Among the saddest words I hear from people whose careers have stalled is “I think my good work should speak for itself.”

NOoooo! Please, don’t delude yourself. We may wish it were so, and perhaps it should be that way, but it is not. Executives are too busy, and the competition is too stiff. Someone who isn’t able to demonstrate the impact of their work and discuss confidently what they bring to the table is going to be overlooked.

Many people have told me “I can’t be a self-promoter – I am not a salesperson.” If you think about the profession of a sales person, it’s certainly true that some people don’t see themselves in a stereotypical sales role. That’s understandable from one point of view, but from another perspective aren’t we all salespeople?

Our very first job in life is selling ourselves. From the power of a smile, or the impact of a shriek, we learn very early on how to affect others, how to move them to action, & how to meet their needs. A baby laughs and gets reinforcement from the gleeful expressions of the adults around her. A toddler points at a desired toy, and with a beaming smile says, “Pleeeeeease, grandma?” A pre-teen becomes sweet as honey just before she asks her parents for that cell phone she absolutely has to have. Learning from the reactions we get, we begin to understand the power of positive and negative communication, and the different ways people respond based on our actions. Each of these experiences is a different form of selling ourselves.

Knowing how to sell yourself is at the core of a good career strategy. Whether you are looking for more responsibility, a promotion, or actively engaged in a job search, selling yourself is key.

What’s puzzling is that this concept makes perfect sense intellectually, yet many of us are still highly uncomfortable with it in practice. Even the expression “self-promotion” has a negative connotation. Why? Perhaps “bragging” or talking about ourselves was discouraged growing up. Maybe the insecurities of our younger selves led to gloating that was over the top and resulted in a bad reaction or accusations of being self-centered or arrogant. Or, we grew up in a community where anyone who stood out became a subject of ridicule or teasing. Regardless, the unfortunate result is that some of us are reluctant to do the very things we must do to if we want to have opportunities for career growth.

If you suffer from this inhibition, here are four ways to get more comfortable about selling yourself:

  1. Be absolutely clear about your skills and abilities. Make a comprehensive list of your accomplishments and practice discussing them with a trusted friend. S/he will tell you if you sound like you are confident (what you’re aiming for) vs. bragging.
  2. Stop interrupting the recognition when you receive it. If you find yourself saying “it really wasn’t a big deal,” or “Susan did most of the work,” thinking you must be humble, STOP IT now. Practice saying “Thank you, I worked hard on that, I really appreciate your comments.”
  3. When submitting a finished product or report – include your analysis and make suggestions even if that was not part of the assignment. It doesn’t have to be formal. It could be something as simple as “As I was putting these numbers together, I noticed X. We might be able to impact that if we did Y.”
  4. Think about what you offer that others may not. Then practice this “I’m certain you have many very good candidates, who may be equally well qualified. What I can offer in addition meeting the job requirements, is X.” X can be your enthusiasm, or reliability, or persistence – a personal quality that’s highly desirable and hard to find.

Humility is a good value and has its place. But if you are seeking to advance your career, now is not the time to be modest, or self-effacing. Go sell yourself!