How do you tell your boss how great you are without bragging? The Engineering Management Institute’s Anthony Fasano has four suggestions.
4 Tips to Overcome Self-Promotion Phobia
May 18, 2021
by Michael Abrams
Though we live in a world where it sometimes seems that every last one of us is clamoring for more clicks, likes, and comments, not everyone is comfortable with self-promotion. When annual evaluation time rolls around, many engineers shrink from properly tooting their own horns. Bragging is anathema to them, and they hope that the quality work they do will speak for itself.
Chances are, it won’t.
“What a lot of people don’t realize in their careers, is that the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” said Anthony Fasano, founder of the Engineering Management Institute, where he strives to help engineering professionals advance their careers. “When you speak up, odds are you’re going to get promoted, you’re going to get more of a chance to get what you want in your career.”
Though any employee of any industry is likely to benefit from turning a spotlight on their achievements, engineers, on the whole, may be more hesitant to do so than others. “Many engineers don’t do it for obvious reasons,” said Fasano. “They’re introverted, feel like they’re bragging, and don’t want to push the company too much.”
1. It’s Not Actually about You
Luckily, Fasano, has a method to allow them to overcome this resistance. “What I always tell people is it’s really better to just talk about the value that you’ve driven that has helped the company. This way you can do it in a way where you can talk about your own achievements, but you’re also bringing them back to the success of the company. Because at the end of the day, that’s what the company cares about.” In fact, outright bragging isn’t going to help as much as couching your successes in terms of what’s been good for the company.
In other words, it’s what you should be doing anyway. No matter what the achievement, it’s always better to show employers where the value is for them, rather than just crowing about it. “There has to be a mechanism to tie it back to the company’s success or else they’re not going to be interested, quite frankly,” said Fasano. “If you get your engineering license, say, over a course of a year, then you can pitch it as ‘It’s going to allow me to take on larger more profitable projects for the company.’ So now they’re seeing your license as a vehicle for them to make more money, and not just you saying ‘I got my license so I should get rewarded.’”
2. Imagine Having to be Your Own Boss
Another way of getting over self-promotion phobia, is to recognize that you’re doing your company a favor by showing them what you’ve accomplished. The gears of promotion run more smoothly when your supervisors know what you’ve been up to. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, put yourself in their shoes, said Fasano.
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“You would want to be able to make those evaluations effectively. So you almost need to let them know of your development path and your progress so that they know if they need to help you, how you’re doing, and if you have the support you need," added Fasano.
3. Give Them Your Evaluation Early
But no matter what spin you give your deeds, when you submit is crucial. And that doesn’t mean the day your evaluation is due. “Most engineers are too busy, and they fill it out last minute,” said Fasano. “But most managers are too busy too, and they tend to just maybe read it a few minutes before the review. What happens then is that none of what you’ve accomplished was considered for your raise or promotion. It’s already been decided when they sit down with you.”
To make those accomplishments matter, Fasano recommends submitting the annual questionnaire or report at least 30 days before the review. That will give supervisors time to reflect on what you’ve done over the year and how your salary should be adjusted accordingly. It also means that, if they think you should change the way you’ve presented yourself, they can let you know.
4. Keep Talking
Of course, good reviews and promotions are more likely to come your way if you know what you need to do to get them. And that only happens through communication. “I’m a big proponent of asking,” said Fasano. “Like: ‘I want to achieve associate principal, what do I need to do to do that?’ If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you are partially responsible for not being in that position. If you want to get somewhere, you have to understand the parameters around you, what it’s going to take, execute on it.” Engineers can’t assume that their supervisors know instinctively what their goals are. Some engineers, for instance, want to stay technical and have no interest in going into management.
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Ultimately, the best way to promote yourself without bragging is also the best way to move forward in your career. “The bottom line is to drive value for other people,” added Fasano. “If you do that, you’ll bring success to your clients, supervisors, your company, your department, your division, your team. You can’t go wrong because no one would want you to go anywhere else.”
Michael Abrams is a technology writer based in Westfield, N.J.