Why You Need to Toot Your Own Horn at Work, with Dan Rust

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

This is “Find Your Dream Job”, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, our managing director, and Jenna Forstrom, our community manager. This week, we’re talking about why you need to toot your own horn at work.

Our show is brought to you by “Hack the Hidden Job Market”, the new online course from Mac’s List that starts November 1st. As many as eight out of ten job openings never get advertised. Is your dream job one of them? Learn how to uncover hidden jobs and get noticed by the hiring managers who fill them. Visit macslist.org/course.

For many of us, it might difficult to tell others at work about our accomplishments. Because of modesty, shyness, or just plain discomfort, we often stay silent about what we’ve done for our employer. That’s a mistake, says this week’s guest expert, Dan Rust. I talk to him about how you can promote yourself at work without coming across like Donald Trump.

Through a typical work year, you probably send reports, make presentations, and crank out emails that show the results you’re producing. Ben has an online tool that lets you collect and track these accomplishments. He’ll share it with you after the break. Our listener question this week comes from Brenda Somes.

She wonders how to get the attention of an employer who may think she’s overqualified for a job. Jenna tells Brenda what she might do next. First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Jenna and Ben, I’m curious. When did you two first learn the value of self promotion in the workplace?

Jenna Forstrom:

Like almost everything I reference on this podcast, I learned the value of self promotion with my first job where I was a lifeguard. Just because I think it was intrinsic to being a sixteen year old and being eager and having your first job and just always being like, “I cleaned the bathroom. What can I do next? I checked all the first aid kits. What can I do next?”, I’m the eager beaver kind of character and was just always about telling my boss what I had done so that I could have another task and because I don’t like being bored. That helped. Ben? How about you?

Ben Forstag:

Well, the whole tooting my own horn thing has always been something I struggle with and I’ll blame my modest Midwest background. I was always taught, “Just keep your nose to the ground. Work hard. Hard work will show off on its own. That speaks for itself.” I think my first real job that I had is an adult working in an office and part of the yearly review, the boss, my manager would say, “So what have you done for us this year?”

We really had to itemize how we helped the organization achieve its mission. That made me really stop and think about like, “Okay, here’s what I really actually did this year.” Not the tasks as described on my job description or what I did on a day-to day basis, but what are the big rocks that I’ve accomplished over the past year. That’s really helped me moving forward in all kinds of organizations.

Mac Prichard:

I think you were lucky to learn that lesson earlier in your career. It took me awhile before it really sank in to learn the value of tooting your own horn. I went through a job reclassification when I was with a nonprofit in my mid-twenties and my position actually got lowered in terms of the hierarchy. I didn’t have the facts I needed at hand to demonstrate. Both my accomplishments and the level of responsibility I was functioning at.

That was an important lesson and it’s one that I’ve kept in mind in the years that have followed. All right. Well, let’s turn to Ben who is out there every week exploring the internet on your behalf. He’s looking for books, websites, and other tools you can use in your job search and your career. Ben, what have you uncovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

Today’s show is all about how to talk about your own accomplishments at work. When I was thinking about this show, it actually reminded me of a blog post that showed up on the Mac’s List website a couple years ago. It was titled something along the lines of “Things That the Recently Unemployed Wish They Knew”. One of the ones was, “I wish I’d kept track of my accomplishments.” Right?

When you have to sit down and write that resume out, if you haven’t kept track of what you’ve been doing, the things that you’ve really accomplished, you have to hope that you have a really good memory or it takes a lot of digging to go back and find out like, “How much did I actually increase sales in 2012 to 2013?” Right? You can probably do it, but it’s a whole lot easier if you keep track of these things as you’re going.

My resource this week is actually a blog post from the website, livecareers.com. It’s called “Tools and Techniques for Brainstorming and Tracking Accomplishments”. This is a very, very long blog post and that’s because there’s a lot of good information there. The author just has all these different techniques you can use for either tracking accomplishments as they happen or if you need to, go back and find accomplishments that happened in the past.

Just some of the high-level suggestions or sub-headers this person suggests, she offers some journaling techniques, techniques for using web apps and other software, some cloud-based apps as well. Some low-tech techniques, things like just simple list making, using Excel documents, portfolio documents, things like that, and techniques that integrate feedback from others, so building processes in place where you’re basically asking other people, “Tell me about the accomplishments that you’ve seen me achieve” so that you can document those and keep those in your own little personnel file.

Finally, also some tools for mining documents including e-documents for accomplishments that you’ve had. Really thorough post. I got a lot of great ideas from this, things that I’d never thought of before. I suggest that if you’re thinking about writing a resume, if you’re looking for a new job or even if you’re completely comfortable in your job and just want to make sure that you’re keeping track of everything you’re doing for that next annual review, check out this blog post. Again, it’s the “Tools and Techniques for Brainstorming and Tracking Accomplishments” and it’s available at livecareers.com. We’ll have the direct link in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Ben, what is the one tool that you will take away from that blog post? Again, I want our association to be a long one, so I hope you’re not out there updating your resume. We do have an annual review coming up in eleven months.

Ben Forstag:

Eleven short months. I thought there was a lot of good stuff there. I’m actually pretty happy with my system, which is definitely low-tech. I have a Google Doc that once a month when I go through and do our monthly budget calculations for the organization, if there’s a really good number that shows up there, I make sure that little stat gets pulled over into my private Google Doc. That’s a big bag of ammunition I’m going to throw at you at some point in the future, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

All right, I look forward to that. I have a fan mail folder. It’s very retro, but it’s a manila folder where I put notes that I receive as well as one in my email.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, that’s like soliciting accomplishment information from outside parties.

Mac Prichard:

Exactly.

Ben Forstag:

I think that speaks for itself as well because that way, it’s third-party validation, as we say. Other people are saying great things about you.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Well thanks, Ben. If you’ve got a tool for Ben that you’d like to share on the show, please write him. His address is ben@macslist.org. Now let’s turn to you, our listeners. Jenna is here to answer one of your questions. Jenna, what do you have from the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jenna Forstrom:

Today’s question comes from Brenda Somes. Her question is, “How does a super-qualified candidate get a serious employer to even talk to her?”, which is a great question like all of our questions that we talk about here on “Find Your Dream Job”. This tackles that overqualified theme that a lot of our listeners get that might be a little bit older and wiser in age and struggle with finding employment in the second half of their career.

My tips that I emailed to Brenda included, “Updating your LinkedIn.” I looked for her and couldn’t find her, so I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I just told her to make her profile more available so that people can look and find her, see who she is. Talk about all of her skillsets online. We talk a lot about having a good solid online profile, and then to attend networking events and make personal connections with people.

A lot of people want to hire someone that they have at least one thing in common with. Just getting out there, getting your name and your face above being just an email or a resume, is super cool. Then, just to be a problem solver. Talk about, when you are talking with potential employers, how your knowledge and wisdom can help you and help the company succeed in their growth or whatever that hiring manager’s looking to fulfill, so asking what their struggles are. Then, be a problem solver and offer solutions. Mac and Ben, do you have any other suggestions?

Ben Forstag:

Whenever I get this question, I get it a lot as well about the candidate feeling like they’re overqualified for the job and sometimes employers saying, “You’re overqualified for the job.” I think this is really something of a red herring where employers aren’t worried about you being overqualified. What they’re really worried about is your commitment to that specific position and I think your expectations in terms of compensation.

I think the employer in their mind if you look really overqualified for the position they’re hiring for, they think, “Well, this person doesn’t really want this job. They’re going to take it and then jump when they find something better, move on, and I’ll have to hire a new person.” Or they think, “I just simply won’t be able to afford this person, so I’m not even going to talk to them in the first place.”

I think the solution for both of those is being really clear. Probably the best place to do this if you can’t get a face-to-face is in your cover letter and expressing like, “This is the job I want and this is why I want this specific job. I’m not using this as a springboard to something else in six months.”

Also being very clear about what your salary expectations are. If you have salary expectations that are much, much above what the company is willing to pay, then you might be “overqualified” for that job. If you can make it clear “This is my salary expectation, which is very much in line with what you’re willing to pay and I’m really passionate about the job that’s on the table right now”, I think you can overcome that barrier of being “overqualified”.

Mac Prichard:

I think the key here is to tell your story. You’re right, Jenna. People have an opportunity to do that online through their LinkedIn profile or any other content they might want to create professionally that they share online. If you’re not doing that, if you don’t have a LinkedIn account or you’re not sharing professional information through a blog, those are missed opportunities.

I also think you’re right, Jenna, that it’s important to look for opportunities to talk to people directly. That’s another way to share your story. If you can’t do that, having a robust online presence is the bedrock minimum. I also agree through a cover letter, you have a third opportunity to tell that story about why you’re interested in a position and what your expectations are. The more you do that, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get an interview and you’ll have an opportunity to make your case face to face.

Great. Well, thank you for that question, Brenda, and we appreciate you reaching out to us. If you’ve got a question for Jenna, please email her at jenna@macslist.org or call our new listener line. That number is 716-JOB-TALK. Again, that’s 716-JOB-TALK. These segments with Ben and Jenna are sponsored by “Hack the Hidden Job Market”, the new online course from Mac’s List.

As many as eighty percent of all jobs never get posted. Instead, employers fill these openings by word-of-mouth. Our new course shows you how this hidden job market works. We’ll teach you how to find plum gigs that never appear on a job board – not even on Mac’s List – how to stand out online in a crowd of applicants, and how to connect with insiders who can help your career.

In each of the course’s twelve modules, you get the tools and tips you need to get the work you want, meaningful work, work that makes a difference, work that you can love. “Hack the Hidden Job Market” launches November 1st. Don’t wait, get updates and lock in the early bird price now. Go to macslist.org/course. Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Dan Rust.

Dan Rust is the founder of Frontline Learning, a publisher of corporate training resources. He regularly speaks on employee engagement, productivity, and career management. Dan’s also the author of a new book, “Workplace Poker: Are You Playing the Game, or Just Getting Played?” Dan, thanks for coming on the show.

Dan Rust:

Hey, great to be with you, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well, Dan, we’re going to talk about the workplace today and how people can get ahead. I think the first question that comes to many people’s mind is why can’t people just let their work alone speak for itself?

Dan Rust:

Well, I wish I could have a great answer for the why. What I can answer for sure is the fact that it is true that your work just does not speak enough for itself. It is the way of the world. Part of that may be because other people are self promoting more effectively. It may be because people in upper echelons aren’t really great at necessarily recognizing good work. It could be for all kinds of reasons.

In the world we live in and work in today, you just can’t assume that “If I keep my head down, my nose to the grindstone, if I just pump out the work that’s requested of me, that eventually my day will come.” Unfortunately what oftentimes happens is when that day comes where suddenly there’s a juicy promotion that’s available or there are layoffs and there are choices that have to be made regarding who stays and who goes, it’s true.

It’s not always the most talented or most effective who get the juicy promotions and it’s not always the least who end up being laid off … You’re never going to get away from the fact that self promotion and managing your career is part of your career. It’s not an extra thing that you have a choice of choosing to do or not do. You have to just get your head around the fact that you’re a mercenary and you’re in this to gain as much advantage as you can over the course of your career.

Mac Prichard:

Why don’t people do that, Dan? Why aren’t people talking about their work and their accomplishments?

Dan Rust:

There are certain personalities that are very comfortable with the self promotion, personalities like, love him or hate him, like Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s very comfortable promoting himself. I don’t really recommend Trump-ish self promotion because in the workplace for most normal human beings, it doesn’t really do any good.

I mean, can you imagine having a guy four cubes down who’s talking about his huge spreadsheets and all the great stuff that he’s doing, all everything he’s contributing day in and day out? It actually would work against him. Promotion in the workplace is much more subtle, much more genuine actually, and also much more positive.

Mac Prichard:

Dan, what do you recommend to the people you do work with about what they should do differently at work and what they should talk about?

Dan Rust:

I’ll give you some quick daily tips, things that I tell people, “This should just be part of your mindset throughout your normal work day.” When you are on conference calls, for example, there are going to be some calls. Where you’re required to be an active participant and there are oftentimes a lot of calls where you’re not where you could just sit and take notes and really no one is expecting you to share ideas or to have questions, you’re just there to absorb.

Those opportunities are still opportunities for you to promote yourself not by jumping in with irrelevant commentary. My approach is, “Don’t ever be anonymous. Don’t ever be a fly on the wall.” If I’m on a conference call, at some point, I’m going to ask a discerning question. I’m going to have an idea. I’m going to make my presence felt even if it’s as subtle as at the beginning of the call when there’s a little bit of chit-chat going on and we’re all. Waiting for everyone to log in to the call.

I’m going to chat with whoever’s on the line. I’m going to make some personal commentary. I’m going to ask them what’s going on in their world. I am going to make sure that people know I’m on this call and I’m an active presence on this call. You take that same philosophy and you apply it to business meetings. There are going to be a lot of meetings where you could, without anyone caring, just sit in the corner or sit at the table, take your notes, dutifully do your job, and no one’s going to notice that you walk out the door and never had said a word.

Don’t be anonymous. If you are in a meeting. And your brain is there in that room, then bring your brain into that room. Pay attention to what’s going on. Think through what are some discerning questions you could ask. Do you happen to have any ideas or insights? Even if they’re modest, even if people disagree. There’s been some research that shows the person who is willing to step forward with an unpopular idea, as long as they do it graciously, still walks away with a higher perception from other people than the person who didn’t step forward with that unpopular idea.

The worst thing that you can do is have ideas in your head and edit in your head and walk out the door without ever having shared even a smidge of the ideas that you’ve got in your head. Those are little moments that happen throughout a typical workday. Those are the real self promotion opportunities as opposed to the big, huge moments when you’re standing in front of a group of a hundred people beating your chest about something.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so be present, have ideas, share them, speak up at meetings. Take advantage of opportunities when you’re in situations with senior leaders. Don’t be invisible. Don’t treat them like they’re part of the wallpaper. Those are great tips. As you talked, I’ve done a lot of work over the years with foundations.

I remember. A woman who was at a panel on giving to the nonprofit world. She said that when she came to events, because she was a program officer at an organization that gave out money, people wouldn’t sit next to her and she wondered why and because she was eager to hear from people. There was a lost opportunity there.

Dan Rust:

Yes, Mac, it’s absolutely true that people in positions of power have this invisible bubble around them. You have to be a little cautious because some of them actually like the bubble and others don’t. As you spend time observing the people in positions of power and if you observe, to what degree do they have approachability? To what degree do they seem to be open to questions, dialogue, conversations?

It is a good idea to at least make an initial effort to crack through that bubble and then notice, “Oh.” If you notice that this is someone who really actually appears to be creating a bubble as big as possible because he just doesn’t want much interaction, fine. You recognize it and then you back away. It’s amazing how many of them are really yearning for any kind of honest, authentic engagement.

What they hate, what they absolutely hate, is when someone attempts to crack through the bubble and then immediately goes into an obvious self promotion stance because then it just feels like, “Oh, really? Another one of those? You’re working me?” You have to be very subtle and attentive to the dynamics with that particular person and not try too hard. Just the act of breaking through is in itself a good self promotion strategy.

The one thing I had said, I’ll just remind you, that when it comes to presenting ideas, don’t let the fact that you have an idea that isn’t fully formed or complete or that you have some uncertainties about. Don’t let that stop you from putting it out into the mix of dialogue or conversation. I saw a research study a couple of months ago that said when in a typical business environment, when someone proposes an incomplete idea and then others around them or in their working group begin to refine the idea and make it better, make it workable, make it more executable, sometimes the people around them who are making the idea workable actually put much more intellectual property into the process than the person who threw out the initial idea.

The person who gets the majority of credit for the ultimate execution, whatever that might be, is the person with the initial idea. Just be careful about being someone who does nothing but refine the ideas of others or acknowledge the ideas of others or reinforce the ideas of others. Those are all good things, I’m not saying you don’t ever do those, but to be valued in the workplace, you need to be bringing things to the table even if they’re only slightly formed. You can frame it up that way. You say, “I’ve got the inkling of an idea. I think there’s something here. Let me share this with you and see if we can bat it around and see if this might go anywhere.”

Mac Prichard:

Dan, one of the things I enjoyed about reading your book, it was full of practical ideas that people can use in the workplace. Let’s do a quick rapid-fire round. There are five tactics that you suggest and I want to ask you just quickly why they can make a difference. The first one is you suggest that people have a response to the question they might get from a boss about how things are going. Why should people say something more than “Great”?

Dan Rust:

Because what the boss typically hears from almost everybody is, “Hey, things are going great” or “Things are going good” or “I’m working really hard.” Again, one of the subtle things you want to do from a self promotion standpoint is separate yourself from the herd. If you have, at any given time, two or three bullet points in your head where you can share with the boss, “Here specifically is what we’re working on and how it’s intended to impact the business” or “Here specifically are some results we’ve recently produced”, they should be in areas that are obviously relevant to that boss.

The more closely you can tie those to, “Here’s how we’re helping the company make money. Here’s how we’re helping the company increase our brand awareness. Here’s how we’re helping save money or improve efficiencies”, the more you can tie them back to what are clearly priorities for the business, the more that’s going to resonate with the boss.

Mac Prichard:

The other four ideas you had. Why should people make the most of the annual review?

Dan Rust:

Okay, two quick reasons. Number one, there’s a lot of pressure on your manager who’s having to review four, five, six, sometimes twelve, thirteen, fourteen people. If you just leave it all up to them, it’s unfortunate, but it puts a huge weight on their shoulders and it ends up sub-optimizing the outcome for the review anyway.

Secondly, it’s the one opportunity for you to make your case. By bringing your evidence, and in the book “Workplace Poker”, I lay out exactly what kind of evidence you want to bring and the process you should go through, but you bring your case, your manager will actually appreciate it because you’ve saved her or him a huge amount of time and energy and you’ve reminded them of the things that you did twelve months ago, eleven, ten, nine, eight months ago that they’d be forgetting unless you brought it up.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, number three. “Make them see you sweat, but meet your deadline.” Tell us more about that, Dan. A couple sentences.

Dan Rust:

There are going to be times. I had a guy working for me who I loved his work because he delivered everything on time, on budget, everything well prepared, but he made it look so easy that I realized that people around him really didn’t appreciate how much time and energy and “sweat” he was putting into his output. It’s okay to use a little bit of theater.

I mean, if you’re someone who can put together a spreadsheet eight times faster than anybody else and so people tend to come to you to do this work because you’re so good at it, be cautious about the way that ends up being framed up for other people. The fact that you can do it so quickly and so perfectly and it seems to come so easy, if other people perceive it as being something that comes easy to you, then it diminishes the perceived value. Just understand, there’s a little bit of theater in business as well as doing the actual work.

Mac Prichard:

Number four. “Offer to help others and tell your boss.”

Dan Rust:

Without a doubt. First of all, sincerely offering to help others particularly in areas where you have expertise or you have capacity definitely help them. You don’t go to your boss and in a tattling sort of way, but at the appropriate point of. In time and in a gracious way, the words that I have found seem to work really well is, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know. Because I had a little extra time or capacity, I’ve been spending it helping so and so do this.”

“I wanted to check in with you because if there are other things that you’d rather I focus on, I can of course do that.” What you’ve done is you’ve checked in, you’ve let the boss know without it feeling like you’re tooting your horn, you’re just checking in to make sure that you’re focusing your time or your expertise in the areas that she or he really want you to.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, number five finally. “Promote others.”

Dan Rust:

Greatest strategy in the world. Do it sincerely. If you find ways to recognize the good work of other people, there will be a natural reciprocity where when your time comes and when you’re doing things, they will want to promote you. They will want to mention good things about you most of the time. I also say in the book, “Recognize the vampires, the people who suck it all out, but aren’t willing to give anything back.” You’ll have some of those in the workplace.

Over time, as you recognize the people who don’t reciprocate, fine. You set them aside. Initially, you have to start it off by just being willing to recognize that someone else put in extra effort or did something particularly well. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal, it’s just something that you mention in front of their boss or mention in an email, in a group email to other people that are important in the company. The more you become known as someone who celebrates others, the more the natural human reciprocity of wanting to celebrate you is going to take hold.

Mac Prichard:

Thank you, Dan. Tell us what’s coming up next for you.

Dan Rust:

Well, it’s really been interesting. Since I wrote “Workplace Poker” and the book was published a few months ago, I’ve had a huge number of people reach out to me to want to tell me their stories. The book is filled with stories of people and their challenging workplace situations and how they work their way through them. I’ve had people reaching out to me asking for advice and also just wanting to share their story. We’re not really sure what it’s going to ultimately look like, but it appears that the publisher and I, we’re going to come out with a second volume of stories regarding just certain workplace scenarios.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well thank you, Dan. To learn more about Dan, please visit his website. It’s workplacepoker.com and we’ll be sure to include that in the show notes. Dan, thanks for coming on the show.

Dan Rust:

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Ben and Jenna. Now tell me, you two, what were some key takeaways you heard in my conversation with Dan?

Ben Forstag:

I really loved his point about the value of incomplete ideas and why you should bring those to the table. I’m someone who tends to want to have all of the answers figured out and all the details figured out before I share an idea with others. I really like Dan’s point about bringing an idea to the table lets other people participate on the idea and piggyback on it. It creates some more investment from them in your ideas. At the end of the day, you still get the credit for the genesis of that idea. I think that’s great.

Jenna Forstrom:

I really enjoyed his point about elevating others. Just being a megaphone to help other people with their ideas because I think a lot of people don’t like to toot their own horn. That’s a really easy way of being like, “Oh, Ben, that’s a really good idea. I really like that. Let’s build on it” or whatever to make it a successful thing or when you’re in another meeting like, “Oh, I heard Ben had this great idea.” It just shows that you’re super involved, you know what’s happening, you know what’s happening in other meetings throughout the organization. That’s a good way. Everyone likes the team cheerleader, too.

Ben Forstag:

Jenna, I think that’s a really astute comment right there.

Jenna Forstrom:

Oh, yeah. You’re welcome, Ben. Mac, did you hear Ben’s great idea?

Mac Prichard:

Well, there’s a lot of self promotion going on. Okay, well, I loved his point about sharing the ideas that are in your head. If they stay inside your head, that’s a lost opportunity not only for you professionally, but for the company or the organization where you work. I personally identified with that because there were years when I would do that. I would not speak up at meetings. I think certainly my career may have suffered, but also I think the work could have been much better, too.

Well, thank you both and thank you all for listening to today’s episode of “Find Your Dream Job”. If you like what you hear, please sign up for our weekly newsletter. In each issue, we give you the key points of that week’s show. We also include links to all the resources mentioned and you get a transcript of the full episode.

If you subscribe to the newsletter now, we send you our job seeker checklist. You’ll find in this one easy-to-use file all the steps you need to take to find a great job. Get your free newsletter and checklist today. Go to macslist.org/podcast. Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Jennifer Gefsky. We’ll discuss how women can get back to work after a career break. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Keeping a record of your career accomplishments is your responsibility. Your manager may not remember all the amazing things you do, so it’s your job to remind them–especially when a juicy promotion becomes available.

Promoting yourself is part of good career management. So says this week’s guest, Dan Rust. But your self-promotion should be genuine, positive, and a normal part of your on ongoing discourse with your manager.

Dan’s tactics to help you toot your own horn at work:

  • Have a response for your boss when they ask how things are going.
  • Make the most of your annual review.
  • Make them see you sweat, BUT meet your deadlines.
  • Offer to help others and tell your boss about it.
  • Promote others.
  • Make your ideas or insights known.

This Week’s Guest

Dan Rust is the founder of Frontline Learning, a publisher of corporate training resources. He regularly speaks on employee engagement, productivity and career management. Dan is also the author of a new book, Workplace Poker: Are You Playing the Game, Or Just Getting Played?

Resources from this Episode