Working smart: promote yourself

If you don't toot your own horn, who will?

The need to network broadly is obvious to the job seeker but networking within your organization is just as important for the gainfully employed. Excellent performance is not enough; you need to distinguish yourself in the office to earn promotions and recognition or, in some cases, avoid a layoff. Don't wait for others to notice what you do well. Proactively market yourself and your skills to demonstrate and articulate why you are a value-added and indispensable team member.

Be visible

Get to know your colleagues on your team and in other practice groups, and as many of the group leaders and managing partners as possible. If your firm has far-flung offices, do your best to work on matters and interact with attorneys in other locations. Take advantage of every legitimate opportunity to have face time with your supervising attorneys and other decision-makers in the firm. Doing good work is a given; the more people know you, and are aware of your projects and results, the better the chances of your name being suggested when opportunities for interesting work arise.

Teamwork affords an opportunity to connect with people from other practice groups and offices. Display a willingness to pitch in with even the less attractive tasks to help the group achieve its collective goals. Volunteering underscores your value to the firm, positively promotes your personal "brand," and creates your visible and long lasting reputation as a loyal and reliable professional.

Keep anyone in a position to help you move ahead updated on current and planned projects. If working remotely, create a regular "status update" memo, which helps those in other locations keep track of your progress and performance. Be sensitive to your firm's organization. Don't copy the managing partner on your status reports if your practice group leader is in charge of work assignments. On the other hand, don't think that communicating via e-mail replaces the need to talk with people directly. Personally connecting with others in today's highly automated and technological environment will help differentiate you from the crowd.

Participate on committees and share your ideas in strategy sessions, displaying your knowledge base, expertise and achievements. Make presentations or volunteer to train others. Write articles for your firm's newsletter or client publications. Make sure your practice group leader and supervising partner get copies of any successes, e.g., favorable rulings, client thank you letters, and the like. If you're actively involved in bar association, community or outside professional events, let the firm know by disseminating your articles or presentation notices to all appropriate partners or senior attorneys in your firm.

Be prepared

The chance to make a great impression in your organization can arise at unexpected times such as during the proverbial elevator ride, when you are a new member of a team, or during a formal meeting or chance encounter. It's important to be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities to promote yourself succinctly and effectively.

Develop a short message that grabs attention, says a lot in a few words and is unforgettable. You don't want a typical elevator speech, however, which states in 30 to 60 seconds what service you provide, with and for whom, then lists a few benefits or examples, and ends with some sort of call to action. Save those for job search or business development pitches. In the typical day-to-day interaction, that's too long and contains too much information, and is too obviously self-serving. Use a more targeted, abbreviated statement for self-promotion within your firm.

Focus on your core points in a way that makes your colleagues want to know more about you. Ask yourself: What are my key strengths? What do I want others to know about me? How would I describe myself and what do I have to offer? What problems can I solve and what benefits do I bring to the workplace? How does that set me apart from the crowd? Jot down the answers to these questions to distill your value proposition. Then, create a two- to three-sentence statement. Start with a compelling "hook," an intriguing aspect that will engage the listener, prompt him or her to ask questions, and keep the conversation going. Perhaps you can mention a recent success that demonstrates your creativity in solving a problem or achieving results for a client.

Then, practice, out loud, in front of a mirror or friends who will give objective, constructive feedback. You want to convey your passion for what you do, yet aim to sound effortless, conversational and natural, not canned or stilted. You don't need to recite your statement verbatim every time, but know it well enough to express your key points in a variety of situations. While your core message stays the same, you can tweak the content to suit specific audiences and situations. The specifics will evolve over time as you and your expertise continue to expand and change.

Similarly, when someone asks you, "How's it going?" this is an opportunity to mention your accomplishments. Describe with genuine pleasure any recent triumph, big or small, along with your contributions and the result. If not asked, weave your achievements into conversation, when appropriate. A short, interesting, and possibly humorous, story makes the most impact. Furthermore, learn to accept compliments gracefully. An "aw, shucks" or "it was no big deal" negates the compliment and may call the giver's judgment into question. Simply say "thank you" and shut your mouth.

Share the glory

When you praise others, your comments about yourself don't seem out of place. (But don't pay tribute when it isn't warranted -- you'll appear insincere.) Listen to and acknowledge your co-workers' ideas, and commend them when appropriate. Never take sole recognition for a team effort. Cite those who have helped create successes, including superiors, co-workers, and subordinates. Sharing accolades will open the door for your teammates to call attention to your contributions as well, and ultimately, will further your career growth. Whenever possible, strive to create win-win situations with your horn-tooting efforts by including others in the activities and praise, thereby branding yourself as a winner.

(Published by Guardian - February 7, 2011)

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