How to advocate for yourself (even when it terrifies you)

I’ve been in the workforce for nearly 10 years.

Like many of my peers, I hold a mid-level management position at a company where I have worked my way up the totem pole. A large part of my responsibilities involves communicating directly with our high profile clients. I regularly engage with important stakeholders and I feel confident in the way I present myself during those communications.

Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!

I am no stranger to challenging conversations. In fact, I pride myself on remaining poised during tough discussions. Although I interact with senior managers regularly, I do not have a lot of communication with internal higher management in my position. Sure, I’m comfortable with senior executives from external companies, but I consider myself a total rookie when it comes to navigating a conversation with my own management.


Last year I learned about an internal job opening within my department that I took a strong interest in. It combined a lot of my existing skills and also provided a great opportunity for growth and the possibility of polishing some of the skills I wanted to refine.

After expressing interest to my direct supervisor, with whom I have a great rapport, I learned that I was being passed over the opportunity in favor of a younger male colleague. To add insult to injury, I found out that they passed me over due to a huge misconception on their part. Since I am a married homeowner, they assumed that I would not find the position appealing—as it required frequent travel.

I have never walked out of the office before, but I was so upset after that conversation that I packed up my laptop and went home for the day. Retrospectively, that was not the best move, but I try to be gentle with myself and treat each experience as a learning lesson. Take it from me though, do not storm out of the office, ever! Sitting on my couch feeling sorry for myself with a pan of brownies, I realized that being angry and venting to friends and family was not going to change my situation or prove that I was the best candidate for the role.

I knew I was the best person for the job and that I wanted this position, no matter what people in my office assumed. I decided then and there that I was going to approach higher management to request the opportunity to make my case for why I was a very strong fit for the position. I will admit that it was terrifying to approach senior management, but I knew that no one would be a better advocate for me than, well, me.
Here are the steps I went through to tackle this terrifying conversation:


This advice seems obvious, but it’s easy to be reactive to such disappointing news. As tempting as venting to your work friends may be (or walking out as I did!), it’s important to remain level headed.

You may know you’re the best person for the job. You probably also know that they’ve made a terrible mistake by passing you over. However, it’s important to remain professional and strategic in your approach to demonstrating that.


I know when I experience a setback or am overlooked for an exciting opportunity at work, the first thing that comes to mind is “I’m not good enough”. Instead of letting the negative energy seep in, use the opportunity to review your resume to reflect on your experience, remember your achievements, and build your confidence back up.

Being knocked down happens to everyone at some point in their career, and it’s vital to build yourself back up before you approach your employer. If I am having a tough day at work and not feeling my full value, I will often make a list of things that I do well in my role, what I contribute to my team, and why I am an asset to my department. It really pumps me up and makes me feel my value!


This is the scariest part of being your own best advocate, but don’t let anger or fear allow you to miss out on the opportunity to advance your career. Discussing your achievements and experience with higher management or the hiring manager is a critical part of advocating for yourself in the workplace. Identify the correct person to meet with and be mindful of your office culture. I sent a brief email asking to meet with the head of our department rather than sending a cryptic calendar invitation, but every workplace is different, so be thorough and do your research.


You did it! You’ve gotten over the hurdle of requesting a meeting with someone who intimidates you. Now you have the opportunity to discuss your accomplishments and prove why you’re a good fit for the role.

Pick two or three reasons you really like your company and why you want to grow your career there, then lead the meeting with pinpointing those reasons. You want the focus of the conversation on the growth of your career within the company, so let them know why you want this opportunity so much!

It’s important to not only describe your skill set but to give examples of work experience you have that correlates directly to the position. This is a time to highlight why you’re awesome at your job, don’t hold back! Avoid acknowledging that they may move in another direction with staffing and instead focus on why you’re ready to take on new responsibilities that highlight your skill set and challenge you within the company.


There is nothing like the sweet relief you feel after a challenging conversation.

If you are still confident that the position is one that you would like to pursue, go ahead and send your resume in the email as well. You should also ask to be considered for future growth opportunities and reiterate your interest in growing your career with the company. You could also use this email as an opportunity to request information on career development and mentorship opportunities.


I did it. I had the difficult conversation. While it truly terrified me at first, I am so glad I did it. Today, I have a relationship with our senior management that goes deeper than a nod in the hallway. I was able to advance my career as a direct result of this conversation—a conversation that terrified me.

I encourage you to avoid shying away from requesting face time with higher management. Remember how experienced, talented, and amazing you are the next time you are feeling discouraged. You should celebrate your achievements and contributions every day. The next time you need to initiate an intimidating conversation, turn directly to management and showcase your talents and attributes.

This article first appeared on .