The excruciating art of selling yourself

I have just completed a job application alongside an updated CV (résumé), wincing and gurning the whole way through writing and editing them.

I followed all the usual advice, noted all the ‘power words’ and ‘action words’ I should be using… Although heavens above, I don’t think I can put ‘spearhead’ when a simple ‘lead’ will do. And cannot bring myself to use the terms ‘passion for’ or ‘passionate about’ in a job application. I mean, I care, there are certain work matters I feel strongly about, and I am committed – please, can that not be enough? I am not a pioneering brain surgeon, after all.

Advice on ‘selling yourself’ commonly suggests spending time thinking about your strengths and skills, what makes you unique, stand out… When I do that, I sound like a puppy dog: loyal, reliable…

I don’t think I am alone in finding it hard to promote myself, words of self-praise causing me to squirm, toes curled. Maybe I am afraid of being seen as a narcissist, or of not being liked. As the nineteenth-century French author Pierre-Jules Renard proposed, “Be modest! It is the kind of pride least likely to offend.” Or maybe my concern lies in being unaware, suffering from ‘unconscious incompetence’, as Noel Burch’s Competency Model describes it.

Self-promotion lies in your own hands

However, if you don’t recognise that state of mind and find it easy to broadcast your hard-won skills and accomplishments, then good for you. Truly. I don’t agree that modesty is a virtue, not if it means underestimating one’s own value, particularly in a work context. And yet…

It comes as no surprise I am not great at promoting my ebooks either. Following my best sales month in December, when I took care to plan promotions, give-aways, and had something new and seasonal out, came my worst month in January. Don’t misunderstand, that ‘best’ month did not mean tons of sales, just a more pleasing number of them than usual and a greater number of KU pages read. Plus a bunch of free give-ways – which remains essential to what I may grandiosely call ‘my strategy’ (ahem).

If I take my hand off the wheel for a moment and do not actively promote, sales and even reads largely melt away like last week’s snow. I believe that to be pretty common unless an author has ‘taken off’ and grown a fan base.

Time, as ever, is one enemy to this continual round of promotion, as is cost – I keep mine low and no-cost in order not to run at a loss. Many would say (entirely reasonably) that with this lack of time and cash investment, I should not be surprised at few or no sales. And honestly, I’m not. I reconciled myself to the fact that self-publishing for me is largely about providing an objective to writing. Doing it as a profitable side hustle would be nice, but would take huge input, on top of the time needed for the writing process itself.

As so much of the literature reminds us though, selling simply means to communicate the value of something, and thus need not have negative associations. In his article The Importance of Selling Yourself: Why everyone is in sales (to a degree), self-improvement author and blogger Steve Handel goes on to note some of the many every-day situations in which we all are marketing ourselves—such as getting a job, or looking for love and friendship, that we are in a continual process of winning others over.

Handel goes on to point out that “The chances are slim that you are just going to be randomly discovered – so you have to put yourself out there and get people’s attention.”

Exactly so. In life as in work. And in book sales.

Ultimately, marketing techniques keep reminding us that we need to ‘believe in the product’. So, with regard both to ‘selling myself’ and writing, do I believe in the ‘products’? Actually I do, yes. An answer that slightly surprises me.

 

References:
http://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-importance-of-selling-yourself/ on The Emotion Machine blog https://www.theemotionmachine.com/author/stevenhandel/, Steve Handel

Images:
Daria Shetsova
Tumisu

24 thoughts on “The excruciating art of selling yourself

  1. Oh, I also have big problems selling myself. And CVs/cover letters are the biggest offenders. I, like you, cannot seem to feign enthusiasm or use all the “power words” properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly so, it becomes a sort of bragging competition, who can boast the loudest. Perhaps we’ll ‘peak braggadocio’ and the humble job application will come back into fashion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you. I really liked this post. It’s brilliant.

    Like

    1. Seems like we’re all modest folk, thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once when I was listening to Woman’s Hour they were talking to a lady from ‘ the other side of the Atlantic’ and she remarked in exasperation ‘Oh you English are so self deprecating!’ … I retorted back to the radio ‘So, we Like being self deprecating!’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wonder if it’s a bit British (for better or for worse), the ‘Oh heck, it’s really nothing and I’m a bit rubbish anyway.’
      Certainly modesty is related to culture in some way, but it can also be related to pride, saw an interesting article about that here http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20181004-why-pride-evolved-and-its-benefits-versus-modesty

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I know I am good at my job and I used to hold back from stating such a thing, but now I just come out and say it! (Makes me sound kinda arrogant? 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, it makes you sound like a confident professional – good for you.

      Like

  5. Selling oneself is often the hardest part, probably we are often our own critique, sometime to a point of annoyance. I loved the way you ended. Believing in the product. Good luck my friend

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and you too. I agree that sometimes we need to turn off the inner critic, give ourselves a break.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your writing is awesome

        Like

  6. am lucky thx god… I work in my husbands company lol
    But I’m usually very pushy on interviews, but shy. what a combination haha

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like a good work arrangement. My main fear is that if I get to interview stage, I can live up to my application promises – but then, I guess that’s what interviews are for…

    Like

  8. … we are in a continual process of winning others over…. so true…indeed like the tag line of a popular matrimonial dating website in India says…Be Found…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As slogans go, that’s a pretty good one.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Self promotion is tough. And there are always lots of advice…
    The best in my mind? As someone who recruited many people in my company over the years.
    Be yourself.
    (Ah! And another one: follow your passion. It may not work for every “recruiter” but it works for me)
    All the best.
    brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I agree on the be yourself – or the best professional part of yourself, because if not, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you or in a team where you don’t fit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True. But I would insist on the “whole” yourself. Careful, I was not a conventional “recruiter”. I had my own research agency and interviewed all prospective executives. To work with me or with senior execs. So personality was a very important factor to me. Again, many recruiters have other agendas. Now, my key question, around the end of the interview was “do you have a passion? Anything from collecting stamps to climbing mountains?”. You’d be surprised how many failed that test. 🙂
        Best of luck.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In the end, despite careful criteria and processes, a lot comes down to personality and ‘fit’ with the local culture. I have been on recruitment panels where presented with a choice of someone that evidenced a close match with the criteria against someone that more or less matched them but had the ‘right’ personality, the decision-makers persuaded themselves into preferring the latter. Hey, that’s life.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It is. So when you are on the other side, pay careful attention to the personality of the interviewer/recruiter. It will tell you a lot about the company culture. And whether you may or may not want that job. 😉

            Like

  10. I absolutely hate the “sell yourself” thing. I am not a common good on a shelf at the supermarket. I want you to want me. I want to see me as a human, not as a nicely wrapped can of disappointment, because that is what some people turn out to be even though they “sell themselves”. I thought prostitution was frowned upon…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it can be a case of ‘all packaging’. I saw someone’s cv recently and in the professional summary at the top he compared himself to a car. It’s that sort of gimmicky approach I find hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks, a topic for our especially mercenary time. Selling one’s writing – or trying to – is particularly fraught. Because it’s not a social construct you’re offering for thumbs up or down. It’s you, all naked, period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the challenge now is it’s not just selling a book but marketing the author, a look, lifestyle, a back story…

      Like

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