Advocating for Yourself: Insights for Young Professionals

A young woman interviewing for a job. June 4, 2024 By: Gabriella Lehimdjian

Whether interviewing, starting a new job, requesting a promotion, setting boundaries, or pitching a new idea, it’s important that you speak up for what you need. Here are a few tips to guide you.

Advocating for yourself has many forms and there are lots of ways to do it. It’s critical to your professional growth and you can’t depend on other people to know what you need and to look out for you. In a recent ASAE Young Professionals Lunch & Learn, I covered this topic and highlighted a few ways to advocate for yourself in different scenarios.

When interviewing for a new job, starting a job, asking for a promotion, setting boundaries for work-life balance, and pitching new ideas to leadership, the key is to be prepared. Here are some actions I recommend taking to get ready for these situations.

Before starting a new job, make sure people are able to research you, and what they hear is good. You never want to burn a bridge, so how can you ensure they remember and hear good things about you? One way is to be mindful of what you post on social media and getting people to endorse you on LinkedIn is one way to use social media to your advantage.

I also suggest sending hand-written notes when you can. Send a ‘thank you’ if a co-worker was extra helpful on a project or a congratulations note if they are celebrating something big, or sympathy card if they are going through a difficult time. People will remember these things and appreciate you. As Dr. Maya Angelou famously said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” If there are multiple rounds of interviewing and time permits, you could also send a ‘thank you’ note after your first interview.

When interviewing you should also be doing your own research as well, so how can you research people and companies, and leave a good impression? I suggest looking on Glassdoor, I’ve found it very helpful, I would also look at your potential boss’s endorsements on LinkedIn. Through endorsements you can see what former employees and colleagues have to say about them. You also want to learn as much about the company and the role as possible. Know what the company does and how they do it, but more specifically know how they execute your potential role. When interviewing, compliment the company on an aspect of their business strategy and also be prepared to pitch them a new idea you’re bringing to the role.

Before negotiating your salary, research what the typical salary and benefits package is and be prepared with what you’re willing to accept. I should note, and don’t be afraid to pin one interview against another. If you get an offer from one company, use that to your bargaining advantage.

Many professionals are concerned with setting boundaries and maintaining a certain amount of work- life balance. During the interview process research what the real working hours are like and what the goals are that you are expected to accomplish. In the case of time, ask if you should be expected to check and reply to Zoom or email after hours or while on PTO. In the case of goals, ask how your success will be tracked, your goals should be measurable. Once you are in a job people will get used to what you give them, so give wisely.

If you feel your time or your work is not being respected by a supervisor after starting a job, go to the next person up who could help. Keep in mind, if you are asked to take on additional responsibilities to your agreed upon job description ask how long it will be for. If it is for an extended period of time or indefinitely then it would be appropriate to ask for additional compensation, with the reasoning simply being that this is outside of your current job description. However, if it is a random request or an emergency then be a team player and pitch in. A good leader will appreciate you for that.

When asking for a promotion, research how much the average salary is for your role in a similar-sized association as well as the benefits package offered and be prepared with what you are willing to accept. What’s the lowest increase you would be comfortable with? If more compensation isn’t an option maybe more PTO could work for you? Or more remote days? Or more money towards professional development?

In any case, you can get prepared a year in advance. Before asking for a promotion have deliverables ready in your pocket to back-up your ask. You can do this by creating a list of measurable goals with your boss at the start of the year, creating monthly reports of the projects you’re working on featuring metrics, and apply for relevant awards from reputable associations for projects you’ve worked on. If you win, you have that metric to show too.

Pitching new ideas can be exciting and a little nerve wracking. But it is a wonderful opportunity to advocate for yourself and step outside of your box, while also adding value to your organization too. Before pitching a new idea or strategy, research industry best practices and benchmarks and come prepared to explain how your idea is in line with them. You also need to have a plan in place to monitor your success or stumbles so you can change course in a timely manner. And be sure to emphasize how the new idea is filling a need or gap and the reason why the new idea is needed will help with approval and adoption.

For more information, and anecdotal examples from my personal experience, watch my full presentation which includes case study examples and our Q&A.

This article is part of ASAE’s Young Professionals Series. Read stories that reflect your experiences and offer guidance for building a fulfilling and successful career in association management.

Gabriella Lehimdjian

Gabriella Lehimdjian is communications manager at ASIS International in Alexandria, Virginia.