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Why Self-Promotion Is a Terrible Idea Nobody wants to work with a self-interested, self-absorbed, self-serving self-promoter. If you think about it, neither would you.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


These days everyone with a LinkedIn account – which means pretty much everyone – is a self-proclaimed expert, thought leader, trendsetter, or influencer. It's no secret that I find that sort of self-absorbed self-promotion to be self-serving, not to mention incredibly annoying and occasionally nauseating.

Enough about how I feel. Let me tell you why self-promoting actually does you far more harm than good. But first, let's talk about why people with little or no proven redeeming qualities feel the need to make themselves sound like the second coming in the first place.

If you ask them, you're likely to get one of these three stories, all of which are remarkably flawed:

Story #1: "Hi, I'm Pollyanna from Utopia"

I was told growing up that, if I worked hard at school and at my job, my efforts would be recognized and rewarded and I'd do well in my career. It didn't take long to figure out that's not how things work in the real world. If you don't toot your own horn, you'll never get ahead.

My response: Not to be disrespectful, but was your mom named Pollyanna and did you grow up in a place called Utopia? No one who would tell you that should be allowed to have kids. Hard work is a given, but it's not even close to what it takes to get ahead. One thing's for sure. "Tooting your own horn" will not help.

Related: 10 Behaviors of Smart People

Story #2: Self-promoters give self-promoting a bad name

There's actually nothing wrong with self-promoting. It's selfish people who are out to get something from others that give it a bad name. As long as you're also benefitting the other side of the equation – whoever you're selling yourself to – it's all good.

My response: That's just semantics. Self-promotion is, by definition, promoting yourself, as in "I'm a serial entrepreneur: CEO of me, myself, and I.com." If, on the other hand, you're selling a value proposition that benefits stakeholders, that is a good thing and so not the same thing.

Story #3: Doesn't everyone "fake it "til you make it?"

Experience and self-confidence are Catch-22s. Without having it, you'll never have the opportunity to get it. That's why "fake it "til you make it" is the only way to be successful. Isn't that what everyone does?

My response: Do you by any chance remember being dropped on your head as a child? No, they're not Catch-22s. You start at the bottom, do your best, build credibility, and always reach for the next level up. That's how you gain experience and confidence.

Now that we're clear on what self-promotion is and isn't, let me explain why it's bad for your career and your business. The problem is that self-promotion is self-serving. It's all about you and, in a business relationship, that's the one side of the equation nobody cares about. I know that sounds harsh but, if I don't tell you, who will?

Related: Think You're Special? You Just Might Be.

Truth is, when it comes to business, nobody gives a crap about you. I don't care if it's your boss, a hiring manager, or a potential customer, if you spew a bunch of BS about why you're so great and wonderful, you're not going to get the promotion, the job, or the business. What they might be receptive to, however, is what you can do for them.

For example, if you tell your boss how you can benefit the company and then accomplish what you set out to do, that's called proving yourself. If you do that consistently, maybe you'll get promoted. If not, then find a better company and a better fit. That's how you actively manage your career.

Likewise, hiring managers are first and foremost looking for a fit: a job fit and a cultural fit. They want to know details about you and your experience that make you a good fit for them. Too much information up-front, before you've figured out what they're looking for, may very well self-promote you right out of a job.

If and when the blessed day comes that you get to run your own business, you'll find the same is true with customers. They don't want to know about you, they want to know how you can meet their needs. How you can benefit them. That's called a value proposition. And trust me, that is all they really care about initially.

Don't get me wrong. In time you'll want to build solid, long-term relationships with all your stakeholders. And you know what? Nobody wants to work with a self-interested, self-absorbed, self-serving self-promoter. Nobody. If you think about it, neither would you.

Related: How Adversity Leads to Success

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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