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Book review: “Promote Yourself,” by Dan Schawbel

4 min read


Dan Schawbel is an optimist, and this is a good thing for readers of his new book, “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.”

Americans know that unemployment and underemployment are persistent (and maybe inevitable), robots are going to take all our jobs, and wage growth isn’t what it used to be. Plus, there’s the matters of competing with the rest of the world, improving education and determining a vision for the jobs and safety nets of the future.

Schawbel realizes his book isn’t designed to tackle those things. It’s not a book of what cannot be done or what is out of an individual’s control. “Promote Yourself” is largely, and at its best, a book about what people in the corporate world can do to help themselves. It’s a guided tour to how today’s workforce can be smarter, faster, more connected, more knowledgeable and more precise in building a career that can adapt to and survive changing conditions, whatever and wherever they are.

The workers of today and tomorrow can find success even if they think the sky is falling, but they’ll hardly be inspired in doing so. “Promote Yourself” isn’t special in the realm of business books because of its optimism but rather because it combines that optimism with takeaways that can be immediately put into practice and those that can be adopted and perfected over time.

The Millennials aren’t what they seem to be

Our business publications (and my inbox) are full of quick judgments about Millennials. For every pundit writing them off, there is a defender or peacemaker ready to share sentiments that are more positive but equally broad — “Millennials do this! They like this! All of them!”

Schawbel likewise notes traits and generalities about this generation, but he usually does so based off some form of evidence, including his own surveys. Furthermore, he elaborates with conditional action steps in mind: if you have X tendency, you might want to try Y and Z. The onus is on the reader, the employee, to maximize his or her potential and make sure it’s noticed. And the skeptical employer now knows what the best workers will be demonstrating in their performance and demeanor.

If you think Millennials are arrogant, entitled and unwilling to admit to faults, then this book won’t be for you. In fact, the counterargument begins in Marcus Buckingham’s introduction, where he notes that in one survey, Millennial respondents were more likely than other generations to focus on weaknesses rather than strengths (73% of Millennials versus 55% of all respondents).

But this doesn’t mean a focus on weaknesses is the best path. Rather, Buckingham and Schawbel advocate working on strengths, developing new ones and, especially, developing an expertise that is recognized by peers and bosses. It seems simple to note, but experts stand out because they are among the best at something. Do that, by developing strengths and fixing crippling weaknesses, and you’ve already improved your career outlook.

Soft skills, hard skills and self-promotion

Schawbel also helpfully gets past the opaque advice of “build your skills,” first by noting the differences between hard skills and soft skills, when each applies and the importance of each over time. If you’re short on time, he provides a lengthy list of the basic traits of each. The one thing that unites them? The need to build the skills you already have, learn new ones and apply them distinctively:

“Being average won’t get you noticed. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in … you need to find a way to make a unique contribution, add value, and stand out. That’s the only way to survive.”

But skills aren’t enough, he argues. Getting noticed (without being a braggart, of course) is the endgame. To that end, he offers plenty of actionable advice for communication, building relationships and building your brand, whether within the company or through your own website, blog or social media accounts.

“Promote Yourself” is certainly aimed at a younger demographic, but there’s something in it for everyone. After all, “hard” skills evolve over a career, whether because of technology or because of career changes, and “soft” skills can be learned at any time but also require practice and refinement.

Confidence, ambition, teamwork, the use and recognition of body language, learning new things in and out of your industry, what resources can help you in whatever you’re trying to accomplish, maintaining a healthy balance of work and life — Schawbel has advice and answers for each of these areas. And who couldn’t use a little bit of improvement?