Charting your path – Tips and Tricks to help you advocate for yourself and shape your career!
I’ve heard many people say that they hesitate to share their accomplishments, experience, and goals to pursue additional opportunities because they believe it could be misinterpreted as bragging and give off a sense of arrogance. While I do understand the concern, the reality of the working world is that nobody will advocate as strongly for you as you can for yourself. How often do you think about where you want to see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years? Do you see others ahead of you in positions you would want, or working on projects you would want to work on? Do they have titles you want to have? The process of thinking through what you want your future to look like and studying those around you to understand how they got to where they are is critical to helping you shape what your career can look like.
I had some great examples of successful young geospatial professionals to look up to when I first started. They were a few years ahead of me and were working on projects I found interesting, had exciting responsibilities, and were well respected leaders within our organization. I thought a lot about how they got to where they were, and what they were doing to be successful. When they got promoted, I tried to figure out what made them qualify for it. When I heard about the projects they worked on, I had to know what skills and experience they had that helped them work on it. Most importantly, I had to ask myself - How did they get those opportunities so early in their career? As scary as it seemed at times, I took the opportunity to ask them some of these questions directly. Through all those conversations and observations, one general theme started to emerge for how they were getting these opportunities so early in their career, they actively advocated for themselves.
Self-advocacy in the workplace doesn’t have to feel “icky”, it's simply your opportunity to share your experience, your value, and your goals with your employer and puts yourself in the driver’s seat for your career. It doesn’t require bragging or putting others down. So how can you advocate for yourself without feeling bad about it? Below are some examples of questions that many of us have asked ourselves in the past and my experience on how to best tackle each challenge:
Nobody knows what I do, how can I fix that? - Make your presence known!
A great way to do this is to start talking with people in your organization - Get to know them and what they do. Learn about their goals and their challenges. When you have a good understanding of what they do, start to share how your experience may be helpful to them. Can you help them do something faster, better, cheaper? Whatever that benefit may be, make sure they leave your conversation feeling like you understand them and the challenges they face, and with an understanding of what you can do to help them.
Do you have an intranet, or team collaboration space? Use it to your advantage! Periodically share helpful tips, tricks and other information with your organization. Have you taken a training or webinar recently and learned things that others could benefit from? Use this space to share that information with everyone! Similarly, using social media like LinkedIn is a great place to build your brand and share content that is meaningful to you and gives your connections and network a glimpse into who you are and what you know. It may seem like a small or insignificant tip or trick to you, but to someone else, it may be extremely helpful!
I periodically share technology tips & tricks with my coworkers on our intranet, you can do things like this too! Here is the first one I shared on my company intranet, and that simple information helped 15 people!
What accomplishments are you most proud of? Completed a degree or certificate program recently? Or won an award or competition for something work related? If so, be sure to share that with your team and your leadership. It’s easy to hesitate to share this kind of information and good news with others because we don’t want to brag, but it is absolutely critical that we do make our accomplishments known throughout our career. Sharing this information helps others understand what you’re good at, how you can help them, and builds your credibility. In most cases, they will celebrate your success with you too!
Sharing your successes in life is totally ok, in fact, I think everyone should share what they are most proud of! Who doesn’t like to work with someone who loves what they do?
Eventually, people will remember what you share, associate you with the content you cover, recognize you as a subject matter expert and trusted resource on those topics, and will reach out to you directly with opportunities.
What if I don’t have a supportive manager? – Find your allies!
I hear it all the time – “I’m the only GIS person in my organization,” or “my boss doesn’t understand what I do.” Which ultimately leads to, “I don’t get the support I need,” or “I don’t see potential for growth here.” If you feel this way, try taking a different approach - find an ally that you can depend on. Try to connect with other leaders in your organization. Help them understand what value you bring to the table and what your experience could do for them and the organization. Get their perspective on what opportunities exist to leverage your skills in new ways. You may find that you get their support faster than expected and they then advocate for you with your leadership. If you see opportunities to do something new and exciting within your organization and need help pushing the idea, your allies are the ones to help you craft your approach to pushing the idea forward, but also adding their support behind you to help make it happen. You can draw alot of inspiration from allies across the industry too, so make sure you are always networking and learning from them!
Networking with my friends in the industry has given me valuable insight into the things they do to advocate for themselves. I get tons of great ideas hearing about their journeys that I can adapt in my own career! Shout out to my URISA VC teammates!
Can I do it? – Yes! Speak up, Share your ideas, and Get Involved!
This might be one of the most important things you can do to accelerate your growth within an organization. It's cliché, but also very true, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” If you never speak up for opportunities that interest you, you will either miss them, or it’ll take longer for you to get them. Have you been in meetings where they ask, “who wants to help with this?”, or “can I get any volunteers?” Do you ever hold back from volunteering? Maybe because you aren’t sure if you’re qualified to do it? I encourage you to take a chance and volunteer for any opportunity! Speak up and let them know you’re interested.
Not comfortable speaking up in a meeting? That’s ok! Take a few minutes after the meeting to go connect with the project manager and let them know you would like to help. You can even start by asking some clarifying questions to get a better understanding of the work. In that conversation, take the opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas on how you can help, or how your experience could be helpful. Can things be done better, faster, cheaper? If so, share those ideas!
Always get involved as much as you can. Employers value employees who want to be involved and help. If you see opportunities to volunteer your time, support internal initiatives, even if it doesn’t involve a core skill of yours, volunteer anyways, I am sure you will be glad you did! You may learn something new, will have the opportunity to get your name out there, and will certainly be developing your network as you do it! Plus, when new opportunities come around, you are much more likely to get asked to help since your team will know you are willing to lend a hand.
I had the opportunity to be on stage with my company’s CEO at our annual strategic planning meeting to explain the benefits of having an emerging professional’s group in our offices. I spoke to over 200 of our most senior leaders. Needless to say, this was one of the most nerve-racking public speaking events I’ve ever given, but I was so glad I said yes to the opportunity!
It’s important to recognize that you have a lot of influence over what your path in this industry looks like. You don’t have to just rely on others to dictate what you can do and when you can do it. Take every opportunity you can to get your name out there, learn something new, build your network, and to get exposure to the leadership within your organization. At the end of the day, advocating for ourselves is our responsibility, because if we don’t look out for ourselves, who else will?
How do you advocate for yourself? Leave a comment to share your own ideas, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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