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How to ask for what you want and back yourself

“Back yourself, ask for opportunities and dig deep when those opportunities come your way and have a go.”

Great advice from Gail Kelly as she was stepping down as CEO of Westpac, and having had such a successful career, she should know. Gail also believes this is one of the seven principles she outlined as being essential to success as a leader. Not feeling good enough and worrying about failing are barriers, especially for women, to forging ahead in your career. It is important to believe in yourself and your abilities and go outside of your comfort zone sometimes in order to get ahead.

It is easy to underestimate our own capabilities and shy away from challenging situations where we fear failure. In this interview with Emma Isaacs, CEO of Business Chicks, she shares that too often we think we need to have some brilliant plan before we take on a challenge that is far bigger than us; that we must have all the answers before we start out. And this is not so! You just need to trust in yourself that you’ll work it out as you go along.

In this article Are You Holding Yourself Back? How to Use it to Your Advantage, the author explores the notion of self-handicapping and how to use it to your advantage. “When you’re scared to fail, you’re more likely to find ways to protect your self-esteem. This is a psychological phenomenon known as self-handicapping, and it holds you back much more than you think.” If you don’t internalise your failure and let it affect your self-esteem then you can turn it into a positive. Rather than thinking “I’m going to fail,” try, “I’ll be fine. Even if the worst-case scenario happens and I do fail, I’ll learn from it.”

So how do you cultivate the perseverance and tenacity to back yourself for a successful career? Here are some factors that will help:

  1. Don’t quit. See things through even if you are finding it challenging. You’ll surprise yourself.
  2. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Spend time with people who are tough and demand the best of themselves. You might learn something.
  3. Learn optimism. A positive attitude will help you to get ahead.
  4. Read inspiring stories about successful people. Start with our Unexpected Women books that are filled with resilient, inspirational women who have made their mark.
  5. Be passionate about what you do.
  6. Take on challenges. Put your hand up for projects outside of your comfort zone.
  7. Don’t let criticism or failure get the better of you. Learn and go forward.

So, you’re ready to back yourself for a successful career, now you need to learn to ask for what you want and have the right conversations at the right time with the right people.

Our latest case study with Anita Mitchell, General Manager Sustainability at Lend Lease, demonstrates that when you have the courage to have conversations about YOU, you’ll reap the rewards you deserve. “Sometimes you’re so busy ‘doing’ that you forget to plant the seed and sometimes that seed takes a long gestation period, so when the right opportunity comes along at least the right people know your career intentions. Managers do want to recognise high performers and do the best by your career but they’re not mind readers, you need to let them know where you want to take your career”, Anita suggests.

Similar stories are told in this article Feel like a fraud? Back yourself for the next big career move. Proof that every conversation counts, especially when you’re trying to convey your likes/dislikes and where you want to take your career. Having the self-confidence to have what can sometimes be a difficult conversation is easier with a bit of planning. Here are some strategies to help you to ask for what you want (source: 7 Keys To Asking For What You Really Want (So You Get It!)):

  1. Don’t assume others are mind readers. Communicate clearly and be assertive.
  2. Be bold in what you ask for (don’t dilute!).
  3. Be specific about what you want and when you want it. Create expectations to be met.
  4. Forget hints – be direct.
  5. Ditch the martyr act. Your needs matter too!
  6. Don’t make ‘no’ mean more than it does. Don’t take it personally and move on.

If you would like to have a conversation with us about where you career is taking you then please get in touch at

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