Making Work, Work: 4 Ways to Advocate for Yourself on the Job

Ann Lambert  is a second year Teaching Fellow at the Irving Middle School, Roslindale MA

1.)  Recognize your resources—and use them

At most organizations there are a wealth of people with extremely interesting stories to tell, past experiences from which you can learn, and connections to share.  Talk to them.  Get on their radar.  If they recognize you as a hungry employee (for lunch, yes… but also for opportunity) with initiative and a desire to learn, they’ll call upon you when opportunities arise.  Get your name out there:  you never know when you’ll reap the benefits of that 10 minute chat you had with the head of the department. 

 I know from experience…  After requesting an informational interview with Citizen Schools’ President and COO during the first year of the fellowship, I was instantly introduced to three extremely accomplished people working in organizations or fields that I found interesting.  Your colleagues are connected.  Let them connect you. 

2.)  Speak Up

Unhappy?  Don’t assume you’re the exception to the rule.  Make your voice heard and others will rally behind you.  Take the time to organize your thoughts and articulate your point, then:  Send an email.  Talk to a respected colleague or mentor.  Arrange a meeting with your supervisor.  Do something.  Maybe nothing will change… but you won’t know until you try!

I know from experience… As Teaching Fellows, we have the opportunity to work with an external partner or a department within Citizen Schools as our “morning partnership”, in addition to the work we do in the schools during the afternoon.  Towards the end of my first year of the fellowship, I had yet to hear what my partnership placement would be for my second year; and it was unclear as to whether or not I would even have a say in what my position would be.  Feeling uncertain and anxious about what lay ahead, and hearing similar gripes from my Teaching Fellow colleagues, I drafted an email to the appropriate audience expressing our concerns.  Within a week, a clarifying email went out, a person was designated to field questions related to the impending year, and Fellows were given a clear system and timeline for how and when they would be assigned a partnership for the following year.  There is power in words.  Use them as a catalyst for action.

3.)  Do your research to help your case

Having raw data—quantitative and qualitative—can never hurt.  Your superiors are more inclined to listen if you can substantiate your claims.  Whether it’s a formal survey or compiling anecdotes from relevant constituents, find a way to back up the reasons for your proposal or demands.

I know from experience…  I spent the first year of my job writing a monthly newsletter to be distributed across the national network of Teaching Fellows: “The Frequent Flyer”.  The data generated by the program I used to create and distribute the e-letter showed that between 25 and 35% of Fellows were reading it—not bad for an electronic publication, but not enough to justify the time and effort put into it.  So, I compiled the facts and figures, administered a survey to discern the most effective ways to disseminate information to Teaching Fellows, led focus groups asking the audience what they wanted, and proposed a new communication system to my supervisor.  Let’s just say, “The Frequent Flyer” doesn’t come so frequently anymore; and a new communication system has taken its place.

4.)  Know what you want… then ask.

Your mom, your dad, your teacher … someone in your life, at one point or another, has used some form of the age-old adage “the stupidest question is the one that’s not asked”.  This is especially true when vying for a position, a responsibility, or an opportunity in the workplace.  After all, you can’t advocate for yourself if you haven’t even shown your hand and made your demands—or your polite requests (depending on your personal style).  Once you know what kind of work you find fulfilling and have identified what you really want out of your job, ask for it.  All they can say is “No.”

I know from experience…  Upon reflecting on the parts of my job that I like the most and why, I realized that I enjoy crafting a message for a specific audience and thinking up creative ways to deliver that message.  I articulated this to the people who might be able to cater to these interests (aka the Marketing and Recruitment Teams).  The outcome?  I’m writing for the Citizen Schools InspirED blog (keep reading it!); I’m managing the Campus Recruitment Twitter account to attract and retain the interest of Teaching Fellow candidates; and I’m working on creating marketing collateral showcasing professional pathways taken by Teaching Fellow Alumni.  There’s work to be done everywhere; and most people are receptive to an extra set of helping hands (and minds).  All you have to do is ask! 


What advice do you have for young professionals advocating for themselves on the job?