Monthly Archive for May, 2004

Nothing Happens Until You Sell Yourself

A well-worn adage advises that we have only to invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to our doors, bearing recognition and riches. Forget it! That may have been good career guide when it was first given in the mid-1800s, but it falls far short for the truly ambitious careerist who is out to win in the clutter and clamor of today’s intensely competitive world.

Job Tip: If you are content simply to build a better mousetrap and sit back waiting for the buyers (bosses, customers and clients) to come calling, you are likely to end up with a shelf full of unused traps.

The harsh reality is that there is a great deal of parity among people who possess the know-how to provide profitable ideas, products and services.

The fact that you have invented the better mousetrap is only the first step toward career success. Until those people, who are empowered to make buying decisions, are aware of your mousetraps and decide to choose you as the supplier, you will be spinning your wheels, waiting vainly for success.

Self-promotion is a delicate matter with which few people are comfortable. It is a difficult subject to discuss objectively. The idea generates a knee-jerk reaction: “I’d be too embarrassed to promote myself, even if I wanted to. Besides, my work speaks for itself.”
Sometimes our hesitancy grows out of peer pressure. “Don’t raise your own flag too high above the rest of us,” the group says. “We’ll all be put on the spot. We may have to perform up to a higher standard.”

This is a counterproductive attitude except for those who are willing to lag behind, protecting their flanks by holding others back.

Overt braggarts are certainly pains in the neck. Braggadocio will usually backfire. On the other hand, doing a good job, consistently, and letting the world know about it in appropriate ways is an essential to success.

Career Tip: Think Of Yourself As A Can Of Soap

This means thinking objectively of yourself and what you have to offer as a product – a valuable one – to be sold.

For example, picture yourself as a can of soup. Sell your attributes. Flavor, nutrition, competitively priced and presented in an attractive package in the appropriate environment at the most advantageous time. Determine the most effective selling messages. Repeat the message, time and time again, at every appropriate opportunity.

In other words, you need to create and execute your own public relations marketing plan.

Here are six career tips that will help you speed up your trip along the career path:

(1) First, be absolutely sure that your performance deserves recognition and reward. The facts must sustain the claim.

(2) Be sure your boss knows what you are accomplishing. He may be taking you for granted. At every appropriate opportunities, let the rest of the organization in on your story,as well. Submit progress reports in writing. Remember, “carbon copies.” Use them often, but judiciously.

Don’t do what I saw Howard S. do during a “show and tell” session where our boss, the CEO of American Express, liked to have his direct reports review their activities.

When the boss asked Howard, “What’s been going on with you the past week,” the senior vice president reported he had dinner the night before with the Finance Minister of Germany.

The CEO, in fact, all of us were duly impressed.

Howard was awarded an “atta-boy” by the chairman. “The rest of you should take a lesson from Howard,” the CEO admonished.

As we left the meeting, one of the other participants pulled me aside. “That Howard is a piece of work. I also had dinner last night with the Finance Minister of West Germany…along with about 350 others in the main ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria.”

Howard was widely known for such shenanigans. Needless to say such actions didn’t enhance his reputation with his peers, even if they did with the boss.

(3) Be visible throughout the organization. Seek opportunities to work with other departments. Make contacts and friends. Let them know what you do. Volunteer to lead the interdepartmental task forces. Use your expertise to help others. You and the person you help will benefit and you will have spread the message of your assets.

(4) If your organization maintains a communications or public relations office, get to know the people who work there. Help them. When they see you as a willing and knowledgeable source, they are more likely to publicize the work you and your team are doing.

(5) Get active in trade associations, civic clubs and public service activities. With your employer’s permission, make speeches and write articles for the trade press and general news media. Be a reliable source for the media.

Everybody wins. Your employer basks in the sunlight of your achievements. You gain visibility and contacts. You polish your skills and talents.

(6) If you have done a job alone, don’t hesitate to accept the credit. “Aw shucks” won’t get it. Be just as quick to share the accolades when there is a team effort. Credits accrue for wise leadership, too.

If you are still reluctant to promote your wares, ask yourself these questions:

If you have something of benefit to provide, don’t you owe it to those who depend on you, to your employer and to yourself to let the rest of the world know about it? Are you on an ego trip if you sit back and expect the world to beat a path to your door? Whose interests are being served in this mode?

How many mice will you have helped to eliminate from the world if you build a better mousetrap, but nobody buys one because they don’t know about its value?