How to sell yourself with subtlety

How to sell yourself with subtlety

Good or bad, we live in a world where we need to make the effort to promote our personal brands. We need to advertise our skills and capabilities, and ensure that we stand out in a competitive workplace. Getting the tone wrong can mean coming across as a braggart or a bore. But selling yourself effectively is easier than you might think.


Twitter has triggered a new phrase: “the humble brag”. The idea is to say something boastful on social media, but to word it in a way that sounds self-effacing or humble, while still leaving no one in any doubt about your achievement. As in: “I can’t believe I won CIO of the year at the awards last night. I don’t know why they think I deserve it.”

Look up from the spreadsheet

Ironically, most people find humble brags more irritating than outright boasts. But the phenomenon goes to the heart of a feeling that may be familiar to many CIOs: while many people in customer-facing roles such as sales do not hesitate to shout from the rooftops about their achievements, operational folk in functions such as IT tend to worry about appearing big-headed.

This is a generalization, of course, so apologies if you don’t fit the stereotype. But if you do, get over it.

For one thing, the rest of the C-suite doesn’t want a shy, retiring CIO who won’t look up from the spreadsheet. They want articulate, confident all-rounders who can make meaningful contributions to strategic decision-making, while making sure the technical stuff works too. You need to be able to tell them that’s who you are.

Sell, sell, sell

Remember, running any business function is, in part, a sales job. The company has limited resources and, to win IT’s fair share of them, you’ve got to be able to sell yourself and the rest of the department. You’ve got to learn to be visible internally and externally. It’s ok to be selfish in this case: CIOs are also ambitious and self-promotion is one way of getting ahead. So how do you do it?

  • Start by shedding your inhibitions. Accept that, done with tact, self-promotion is both justifiable and desirable for the CIO and the whole IT department. The rest of the business needs to understand IT’s contribution, and your team needs to feel appreciated.
  • Think carefully about the successes that you want to highlight to colleagues and superiors. Focus on outcomes that are likely to be appreciated across the enterprise. Technical achievements may go over people’s heads. Talk about what you did rather than how you did it.
  • The medium is as important as the message. Take opportunities to share good news as they present themselves. This can be done through chance encounters and casual conversations, but you should also be proactive. Don’t be afraid to tell peers and superiors when you’ve got something positive to say. However, stress the importance of achievements for the business as a whole.
  • Tailor the message to the recipient. The marketing department may be impressed by your citation in the press, for example, whereas the CFO will prefer to hear that your upgrade project has come in on budget.
  • Think about who gets the message, both inside and outside the business. If there are opportunities to promote yourself to competitors, recruiters, suppliers and customers, then take them – carefully.
  • Look to make your case through the media. Articles, interviews and conference appearances can all be useful opportunities, but be careful to share the credit and make the case for the company as a whole.
  • When praise comes your way, share it. Where appropriate, forward positive feedback from customers, colleagues and others to relevant figures elsewhere in the business.

Finally, remember the old adage that there is no I in team. One effective form of self-promotion is to talk about the success of the department rather than the individual – as long as no-one is left in any doubt about who led IT to such triumphs, of course.

Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.


3 thoughts on “How to sell yourself with subtlety

    1. I am sorry to hear that you found this a little boring to read. We are always open to ideas on how to jazz things up.

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