Toot Your Own Horn: The Art of Getting Noticed

Sure, we’ve all lamented that our bosses don’t understand all the intricacies and hard work involved in our complex jobs. But it’s definitely a problem when your manager doesn’t even know what you do. Jill, an executive with a large gaming company, recently called me frustrated that her new boss didn’t know anything about her responsibilities or contributions.

The company was preparing for a round of layoffs, and every position was under scrutiny. Because Jill had not made sure that other departments understood the details and importance of her role, and exactly what value she has been responsible for adding to the company’s bottom line, her position got a second look.

“Your previous supervisor was terrible at ensuring all departments knew what the other teams were up to,” explained her new boss, Matt, when he insisted that she create a bulleted list of her duties and responsibilities. “So it’s not really your fault.”

But what if Jill had taken responsibility for ensuring clear communication across departments? You cannot afford to assume that everyone knows your brilliance or, more importantly, the impact of your contributions to the mission and bottom line.

But it can be uncomfortable. “We’ve been told that modesty is a virtue, and that no one likes a braggart,” says Taylor, an exceptional editor I work with. “So while I can ramble all day about someone else’s strengths and accomplishments, talking at length about my own feels a little vain, even though I know on a rational level that it’s necessary for my own professional success.”

If you don’t bite the bullet and toot your own horn, you’re setting yourself up for a stalemate career rife with frustration. “When I’m going above and beyond and no one notices or, worse, thinks I’m not doing enough because they don’t understand all that is involved in my work, I start feeling resentful,” says Taylor.

It’s naive to just put your head down, work your butt off and think someone will notice and reward you with opportunities because you deserve it – even though you probably do. Your manager is busy with his or her own job and overseeing other reports (many who have no trouble saying, “Look what I did.”) Sure, most people value and respect modesty, but there’s a fine line between humble and invisible – between bragging and celebrating.

Jill’s position was ultimately determined unnecessary, and she was riffed. “I will never let anyone have the power to put me in this state of anxiety again. I was told my job was safe and now I am being forced out of a company I have served for more than nine years,” said Jill just hours after she received the news.

Moral of the story: Don’t wait until your job is on the line to toot your own horn a little!

Your Action Plan for Getting Noticed: 

  1. Communicate consistently. Ensure your leadership team knows you’re interested in stepping up. You could say something like, “I want you to know you can count on me. I’m prepared to take on challenging tasks and to do what’s necessary to see our team reach its goals.” We consistently buy from vendors who are consistent with their products and services. And leaders promote those who consistently raise their hands and say, “I’ll do it!”
  2. Spread the love. It’s better when someone else does the bragging for you, right? The best way to get others to sing your praises is to sing theirs. Make a habit of telling everyone how great your co-workers are and why – and they’ll reciprocate, at least over the long run. If you’re a leader, pointing out the successes of your team makes you shine too. If not, thanking others for their contributions to your success also gets the word out about your accomplishments. To celebrate the inclusion of my book on the Washington Post best-seller list, I`m throwing a party for the many generous people who have helped me along the way.
  3. Shout it out. On a recent call with a colleague, I felt like recording her just so others could hear how she shares about herself. As CEO of a transportation company, mother of two beautiful young girls, a wife and so much more, Kris leads a busy life. She understands the importance of ensuring others know about her success; if she doesn’t share, who will? “Did I tell you that XYZ organization recently awarded me for my community leadership? Oh, and another organization has named me CEO of the year. And, can you believe this: A local high school class asked me to help them create a business plan!” Yes, Kris, I can believe it! Rather than thinking her arrogant, I felt even more respect and appreciation for her – for her willingness to admit (and be proud of) her awesomeness.
  4. Upgrade. It’s easy to become stagnant. Regardless of how perceivably busy you are, it’s essential to consistently look for new opportunities to advance your skills and experiences. What new skills have you acquired in the past year? What experiences have you actively sought out?

What are you communicating (or not) with your leadership team or, just as importantly, with those who could help you get more business? Do your colleagues, friends and family know about your successes? Do they know how you want to evolve in your career or what clients you want to attract (so they can provide referrals)? Do you?

I would love to hear your answers to these questions and what it feels like as you step up.

Rock on!

Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers To Bloggers

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