Ask for What You Need

Own your career path by seeking out feedback that matters for your development.

Posted Mar 25, 2019

Recently, while talking with a couple of young professionals about their first few years out of college, I asked what they had learned about themselves so far in their first professional roles. Both said, almost without hesitation, that they had learned that they value and crave regular, meaningful feedback, which they found to be lacking in their interactions with their managers. “I’m fine with being told that I do things well,” one said, “but that’s not really very helpful. I want to know how I can improve and get better. I wish I knew how to get more of that.”

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This is a common refrain from young adults: Help me get better. Show me how I can improve in my skills and abilities. Indeed, the most recent Deloitte Millennial Survey (a poorly-named survey that also includes the now-emerging Generation Z in its data-set), notes that young professionals’ sense of loyalty to their organizations has diminished, with 43% of Millennials and 61% of Gen Z reporting that they intend to leave their current employer within the next two years. Among other reasons, both groups identify perceived skill and knowledge gaps that leave them feeling unprepared for the future of work. If their current employers aren’t going to support their growth and development, then they will quickly look elsewhere for someone who will.

While this data is and should be sobering for anyone in the management or retention business, it is also enlightening for those of you who are just starting out and trying to figure out your paths. The long and short of it is, you have to learn how to ask for what you need, to seek out the growth opportunities that will challenge you, and really seek out feedback that matters. Life, unfortunately, does not operate on a semester-by-semester syllabus, with clearly outlined expectations and rubrics for success. And, not everyone is well-equipped to provide the feedback that you are seeking. More often than not, you are going to have to create those learning opportunities for yourself.

So what can you as a young professional do to get meaningful feedback on your work, feedback that actually will help you to grow and get better? Check out these tips, below.

Critically assess your own strengths and growth areas. Not only do each of us have certain talents and strengths, but we all also have to work on ourselves to get better. New managers, just like new professionals, need to learn how to perform these roles effectively. But just because these are new areas for you, it doesn’t let you off the hook. These are skills that you can identify, and that you should practice. The smart employee, and the one who is going to get ahead, is the one who has a high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence and is able to identify learning gaps for him or herself and looks for ways to fill those gaps.

Help people give you constructive feedback. Your colleagues and supervisor aren’t keeping feedback from you as some form of punishment. The reality is, most people just don’t know how to provide good, constructive feedback. No one is trained on how to do it, and as a result it can feel like a personal attack instead of constructive feedback. Asking, “How can I get better?” can be a daunting question for many folks to answer, especially on the spot. Instead, at the end of every project, ask those who worked with you two simple questions:

  • What are 2-3 things you felt that I did particularly well on this specific project?
  • If we were to do it again, what are 1-2 things that I could do differently or better?

Using these questions, you are framing the feedback around the work, instead of the person. And, by consistently asking the questions, you are teaching others to expect them from you.

Practice responding to feedback. Whether you ask for the feedback or not, create an intentional practice in the way that you respond: listen, ask questions for clarification if needed, avoid getting defensive, and say thank you. If the feedback starts to feel personal, say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I would like to take some time to reflect on it, and then return to this conversation if we could.” Step away and give some thought to the actual intent behind the words. Was it an intentional personal attack, or was it just poorly delivered feedback? Is defending yourself worth the impact on that relationship?

Do the work. Before you ask anyone else to spend their time and energy to help you to get better, you have to do the work to get better yourself. Set quarterly goals for personal and professional development. Regularly reflect on your own progress towards those goals. Seek out mentors who can provide guidance and accountability. Always remember: no one is ever going to care as much about your growth and development as you are. So before you ask someone else to invest in you, you have to do the work.

Ask your supervisor for regular check-ins. Make it known that you would like regular and on-going feedback on your progress, and offer to schedule those meetings once a quarter. Come to those meetings prepared to share your own assessment of your progress towards your goals. Turn it into a coaching conversation and ask for guidance on challenges and professional skill development. By taking ownership for your own career growth, you demonstrate to others that they too should invest their time in developing you.

Finally, if you’re not getting the feedback that you need at work, seek out mentors outside of your organization. No longer are the days where your career path is limited by the walls of your current office. Build your mentoring network with a diverse set of individuals who will tell you the truth, push you towards opportunities, and support you on your path.