not only advance your goals but those of others as well. When you market your skills and abilities the right way, you find new partners, gain new perspectives and insights, develop novel solutions, and advance the mission of your colleagues, team and organisation. Self-marketing in a certain respect is a selfless act, because it shows the other party how you want to help them.
You may be curious to know what exactly you do market. There are a few elements of your brand to consider in effective self-promotion. For example, you could promote your:
- Expertise knowledge
- Problem-solving abilities
- Passion and enthusiasm
- Desire to advance the field
- Desire to advance the team’s mission
- Ambition to make an impact on the world
And now, how and where do you promote these talents and abilities? Here are a few of my favourite promotional platforms.
Giving a public talk is a significant element of establishing your brand and attitude and enhancing your reputation. The reason is simple – when someone gives a talk, the audience perceives that person to be an expert and a thought leader in the field. If they weren’t, why on Earth would they be speaking right now?
Offer to speak at conferences, workshops and meetings no matter how many people are attending. Offer to speak at campus venues such as journal clubs, student clubs, departmental meetings, department recruitment and outreach events, and of course in classes. Offer to speak in the community for volunteer associations associated with your industry and in meetings or at venues where you would like to infiltrate a specific network. And if you are uncomfortable speaking, seek out low stake environments first such as meetings within your own research group, where you can be comfortable practicing and gain valuable feedback on your delivery.
It is not enough to write peer-reviewed papers in journals. We want to expand your brand and amplify your reputation to new publics and new networks. And in addition, we want to gain new skills in communicating our scientific and engineering expertise to non-expert publics in a way that elucidates the thesis and makes them want to learn more and even advocate on behalf of the subject and the profession. So think beyond the journals and consider writing articles for your institution’s newspaper, newsletter or website; your local publications (like the regional business paper), including opinion pieces or guest columns relating your science and engineering background to local issues, such as business, education, the environment and politics; the membership publications of the associations to which you belong. Consider launching your own blog, too!
Join organisations, and volunteer for leadership and committee assignments and at conferences.
The goal here is to not only give you new skills, but to shine a light on your existing brand for those in your industry to see. When you serve on a committee, people get a chance to see how you work, what qualities you have and how your attitude manifests itself. So it gives them a glimmer into how you might be as a long-term partner, either in an employment scenario or in another career context, and thus it is a very valuable self-promotion opportunity. It also gives you the chance to do some high impact networking with the other committee members.
Apply for awards
Awards are an important element of being a professional. Winning awards and honours signals to others in your community that you are a success and that your brand is one of true excellence. Awards can open doors to new career opportunities, especially those that are hidden, and can greatly help you expand your networks.
Promote your honour
When you win an award and you appropriately promote the achievement, it can serve as a conversation starter and a way to connect with new contacts or reconnect with current contacts. For example, in 2012, when I won a journalism fellowship to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I used that piece of information as a way to follow up with contacts with whom I hadn’t spoken recently. I wrote them emails with “great news” in the subject line and emailed them about the wonderful bulletin that I had received this award and felt humbled to be able to attend such a prestigious event. Almost everyone I wrote to emailed me back offering congratulations and asked to be told when my articles from the fellowship would be published so they can read them.
Be active on social media
Use channels like LinkedIn, which is designed for the express purpose of networking and self-promotion, to communicate your achievements in such a way that the public understand this is valuable information and that it can be helpful to them. When you win the Nobel Prize, for example (or two), or know that you have been selected to go to Lindau (#LINO18), you can share this on your LinkedIn profile and feed – this is a true honour, and it demonstrates how talented you are that you have been chosen. It is a credential that will stay with you for the rest of your life and will serve as a way for potential collaborators and employers to know that you could be an important contributor to their team.
The key to conducting appropriate, professional and respectful (for all parties) self-promotion is to be mindful of the cultural norms in which you are operating and consider how the information you are sharing with the other party can make their life easier and help them solve their problems better. Everyone has problems they are trying to solve in their professional circumstances. And if you appropriately market yourself as a problem-solver and a value-addition, you will be seen as a valuable team-member. This will lead to job and career opportunities for both you and your team. And it will certainly lead to a more fulfilling professional experience for everyone!
Author’s Note: Excerpts and some of these concepts have appeared in other works by the author, including her book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), career columns in Physics Today and other publications.