4 Ways to Self-Promote Without Looking Like a Jerk

HR insights and tips with Jeff Havens

Hello and welcome to another installment of HR Intervention! Today we are going to help you do a better job of convincing people to promote you, or give you random bonuses, or trust you with their children while they go on a much-needed kid-free vacation.

A lot of us feel like we can’t talk up our good qualities without coming off like a self-serving jerkface, but fortunately that doesn’t have to be the case.

Self-promotion is a part of life. Any time we try to sell something, we selectively highlight its good qualities and ignore or downplay its deficiencies.

Any time we go on a date (which is a lot like selling something) we talk about how great and charming and understanding we are, while judiciously choosing not to mention how much we drool when we sleep.

All of us are constantly engaged in self-promotion at one level or another.

That said, there’s a difference between intelligent self-promotion and the snake-oil kind that will make your audience feel greasy and cheated. (This is the same difference, by the way, that earns some people a second date while others get served a restraining order.)

If you are spending any time promoting yourself to others for any reason – and I know that you are – here are four cardinal principles to keep in mind.

Focus First On Helping Others

Bad salespeople want to make a sale in order to earn some money. Good salespeople want to help customers solve a problem they face. That difference might seem metaphysical, but the way you think will determine how you act.

If you begin with the goal of helping people find solutions, you’ll end up promoting yourself to people who genuinely need whatever it is you have to offer.

Make It a Habit

You’re unlikely to win someone over with a single comment or commercial or post, just like you’re unlikely to get someone to agree to marry you after a single date. (Side note: if they do agree to marry you after the first date, run away as fast as you can.)

This should be something you do consciously on a regular basis.

Expect To Give A Lot Away For Free

Conference vendors always have free stuff for the attendees to take home. Dentists throw so many free toothbrushes and floss packets at you that it’s almost embarrassing.

Even if you’re promoting an intangible product like consulting services, you’ll probably give a lot of advice away for free before people realize the benefit of paying you.

Don’t Give Everything Away For Free

There’s a saying about cows and milk and home and paying for it, but you already know that. As you’re self-promoting and giving away a bunch of advice or floss or whatever, make sure people always know that you could do even more for them if they wanted you to – handle more responsibility at work, provide additional services to your clients, whatever.

Eventually, if you do all of this correctly, they will want you to.

And now you know how to self-promote without looking like a jerkface. Congratulations! Now get out there and start getting whatever it is you want.

For more ways to improve your ability to influence others, check out this free how-to guide!

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-808-0884, email, or visit

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert