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What does it mean to advocate for yourself at work, and how can I do this?

Industry Matters Newsletter
Natalie LaFranzo, Vice President, Market Development, Cofactor Genomics
Natalie LaFranzo, Vice President, Market Development, Cofactor Genomics

We often think that the key to succeeding at work relies on a supportive boss, an excellent mentor, or working for a company with great HR programs that allow you to advance quickly throughout your career. While all of those can certainly be helpful and make the path easier, it's important to remember that in many situations - supportive or volatile - you are the sole owner of your own success. Stepping up to ask for the things you need to succeed is an important part of being a professional. 

So, how do you advocate for yourself at work? 

My first suggestion is to set clear and quantitative goals for yourself. Whether these are SMART goals or Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), it’s important you can point to examples where you accomplished something great. You may already be doing this for your group or department. However, even if it’s not required, implementing a system like this is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to continuous improvement. Moving beyond what your employer or group needs to be successful and integrating goals or OKRs that accelerate your own personal growth and development is essential.

Once you’ve mapped out some professional or personal career goals, you should think about what’s needed in order for you to achieve those goals. ACS offers plenty of resources that can help with this - ChemIDP for students, Career Consultants for all levels of professionals and students, informal networking events and discussions at meetings, etc. Remember - you are a complete person and meeting your needs on a personal level will allow you to perform your best, whether it be at work or at home. Read more on why advocating for yourself isn’t selfish.

After this exercise, you should have very tangible items to advocate for in order to be successful. Tying your requests to specific goals is a much easier discussion to have with your employer. Request a meeting or request time in an agenda to discuss the goals and what you need to accomplish them. Consider preparing a document that can be shared ahead of time or after the meeting that summarizes the key takeaways and your succinct request. Don’t be surprised if there is a negotiation involved - there is always a need to balance resources within a company or institution. So, be prepared with clear and concise justification, and prioritization of your needs. Recognize your boss or employer may not always say yes to your request immediately, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals. Once you’ve completed this cycle a few times (consider having monthly, quarterly, and annual goals) you’ll be able to point to examples where you set goals and achieved them, which makes an even stronger case for your future advocacy.

Remember - this is a process that takes time and requires effort on your part. Goal setting and tracking is a tangible way of shaping your own success and provides a great framework to use for personal and professional advocacy. 

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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