I started my career in technical support as a Customer Success Associate and today, 11 years later, I’m a partner at venture capital firm, OpenView. Not the most traditional career path. Hard work (and a little luck!) was certainly pivotal in setting the stage for my career, but learning how to advocate for my own interests, personal development and career opportunities was truly how I made a few pivotal leaps.
Early in my career I made the common mistake of failing to articulate my career goals to my manager. Instead, I assumed my boss was constantly looking for ways to help me grow.
I was working hard, helped anyone who asked and constantly took on more responsibility, but I didn’t provide any clear direction on my personal and professional goals. I just sat there hoping my boss would give me what I wanted.
The lesson is clear: to succeed, you need to be able to advocate for yourself. I recommend the following:
1) Know what you want.
Knowing what you want is step one. Many people assume you need to move into management to progress your career, but the reality is that there are plenty of opportunities to master your current role and build your expertise as an individual contributor. If you’re motivated and excited about what you are doing today, you don’t necessarily need to be thinking about the next thing. Some of the best people I’ve worked with have stuck with one job for a long time, becoming masters of what they do.
2) Ask for what you want (but don’t assume you’ll get it).
Once you know what you want to do it’s your responsibility to come up with a plan and then ask for help. Ask for input from others and seek advice, but ultimately, you need to own your own development. If you are clear in your goals and have specific asks, you will find that most people are willing to help.
3) Make sure you’re hitting your targets before taking on new responsibilities.
In order to successfully advocate for taking on new responsibilities, you have to demonstrate that you can do your current job. in sales, you should be hitting your number before asking to take on something new AND any new responsibility cannot get in the way of your core job function
As a manager, I’ve had a lot of people approach me asking to work on new projects and mentor others. Those things can be great, but they can also be a distraction from the number one thing you are paid to do. The best way to show your manager that you are ready to take on more is to over-deliver on your current role.
4) When taking on new responsibilities and leadership, be explicit with everyone about what you’re doing.
If one person on a team is going to step into new responsibilities that involve a leadership role, that should be clearly communicated to everyone. Sometimes it can become a really forced thing. A successful peer relationship can get tarnished when someone tries to be the boss before they’re given the authority to do so.
By talking things out with your supervisor and peers beforehand, you can find ways to influence and add value without overstepping.
5) Keep a file of your accomplishments.
When it comes to year end or time to advocate for a bonus, raise or promotion, what do you point to? Most people focus on what’s top of mind – the last few months, or maybe even weeks of work. Managers don’t always keep a record of team members’ accomplishments, great customer/peer feedback or major initiatives through the year. You should do it yourself so that you can work it into your self-evaluations and reviews. It’s hard to remember what happened in February for the end-of-year review, but having a file to reference makes it easy. Set up a folder in your inbox and the next time someone sends you a kudos email, file it away!