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How to Toot Your Own Horn (Even When You’re Super Modest)

Topics: Career Advice
toot your own horn

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet supportive people throughout your career. These folks will help shine a light on you when you deserve it, making sure that higher-ups know what you’ve accomplished.

But you won’t have your cheering squad behind you at every job. To make sure that your bosses — and their bosses — know your value, you’ll have to get used to tooting your own horn.

If the thought of that makes you queasy, rest assured that highlighting your accomplishments doesn’t have to mean loud bragging in meetings and endless self-promoting team emails. It’s simply a matter of learning to recognize when you’ve achieved something important … and then getting used to making sure that other people notice, too.

Here’s how to do it:

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1. Track Your Accomplishments on the Regular

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Don’t wait until the end of the year — or even the end of the quarter — to tally up your wins. Get in the habit of tracking your accomplishments on a frequent basis — say, once a week. Otherwise, you’re likely to forget what you’ve achieved.

“We often get caught up in the day-to-day tasks at hand — we check one thing off our to-do list and move right on to the next,” writes Ronda Suder at TopResume. “Month after month goes by and we know we’ve accomplished a lot, but it’s hard to remember what all of those work accomplishments were when it’s time to look back. Or, alternatively, time goes by and we feel like we haven’t accomplished much, when in reality, we’ve done a lot more than we realize.”

Friday afternoon is a good time to record your accomplishments, because you’re probably winding down at work anyway. If you can use those last few hours of the day to look back on this week, you’ll be that much more prepared to shine next week.

2. Let the Data Do the Bragging

Afraid you’ll sound like you’re making a big deal out of nothing? Lean on the data. It’s the best way to make your case, whether you’re asking for a raise or angling to be part of an exciting new project.

Numbers are persuasive. Saying you increased sales by 15% last quarter is more convincing — and less showoff-y — than saying that you’re killing it with cold calls lately. Data is especially helpful when you’re measuring your achievements for annual reviews or other regular check-ins. It might even help you get your next job — or a raise or promotion at this one.

Relying on data also helps you avoid a common professional trap: using emotion to make your case in a business setting. For example, if you’re negotiating salary, it’s never persuasive to tell your manager that you need to make more money because your personal expenses went up. You’re better off coming to the table with salary data. (Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get a free salary report in minutes.)

3. Start With the Obvious Times and Places

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Shy about showing off? Begin by talking yourself up where and when it’s expected:

  • Your one-on-ones with your manager
  • Your annual review
  • After a big, successful project rollout

The first two types of meetings are the easiest times to toot your own horn, because they’re about you and your progress toward your goals. If you can’t say something good about yourself at these meetings, when can you? Best of all, your manager will expect you to bring successes to their attention at these times, so you won’t feel like you’re derailing the conversation and making it all about you.

Use your one-on-ones for practice, and let your enthusiasm guide you. What achievements make you proud? Remember that your manager shares in your success, so telling them what you’ve accomplished is giving them a chance to shine, too.

Your annual review is perhaps the most obvious opportunity to brag a little: you’re there to check in, and if you have something good to say, so much the better.

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy your successes as you achieve them. When a big project rolls out, it’s not self-congratulatory to say, “Hey, my (or our) idea really worked! I’m so excited to see it in action.”

Bottom line: people like people who are passionate about what they do. If you express pride in an authentic way, your boss and teammates will feel buoyed as well.

4. Recognize Your Expertise

Are you modest to a fault? If you underrate your own abilities, it’ll be hard for anyone else to recognize them. Give yourself credit for your expertise.

At Career Contessa, Kit Warchol writes:

You know more than you think you do. This is one of those universal, yet elusive, truths. Maybe you have a few years of experience working in your field. Maybe you’re an obsessive reader about your industry. Maybe you’re just really good at working with people, regardless of the jobs you’ve had. All that is to say, you are—or can become—an expert in something. Start speaking about that topic, whatever it is. Keep reading about it. Offer your help when coworkers need advice in that category. Be the person they seek out when they have questions. That is a great way to prove your worth—by helping people first, your genius will follow naturally.

5. Boost the Team


Are these tips making you cringe so far? If you really can’t see yourself bragging about your accomplishments — even in an understated and totally professional way — you might consider making your boasts more about the group than about you as an individual.

Having a communal concern is one way to deal with the problem of negotiating while female, as Stanford management professor Margaret A. Neale tells Vicki Slavina at The Muse:

One thing I would encourage women to do is to have a communal motivation for asking for more. If I’m a man and I’m negotiating a salary, I can talk about my competencies. What women need to do is yolk their competencies with a communal concern.

When I interviewed at Stanford, I obviously knew this research, so I did a lot of research to frame how my package of resources could allow me to fulfill the needs that Stanford has. The whole theme was, “What can I do for Stanford and what can I do to help the Dean solve the problems that he has?” This communal orientation—it’s not about me, but it’s about what I can do for you—mitigates the negative reputational affects for women.

Thinking of asking for a raise? PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide will help you build your strategy and make your case.

6. Get Other People to Brag for You

Another option: let other people do your PR and do the same for them. This is especially valuable for people who cope with bias at work.

At The Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin explains how female staffers in the first-term Obama administration found ways to boost each other’s voices in male-dominated meetings:

Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.

7. Deal With Your Fear of Success

Sometimes, fear of tooting your own horn is just modesty — and sometimes, it’s a deeper-rooted problem. If you find yourself reluctant to “show off,” even if all you’re doing is telling the literal truth about your accomplishments and how they’ve helped the organization, it’s worth investigating your motives.

“Success means change (even if it’s the change you always wanted),” writes James Sudakow, author of Out of the Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search for the Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance, at Inc. “If you try something and fail, you go back to what you knew. You may not be happy about it, but you go back to your comfort zone.”

Sound familiar? If so, consider whether you’re holding back because you’re afraid to be noticed, to succeed … and then to experience change.

8. Don’t Be Obnoxious

Finally, it’s worth saying that there’s such a thing as overdoing the self-promotion game. Remember, the sweet spot is that place of enthusiasm, excitement and passion for your work.

And don’t highlight your accomplishments by comparing yourself to other people on your team. Bragging about yourself by dunking on others is not a good strategy. For one thing, no one succeeds alone — annoy your coworkers and you could find yourself without people in your corner the next time you need them.

So, go ahead and tell people about the good things you’re doing. Just don’t step on your colleagues while you’re doing it.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you learned how to brag a little — and achieve a lot in your career? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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