Tory Johnson: Tooting Your Own Horn

Tomorrow is the big release of Oprah Winfrey's 20th Anniversary DVD Collection -- 17 hours of her greatest hits.

But Oprah isn't the only one with something to celebrate. All of us have career highlights that deserve to be recognized but so rarely are. That's why you should set aside time at some point to assemble a list of your own achievements, your personal greatest hits.

Many of us, particularly women, are uncomfortable with self-promotion, especially in the workplace. We're great at talking up our kids and our best friends, but the idea of tooting our own horns or claiming credit for our accomplishments makes plenty of us uneasy. We don't want to come across as conceited, showoffs or braggarts. But plenty of men fall into this category, too, so this is just not a "girl" thing.

If this sounds like you, remember that when it comes to your career, an unwillingness to share your accomplishments may cost you the positions, pay and promotions you deserve.

Employers don't have a crystal ball. They can't look into some magical orb to determine what kind of employee you might be. They must use your past performance as the best possible indicator of your potential for future success. And unless you toot your own horn and point out your achievements, they may never notice.

Make Lists of Your Skills, Accomplishments

Ask yourself the following:

   What have I done exceptionally well on the job in the last three years?

Force yourself to pinpoint at least five areas where you know you're really great. Focus on your core capabilities. Is providing top-notch customer service your forte? Are you the best negotiator in your department? Do you ace the essentials of event planning? Are you a meticulous organizer? Are you a strong manager and mentor who brings out the best in others?

  Which three career accomplishments am I most proud of?

While the first question focuses on capabilities, this one is about how well you performed in those areas. Did you apply those sales and customer service skills to generate business? Did your management skills improve morale? Did your ability to organize lead to the creation of new systems and implementation of great programs?

The barometer of your success is not having saved your company a million bucks. While that's no doubt great, surely there are very important things that you've done better than someone else would have. These are the accomplishments that you feel really great about, even if nobody else recognized them.

  Do I have a "me" file?

If you don't already, you should start one today. This is the place to store hard copies of e-mails from colleagues or clients thanking you for a job well done. It doesn't have to be a formal note; even a quick e-mail saying you saved the day deserves to be printed and stashed in this file. You'll refer back to all of this when you're preparing for your annual review, since the examples will serve as great ammo for a well-deserved raise.

Getting a Call from a President

As I write this, I'm reflecting on my own professional accomplishments -- one that's recent, and another that's more long term.

Right now I'm most proud of my work in assisting evacuees from New Orleans in rebuilding their lives. Back on Labor Day I traveled to the Astrodome in Houston to offer career advice to men and women residing there in an effort to help them get back to work. Since there's still so much to be done for the people who lost so much, I'll continue those efforts this week when I return to Houston today.

Another proud moment came in October 2001. My company, which organizes career expos nationwide, is based in New York, and one month after the horrific events of 9/11 devastated our city, we held our biggest career expo ever. Nearly 70 companies committed to recruiting at this event, which was no small feat given the economic beating the city took. This event was about hiring and hope, and for that reason we received some great media coverage.

In the midst of the normal chaos of finalizing every detail the day before the event, I received a surprise phone call from Bill Clinton. After I got over the initial shock that it wasn't just my husband playing a crazy joke, I listened as the former president congratulated me on Women For Hire's success. He reminded me that, as Americans, the right to work is at the core of our freedom and financial independence in this country. He encouraged me to keep up our efforts in helping people secure employment. All that in under a minute!

When I share that anecdote to groups when I speak about career advancement, there are always two distinct reactions. Half the people say, "You go, girl. Regardless of your political preference, a call from any U.S. president is a pretty cool thing." Of course I'm thrilled by that response.

The other isn't as kind. They look at me as if to say, "Tory seems quite pleased with herself to brag about a call from Clinton." I'm always stunned by that reaction.

The fact is, I should be proud of my accomplishments in helping other people find jobs and advance their careers. I have to be willing to tout those small and large kudos and feathers in our cap whenever I can because it fuels our future success.

Everyone has these moments in their professional history -- big and little things that they're exceptionally proud of, but don't always feel comfortable sharing.

Get comfortable, because the potential rewards are limitless. Be proud of yourself and your achievements, just like Oprah is of hers.

For more information on career strategies, or to send your feedback to Tory Johnson, CEO of Women For Hire, visit