Everyone has a different view of self-advocacy as it relates to career advancement. Even over the course of my own career, my approach to advocating for myself has evolved. Toward the beginning of my career, I primarily focused on building skills and learning as much as possible. Eventually, this approach facilitated the competency, maturity, and confidence that I felt were necessary to assume more responsibility.
As I’ve earned more stripes and become more confident, I’ve also become more direct in my approach. Advocating for yourself is extremely important, but circumstances should inform your strategy. Balancing your skills, goals, and opportunities will help you navigate your leadership and career path.
Getting into leadership
Sales attracts a highly driven, motivated talent pool. That means it can be difficult to transition from being an individual contributor to a leader. But it’s also very rewarding!
I think it’s extremely important to first ground yourself in your vision for your career. If leading is something that you ultimately want to pursue, my best advice is to make your aspirations for a leadership role clear to your manager and critically evaluate what hard and soft skills you need to improve or develop to get there.
Once you’ve built that foundation, try to identify low-risk opportunities to practice leading. Running point on a project or managing a vendor relationship are great ways to build your relationship, influence, coaching, and communication skills. These opportunities position you well for a leadership role when the opportunities present themselves.
Deciding to make a career move
I recently made a career transition from RXBAR to MUSH, which was not only an extremely difficult decision, but one I spent over six months putting thought into.
I thought holistically about my career and what I wanted, consulting with coaches, mentors, and friends along the way.
Ultimately, I’ve identified three questions that informed my decision and might be helpful for others to consider when contemplating their careers:
- What do you like to do? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What is the environment in which you thrive?
- What are the values and principles that you hold close to your heart which you would like to see reflected in your company?
At RXBAR, I was certainly doing what I loved: coaching and developing a team, supporting others, collaborating across functions, working with customers, contributing to growth strategy, the list goes on. Similarly, my values aligned well with the company’s.
Ultimately, I came to realize that I had a desire to change my work environment. When I first joined RXBAR, I was the 18th hire and by the time I left, there were more than 200 employees. While many thrive in larger organizations, I found myself yearning to get back into a building environment where I could add value quickly in a meaningful way. This, coupled with the fact that I was passionate about the team, product, purpose, and values at MUSH made it an exciting opportunity that I know is the right next chapter for me.
Compensation is something that comes up quite a bit, especially when it comes to making a career change. Candidly,I have made career moves where I took on more responsibility with a title bump but saw no immediate increase in pay. In fact, I took a significant pay cut in my most recent transition. My focus remains on the big picture which, for me, is all about growth, experience, learning, and people. When deciding on your career path, think about what matters most to you. Is the extra $100 per paycheck really going to do it for you? Or do you want to work on something or somewhere that invigorates you?
Transitioning to new position
All of my positions have been within the food industry. However, I’ve worked on several different products and channels.
In making any career transition, it’s helpful to assume a beginner’s mentality. How can you take what you know, but also learn from those around you? By genuinely seeking to understand and freeing yourself from assumptions, you’re able to open up more doors to new ways of thinking and ideas. In sales, I firmly believe you cannot do your job well without a deep understanding of your product or service and your customer’s business.
As I’ve navigated new products, channels, or customers I’ve found this learning approach to set myself up to be solutions-focused and have tremendous empathy for those around me, which in turn supports strong partnerships.
Ultimately, understand your values and goals, and use that understanding to position yourself for the opportunities you want. If you can do that, you will find fulfillment and grow as a sales professional.