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Self-Advocacy: What Is This & How to Develop This Skill?

Carolyne Guilani, February 22, 2024
self-advocacy: what is this & how to develop this skill?

Believe it or not, talking about yourself is not as easy as others make it out to be. It’s a skill that takes both time and effort to master (you can use a time tracker to see how much time it can take ;)). Self-advocacy is most useful when applying for a job, but can also benefit you in many situations in both your professional and personal life.  

In the long run, having self-advocacy skills can open many doors for you. Although, for these doors to open, it is important to dedicate the time and effort to master the skill as early as possible! So, let us dive right in!

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is best described as the professional approach towards speaking about yourself and communicating your worth.

Essentially, self-advocacy is the process of speaking up for yourself and your needs.

Self-advocacy helps you present yourself in a way that will make for a positive and lasting impression. Take a job interview for instance. Interviews exist to help companies distinguish candidates from the rest of the application pool.

There is only so much a hiring manager can learn about you on paper. He or she will look to the interview as a way to get to understand how you might operate in a role and what your personality is like. As you self-advocate you are not only speaking up for yourself but are also giving information to the interviewer about who you are.

Furthermore, learning how to effectively advocate for yourself will help you maintain professional relationships with coworkers and clients. Not only is self-advocacy important when looking for a job but it can be practiced throughout your daily life as well. 

A Word on Communicating Your Worth

Essentially, self-advocacy consists of two major areas you need to master: KNOWING your worth and COMMUNICATING your worth. We’ll talk about the former in a bit, but let’s touch on the latter first. Communication is an essential part of self-advocacy (and is critical to success in business and in life overall).

If you struggle in communicating your worth, rest assured that you are not alone. For many people, it is not a skill that comes naturally. However, there are many communication skills and methods that can help you improve your self-advocacy skills, including but not limited to:

  1. practicing anxiety management;
  2. doing self-reflection to help set your boundaries;
  3. developing your listening skills and actively listening to others;
  4. working on your body language to better engage your listeners;
  5. learning to sharpen and simplify your messages, and more.

If you feel that the major part of your self-advocacy struggle comes from the fact that you’re not as proficient a communicator as you could be, consider investing an hour of your time in going through this brilliant lecture from Stanford Graduate School of Business. You will learn the ground rules for being comfortable in speaking up and driving your point across:

Self-Advocacy Skills to Implement in Your Daily Life

It’s one thing to speak about yourself, and another to be able to do so effectively and convincingly. As you improve these skills, know that this is a process and it won’t happen overnight. There may be times where you feel defeated and incapable when practicing self-advocacy. If you’re feeling this way, recognize that dedicating the time and effort now will benefit you later in life.

Take a look at the following four self-advocacy tips and consider how you can implement them in your life!

1. Show confidence in your knowledge and expertise

A common mistake people make is doubting themselves when speaking out about a subject matter they are not experts on. With so many skilled people in the workforce, it’s also normal to feel underqualified and thus nervous during interviews or business conversations. However, don’t let this fact discredit your expert power. If you feel too much like an imposter, you might be subconsciously selling yourself short.

You can showcase your expertise by addressing questions like an expert. To achieve this:

  1. Use a clear vocabulary and powerful diction. This will help present your professional side and that you’re serious about the role.
  2. Over-prepare. Knowing your subject matter and doing the necessary preparation will make you come off more confidently than if you did not.

2. Address areas where you fall short

Addressing where you fall short and knowing yourself well will also help you self-advocate during a negotiation. This quick video covers all the basics of answering the dreaded “What are your weaknesses?” interview question without being insincere or retreating to a cliche:

When applying for a job, you most likely won’t cross off every box on the hiring manager’s checklist. However, this does not mean you will be taken out of the running for the position immediately. Knowing how to present yourself and properly addressing the requirements you don’t match can make a difference! 

Do your best to positively explain your shortcomings. For example, if you don’t have a certification that the role is asking for then instead of not addressing it, you can dig deeper and see if you have any relevant experience that can act as a substitute. Your substitute should have something to do with similar skills within the certification. That way when you go into the interview, you can say you haven’t completed the certification, but you do have professional experience in similar areas.

Editor’s note: Try and practice this substitution method before the actual interview, so you understand how to effectively communicate the idea and avoid coming off as insincere.

3. Have clear and defined goals that you can negotiate for

Self-advocacy can also help you reach your goals. To best achieve your goals, make sure to have a clear idea of what exactly you’re hoping to accomplish. This bedrock will make you feel more comfortable when putting your foot forward to negotiate! 

Let’s say you land a position and want certain terms associated with your contract. Some people have the goal of getting a higher salary or more paid time off. For your request to be effective, you’ll need to feel confident when talking with management.

self-advocacy: what is this & how to develop this skill?
Develop the art of giving speeches to speak up for yourself and your cause

Learn to organize and structure your speeches to ensure your point hits home every single time.

Approaching a negotiation with attainable actions behind your requests will support your credibility. The justifications behind your “ask” should be any qualifications that push you past the competition. You may have a higher degree or more experience than other applicants. Or, you have intangibles, such as incredible attention to detail or an uncompromising work ethic.

Editor’s note: Keep in mind that you may need to compromise. At the end of the negotiation, both you and your employer should be satisfied with the outcome.

4. Do not be afraid to ask for help

Part of knowing how to self-advocate is knowing when and how to ask for help when you need it. Learning from others is how people grow. While it is important to not sell yourself short, don’t let this stop you from reaching out to others for help. In this case, instead of advocating for your skills, you’re advocating for your needs.

If you want to learn more about the subtle art of speaking up for your worth, your wishes, and your needs, this brilliant Ted speaker shares some valuable insights on speaking up for yourself through a range of stories from his own life experience:

Self-Advocacy: The Bottom Line

Developing self-advocacy skills can make an immense difference both professionally and personally. People often mistake being social for knowing how to self-advocate, but these are two different skills. Knowing how to self-advocate is a skill that takes practice and effort to master. 

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Advocate for yourself in a job search – is knowing how to communicate your worth and presenting yourself in a positive light. Although it may take time, try to practice some of the skills listed above throughout your daily life. As you actively make an effort to develop your skills, the quicker they will become a habit.

everhour contributor siege guilani carolyne

Carolyne Guilani

Marketing student at San Diego State University. Passionate about writing and helping brands make a name for themselves. Loves to travel and explore new areas when not studying or working.