Working for Justice

Lady Lawyer Lessons*: Selling Yourself (in the good way)

In the early 1900s, a U.S. industrialist named Henry Kaiser was making money left and right and amassing an incredible amount of success and wealth while also securing a reputation as being relatively friendly to workers and labor interests.  One quote attributed to him is the comment, “when you’re work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

It’s true that interrupting isn’t polite and generally isn’t a good idea.  However, it is a serious mistake for women in the workplace to assume that their hard work will speak for itself.  It won’t.  In most workplaces, it is important to make sure that your efforts are being acknowledged, framed in the context of how what you’ve done helps the business, and documented.

Of course, selling yourself and your accomplishments to your employer can seem awkward, self-aggrandizing, pushy or tone-deaf.  There are better and worse ways to do it.  A few tips for non-offensive promotion include:

  1. Communicate your successes on a regular schedule.  Every three to six months as a target schedule makes sure that you aren’t running the risk of forgetting what it is you’ve accomplished (believe me, it can happen).  At the same time, regular updates serve as a reminder to your boss of all the ways you’re contributing positively and create an opportunity for discussion about growth and leadership opportunities for you.
  2. Discuss what challenges or problems you confronted in generating your successes.  By taking the time to review the challenges, you are able to cast your success updates as “lessons learned.”  The pragmatic details about the strategies or skills you applied to overcome these challenges may serve as the basis for you sharing your learning with colleagues or as the basis for your employer to make changes to avoid similar challenges in the future.
  3. Recognize the other people who contributed to success.  Tone is difficult to get right, and you don’t ever want to appear to be continually tooting your own horn.  Really look through each of your successes so you can identify which people are also doing things well.  Your praise of them is both fair (wouldn’t you hope your coworkers would do the same for you) and demonstrates your maturity and professionalism.
  4. Tie your successes to ideas about how you can build on them in the future.  First, this also helps with concerns you might have about tone.  It gives a purpose to the communication beyond just praising what you’ve done well.  Second, this also helps you to think more strategically and purposefully about how you can grow within your work environment and how your employer can better benefit from your skills.

All of these steps do require more time than simply mentioning to your boss about the new sale you just landed, the angry client you calmed down, the record you set for serving the most number of tables in a shift, or the project you completed under budget.  However, that extra time can significantly increase your employer’s willingness to pay attention to what it is you’ve accomplished and likelihood of rewarding you for that hard work.  And that, after all, is the whole point.

* Lady Lawyer Lessons is a monthly column where Kate K shares tips she wishes her clients knew before they came to her (or any other lawyer) for help or advice. As always, this is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create an attorney client relationship.  Instead, these are just some of Kate’s “rules of the employment road” that are often a good idea but may not apply in a particular situation.

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Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a nationwide litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, and Baltimore. We represent individuals against powerful interests. We act as a private attorney general in support of the private and public good. Learn More

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