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  1. Blog
  2. Advancement
  3. September 21, 2020

What I Learned About Advocating for Myself in the Workplace

How Bessy Tam learned how to keep track, speak up, and level up in her career

Woman preparing for a presentation
Image courtesy of This Engineering RAEng

When I wanted to transition from marketing into tech, I submitted hundreds of applications and never heard back. When I got interviews, I went in thinking I could “let my resume speak for itself.” And even once I got my dream job at Google, during performance reviews I would sit there silently listening to my manager’s feedback.

It took me years to learn the craft of advocating for myself—a craft that no one really teaches you how to do. Even though I’m still uncomfortable doing it, I’ve accepted the fact that I need to continuously work on advocating for myself in order to build and rebuild confidence, achieve both short- and long-term goals, and generally exercise my empowerment muscles.

I’ll share how I use data points, natural conversations, and incremental goals to combat my fears and feel less like I’m “selling myself.”

Advocating for yourself is about making it as easy as possible for your manager to advocate for you

Everyone is busy all the time, so your work may get overlooked if you don’t advocate for yourself in a clear and concise manner. Your manager should be able to easily identify and summarize your work so they can champion you among other senior stakeholders. 

How to do this

Document all your past achievements in a simple Word document. With every achievement, project, or story, be sure to clearly indicate:

  1. Who or what you influenced

  2. What impact you created with metrics and results (e.g., revenue, sales, year-over-year growth, time or cost savings, number of people reached, important C-level decisions you influenced, or satisfaction scores)

  3. When it happened

  4. Where it happened (i.e., at which company, on which team, etc.)

  5. Why it was important to the business

  6. How you completed the project or solved the problem, step by step

If you’re unsure about the impact you've made at work, keep a work journal, go back over documents from your projects, talk to previous coworkers or friends at the company, and review data from projects (if you still have access to it) for key insights. 

The more impact and influence you can demonstrate, the better you can clearly communicate what you've done, whether in interviews, performance reviews, on your resume, or on your social media profiles. 

Mapping out key achievements and showing data points or facts will help you feel less like you're “selling yourself” and more like you’re advocating for yourself. And with data, busy stakeholders will also be able to clearly understand your impact and influence quickly.

Read more: How to Make the Business Case for What You Do

Advocating for yourself is about building relationships 

As a tech career coach, I coach my clients to connect directly with hiring managers at companies where they want to work. This puts them in front of the people who matter most instead of “waiting in line” along with hundreds of job applicants, just to get a generic rejection email.

How to do this

To do this, practice advocating for yourself by reaching out to people in your network to gain feedback. You can start with peers you work closely with.

Position your 1:1 sessions as “feedback sessions” to naturally build rapport with key stakeholders and ensure you're building long-term relationships for good performance reviews or future job opportunities. You should ask for both positive and constructive feedback during these sessions. If the feedback is unclear to you, ask for examples. Once the initial discussion is over, make sure to follow up via email or phone call to let them know what actions you’ve taken based on their feedback. 

Not only does following up show that you are taking responsibility for your actions, over time you'll build relationships with these stakeholders as they gain visibility of your work. As a result, you’ll not only be able to discover commonalities among feedback sessions to gain awareness of where you stand among peers, you’ll also be able to advocate for yourself well and ensure stakeholders know about your work and success long before performance reviews and job interviews.

Read more: How to Network Without Feeling Gross 

Advocating for yourself is about not waiting for someone else to give you permission

Don’t wait until a performance review or job interview to advocate for yourself. When a decision needs to be made, like hiring, nomination, or promotion, you want to already be top of mind. Otherwise, it could be too late. 

How to do this

To do this, it's important to set weekly goals for yourself. Break down long-term goals, such as performance reviews or job interviews, into monthly and weekly goals. This might include setting up goals six months ahead of time to ask for a meeting with 10–15 stakeholders per week (about 30 percent may accept your invitation), working on cross-functional projects to expand your network, making it a goal to speak at important meetings at least once, and scheduling time each week to work on the feedback that stakeholders have given you. 

How to know if it’s working

Advocating for yourself is not a one-and-done process, instead it is a muscle you'll need to build and exercise on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. 

By making it as easy as possible for your manager to talk about your success, building relationships with the right people, and not waiting until you’re given permission to speak up, you’ll be able to make sure your hard work is seen. 

Those who consistently do the work of advocating for themselves can:

  • Can pinpoint exactly what they need to do or improve on to reach their goal(s)

  • Have conversations with their manager(s) about project updates and progress and don’t often have to start from square one or “guess” about their priorities

  • Are known among peers and coworkers for what they do

  • Have a generally consistent stream of people in or outside of their network reaching out to them to ask for advice in their area of expertise

Read more: The Worst Career Advice We (& You) Have Ever Gotten

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Bessy Tam

Contributor

Bessy is a tech career coach who helps high-performing professionals from traditional backgrounds land dream, non-technical jobs in tech. She has more than six years of experience in the tech industry and has helped clients land offers at Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Autodesk, Trunk Club, L2, ByBit, Bytedance, and more, even during the COVID pandemic. She is currently a global product lead for search at Google Chicago and is originally from Hong Kong.

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