The 5 Core Competencies of Self-Promotion

When it comes to ensuring ongoing career success, the operative word is marketability.

Marketability, not talent alone, is what is separating the big winners from the big losers in today’s world of work.  And along these lines, I’ve been espousing an equation for years that will likely bore the dickens out of most people, but that I’m going to share anyway — since it sums up what I’ve learned after having the chance to observe thousands of people succeeding and failing on the front lines of the modern job market.  That equation is Q+S=M, which stands for:

Qualifications + Self-Promotion = Marketability

Put simply, this equation highlights the fact that qualifications alone (e.g. educational credentials, work history, job stability, etc.) are far from the only thing that determines career success.  If anything, they’re only half the battle.  These days, you’ve also got to have at least a modicum of self-promotional knowledge in order to enjoy a steady run of employment.

While for years I thought I was alone in observing this, one of my clients commented the other day that the large tech company where he works espouses almost the exact same concept to its employees in terms of teaching them to get ahead.  He said they swear by the “PIE” equation, where Performance + Image + Exposure = Results.  Kind of a cool twist on the same idea, I thought.  You’ll find a very articulate fellow explaining the idea on YouTube here, if interested.

Also, I noted that another top career expert and blogger, Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist, made some similar points in a recent article here where she suggests that people should “forget about being smart” as a key chunk of career success.  Her arguments are compelling, if you’ve got the time to read them.

The bottom line, however, is that self-promotion is a very real factor in career success and arguably every bit as important as talent/qualifications in getting ahead in today’s workforce.  And since it’s pretty difficult to change your formal qualifications in the short-term, after all, most professionals will tend to see a greater impact in their career prospects from letting go of the “knowledge” component to a degree — and focusing, instead, on learning the ropes around how to effectively sell, market, and promote themselves.

So for what it’s worth, let me outline what I feel the “five essential core competencies” are when it comes to promoting yourself in a career context:

Self-Promotion Competency #1: Copywriting

In the old days, the only real “written” component of job hunting was your resume, which used to be nothing fancier than a typewritten list of your employment history and educational credentials.  Now, given the exponentially greater competition that exists, resumes have to be infused with MUCH more creative, concise, and thoughtful copywriting to stand out from the crowd.  You’ve also now got your cover letter and various social media profiles to contend with, as well.  So if writing about yourself in a compelling way isn’t a natural strength of yours, either work on developing it — or arrange to have a friend, colleague, or resume-writing professional shore you up in this regard.

Self-Promotion Competency #2: Marketing

While the term “marketing” could mean a hundred different things, I suppose, the context in which I’m using the word is along the lines of “the ability to track down as many companies/contacts as possible that might know of an opportunity in your field.”  A job hunter without very strong marketing instincts, for example, is likely to feel pretty lost in today’s market and will consistently find themselves running out of “fuel” in terms of new places and people to approach for leads.  A savvy marketeer, on the other hand, will be awash in referrals — and will always seem to have a fresh list of suitable employer names to contact about possibilities.

Self-Promotion Competency #3: Networking

This one was a no-brainer.  Given the huge role that relationships play in career success today, networking definitely had to make the “top 5″ list of self-promotional competencies.  The most successful professionals I know today, across all fields, are those who treat relationship-building as a top priority and who make a point to communicate regularly with their trusted advocates.  They don’t just “schmooze” here and there, erratically.  They act as connectors.  They help other people as much as possible.  And they almost always use some type of CRM or formal tracking system to organize their “social capital” so that they never lose sight of who they know — and what these people care about.

Self-Promotion Competency #4: Interviewing

This is largely the “forgotten” skill set of self-promotion.  A great many people I meet seem to act as if job hunting is all about doing what it takes to LAND the interview — and that once this has taken place, nature will just sort of take its course and they’ll hopefully get lucky enough to close an offer or two.  If you’ve really seen an “ace” interviewer in action, however, you’ll realize that the bar might be higher than you realize.  Some candidates are so incredibly well-practiced at interviewing, they can nab just about any possible offer that dangles in front them.  They’re not only masters at preparing and strategizing before the interview to give themselves an advantage, but once on stage, they know how to create rapport, ask questions, build value, and make the person across the desk fall hopelessly in love with them — professionally speaking, of course.

Self-Promotion Competency #5: Personal Branding

Last but not least, there is the loose grab bag of activities that has come to be known as “personal branding” among many circles.  This competency refers to one’s ability to create the reputation they want for themselves “on purpose” and become known as a recognized expert in their own individual right — not simply based on their current job title and place of employment.

How do these folks do this?  Typically they come up with a unique point-of-view about their field, differentiating them from their competition, than they aggressively promote this expertise out to the community via blogging, tweeting, public speaking, and other methods that will boost their name recognition.  So while this fifth competency may not be a mandatory requirement for each and every professional in the market, those with the ambition to become managers, executives, or successful consultants will want to concentrate on this area of self-promotion in a big way.

So there you have it.  An explanation of what truly sets candidates apart from each other today in terms of marketability — and a road map, possibly, for figuring out where YOU might best devote some time to improving your career prospects.

And the best news of all?  Nobody is born with these skills — therefore any individual professional, even the most introverted accountant or engineer, can pick up these required competencies if they recognize their importance and commit to a little focused effort.  The goal isn’t to become a world-class sales and marketing professional, after all.  It’s merely to become just a little bit better at selling yourself than your peers.  Ultimately, that’s what makes all the difference.

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3 Responses to “The 5 Core Competencies of Self-Promotion”

  1. Bill: Glad you liked my recent article — and in terms of your first question, regarding a good CRM tool, there are TONS out there to choose from (some free, some paid) and a lot depends on your organizational style and the types of information you want to track. As a starting point, however, you might visit http://www.download.com and search on “CRM” where you’ll find tons of free and shareware CRM options to explore. That’s probably the best bet, since I doubt you’ll need a heavy-duty platform like salesforce.com, etc. for the type of tracking we’re talking about. As for your second question, about how to evaluate the health of your “brand” versus your “promotional” efforts, the easiest way would be to first make sure people GET what you do by asking some people you’ve already networked with to mirror back their impressions about your and your search focus. If they nail it, your brand message is probably pretty solid. If they can’t seem to recall what you do, or translate it properly, that would be a sign more work is needed. As for the “promotional” health aspect, that’s more of a numbers game. First, analyze how many distinct efforts (5-10 ideally) you’re making each day to get the word out to people yourself. THEN consider whether you’re going the extra mile to blog, tweet, or speak publicly about your expertise — which is where job hunting truly morphs into what I’d truly call a “personal branding” campaign. Hope that helps, at least a little!

  2. Great topic. You mentioned some tips on improving one’s self-promotion quotient. I’ve been looking for a good CRM tool to replace my cumbersome spreadsheet. Do you have any common ones we should consider? I’ve also developed a unique brand centered on what makes me different than most others in my field. However, if it isn’t working how can I tell whether it’s the brand I’ve chosen or how I’m promoting it that needs refining?

  3. I find this one of your more interesting and thought provoking blogs. It seems to me that if someone, in order to get a job, needs advanced marketing skills, do those skills translate into a bettter employee with better communication skills?

    Maybe an interchange between marketing people and folks in other disciplines to further a discussion on how we sell a product, especially ourselves, would be a good safe club topic. Most small business people as well need to constantly promote our brand. Could be an interesting dialogue. Good work Matt

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