The Importance of Self-Marketing

by Janet M. Ruck

When workers write a resume, go on an interview, or describe their strengths to someone, they are involved in self-marketing. This can be a difficult concept to grasp for many workers, especially federal employees. Due to the negative connotation of self-promotion, people tend not to "brag" about themselves. However, lack of expertise in self-marketing can result in lack of competitiveness in the workplace. 
"In the grocery store of life, you have to figure out why someone would pick you up off the shelf," says Andrea Nierenberg, president of a business communication consulting firm. The best way for federal employees to gain a competitive edge that distinguishes them from other candidates in the job search process is through recognition and communication of their accomplishments. Too many federal job seekers, as well as others, make the mistake of overemphasizing their skills with insufficient emphasis on their accomplishments. Longevity is no longer the key to employees' career success, and a list of duties, responsibilities and skills is not sufficient to communicate what employees have to offer. No one does the same job in the same way. Encouraging employees to spend time elucidating and writing their accomplishments, illustrating what they did, will set them apart from the competition. And, that is what self-marketing is all about!

The Self-Marketing Problem

Federal employees' resumes may need help in rearranging their career search strategies if:

  • They are too focused on skill sets
  • The list of accomplishments are poorly defined
  • Results are not included
  • Objective, quantifiable achievements are not listed.

Written records of employees' work results, achievements, successes and accomplishments are the heart of employees' marketing campaign. They explain the essence of their "track record". With increased emphasis on accountability in government, employees in any federal agency must develop the ability to communicate their accomplishments, thereby demonstrating their effectiveness and productivity in their jobs and organizations. For additional information on accomplishment statements, refer to Elda Schwartz's article in May 2005 Career Convergence, "Tips on Understanding Federal Vacancy Announcements and Applying for Federal Jobs" .

Often, federal employees find it difficult to articulate their accomplishments, because their work is subordinate to many others throughout an organization. Many times they take themselves for granted. They may not pay attention to their accomplishments, saying "I just did my job." However, they sell themselves short by omitting quantifiable, objective evidence of what they have done. By limiting their descriptions to duties and responsibilities, they are referring to the general scope of their jobs only. Their abilities and contributions become more apparent through the use of accomplishment statements, which give specific examples of the results of employees' work. They show their capabilities.

Showing Capabilities
"Showing" through the use of accomplishment statements can "paint the picture" of what employees have achieved, allowing the reader or listener to "see" the employee engaged in successful, productive work. The best predictor of future performance is past behavior. As they apply for positions, it shows the world what they have to offer!

When employees seek help from a career counselor for the first time, the notion of "self-marketing" and "accomplishments" can be difficult to grasp. This is especially true if they have been federal employees for an extended period of time, have not created a resume, and last used an SF-171 to apply for a job. Encouraging them to document successes can prove to be quite challenging, and they may resist. Sometimes it is useful to engage in preliminary work to introduce the concept of accomplishment statements. The following technique can help "break the ice" from "I don't like to brag" to "Look at everything I've done in my career!" 
Suggest that clients take a sheet of paper or create a table and divide it into 3 columns. Label the first column Challenge or Problem, the second column Action Steps and the third column Result. Next, have the client fill up each column. Prompt them by asking if they have:

      1.saved money


      2.reduced costs


      3.saved time


      4.solved a problem


      5.made headlines or done something newsworthy


      6.improved something


      7.achieved more with fewer resources


      8.identified new markets


      9.improved team morale


    10.other achievement or challenge?

The answers to these questions can be eye-opening and self-affirming for employees grappling with the notion of accomplishment and outcome. By describing their achievements using this format, employees are showing themselves what they have to offer, sometimes for the first time.

The Value of Self-Marketing

Additional reasons for employees to conceptualize accomplishment statements and document work performance include:

      1.to gain self-awareness


      2.to lift spirits and increase self-confidence


      3.to show that employees have completed many worthwhile projects


      4.to give specific, measurable, concrete examples of contributions


    5.to differentiate themselves from competitors

Oscar Wilde said, "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance." People value people who value themselves. Encourage federal employees to continuously assess and document their strengths. Then, when they need to develop applications and respond to the interview question, such as "Tell me about yourself", they will be prepared-and competitive!


Janet Ruck is a career counselor in a federal agency. Through her work with federal employees she has discovered that the greatest barrier to their ability to write competitive applications and compete successfully in an interview is their lack of comfort with and ability to articulate accomplishments. A great deal of her counseling and coaching involves assisting employees with a realistic appraisal of their strengths and outcomes. She can be reached at janetruck@yahoo.com

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