Overcome the Awkwardness of Self-Promotion: Tips for Veterans

(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne)

Question: I've been out of the Army for three months, and the idea of promoting myself still feels awful. I hate going to networking events, making small talk with strangers and trying to sell myself on social media. How can I get past this feeling so I can grow my career?

Answer: Let's look at why the idea of marketing and promoting yourself feels so uncomfortable. The military is a unique culture with its own set of deep-rooted values. One of those values is that you prioritize others, and mission, ahead of yourself. "Service before self" is taught to service members early on.

This admirable value of selflessness and sacrifice leads most veterans to experience a disconnect when facing a civilian narrative which seems to seek attention, credit, recognition and praise.

While civilians typically aren't boosting themselves up to be arrogant, obnoxious or to brag, it can seem that way to someone from a background that frowns on self-marketing.

Here are other reasons self-promotion might feel uncomfortable:

  • You're not sure how to promote yourself
  • You feel you're asking for something
  • Imposter syndrome
  • You aren't clear on the value you offer others
  • You fear not being liked

No matter the reason why you don't like to "toot your own horn," being able to share your value with others is important to grow your worth and attract ideal opportunities in your civilian career.

Self-Promotion Made Simpler

To become more comfortable with the idea of standing out and calling attention to yourself, become clear on what you have to offer and what makes you unique.

Are you an insightful manager who builds high-performing teams? Are you great at helping people realize their potential? Are you a clever cartoonist who shares political commentary through illustration? As a problem solver, are you able to identify options before others do, leading your teams to perform better? Have you studied the Civil War and could teach a class on military strategy?

More than once, I've heard a veteran say, "There's nothing unique about me." But each of us has something about us that makes us interesting and valuable.

It could be what you know how to do, the way you do that thing, where you come from or who you know. Your uniqueness may come from your past experiences, your vision and dreams, your triumphs over hardship, or your talents and abilities that most people don't have.

If you don't know what makes you interesting, valuable and memorable, neither will someone else.

Next, consider what you want to be known for: How would you like people to see and value you? While you might have a background of hardship and resiliency, it's your choice whether that's how you'd like to be known. Consider your various experiences, talents and character traits.

Then, identify whom you'd like to be in front of. Who are the people, communities, groups and companies who'd appreciate someone like you for the traits that make you unique? This is your "target audience" and they have specific needs: practical and emotional ones. When you promote yourself to them, you'll need to speak to both.

You might talk about your skills and qualifications to address their practical need to understand your competency, but you'll highlight your passion, vision and commitment to speak to their emotional need to understand you as a person.

Finally, seek ways to confidently and comfortably share what makes you unique with people who are looking for someone like you. Know that when you share your content, ideas, images, videos, information and insights, you're helping them benefit from what you know and care about.

Whether it's at networking events and meetings, online in forums and on social media or through the content you share, as you become more visible and findable, you're helping companies, communities, people and groups who need what you have to offer.

Reframing self-promotion as a way to share what you have, know and can do with others makes it less uncomfortable and awkward for you to let others see you and know how you can help them (and how they can help you).

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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