While most of us would like to believe that it's our hard work that gets us ahead in the workplace, the truth is that the person who gets the job or promotion possesses something extra.
"The most successful business people are not those with the best qualifications, the highest IQ or [who are] the most hardworking," says Adam Riccoboni, a business development professional and entrepreneur. "The greatest success is enjoyed by those who are the best at selling themselves."
It's an idea Riccoboni explores in a new book with Daniel Callaghan, "The Art of Selling Yourself" (Tarcher/Penguin, $15.99).
Sir Richard Branson, head of The Virgin Group, is cited in the book as someone who left school with few qualifications but was "so wonderful at selling himself he became a billionaire and the living, breathing representation of one of the top 10 brands in the world today," Riccoboni says.
While not all of us can be Branson, his ability to sell himself is something we all need today to get ahead, Riccoboni says.
"In a globalized economy, you will need to compete with individuals from all over the world," Riccoboni says. "In this context, being employable is as important as being employed. You need to keep your profile as high as possible."
Even someone who lacks self-confidence can learn to sell himself in a way that feels genuine, the author says.
"Think back over the last 10 years, and for each year write down one thing you achieved," he says. "Looking back over this list will help you understand your own achievements and strengths."
At the same time, Riccoboni has a warning for those who have an abundance of self-confidence and believe they can sell themselves with no problem.
"Being unprepared is the most common mistake people make. Having self-belief, confidence and excellent communication skills will take you far. However, if you are unprepared when doing business, it will damage your credibility and reduce the trust people have in you," he says.
One of the important ways to be prepared is by "understanding what people want through empathy," which Riccoboni says is "the most important aspect of business."
"Empathy, meaning to see through the eyes of another, is vital because selling yourself is not just about you," he says. "If you want to persuade someone to buy you, then it is necessary to first understand them."
Developing empathy, or emotional intelligence, may take some practice. The authors suggest some ways to develop it:
Try to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues about what another person is feeling. "To be persuasive you should be sensitive and understanding to every person you meet," Riccoboni says.
Step into another's shoes
Imagine yourself in a customer's place and talk about how you can understand the feelings involved. Think about asking questions, such as "What are your aspirations for your business?" or "How does this issue affect your business?"
Think before acting
Be aware of your own emotions and get them under control before trying to change someone else's mind. Especially if you are facing a very emotional situation, pause and think before speaking your thoughts. How will others react to your comments? What nonverbal cues are you sending?
Empathy is important not only to sell yourself effectively and help your career but also to improve your relationships, Riccoboni says. "Having empathy has been shown in research to be a key personal quality in managers reaching top leadership positions."