Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s was famous for asking his constituents, “How’m I doing?” Koch’s signature question showed that sometimes the best way to find out how you’re coming across to other people is simply to ask other people how you’re coming across to them.
Some variations of Koch’s strategy for soliciting feedback that you can use to collect career-boosting advice:
1. Identify a professional who you respect, and ask him/her about what you are doing well on your job and how you might do it better or differently. Consider seeking such feedback from your supervisor, other managers, colleagues, members on your staff, your predecessor on your job, or professionals whose jobs are similar to yours.
2. If you’ve been rejected for a federal job, call the HR contact on the announcement, and ask this contact for your score in the competition. This information—which you won’t receive without requesting it—can help you better target future applications.
3. Call interviewers who didn’t hire you, thank them for considering you for openings and ask them for tips on improving your interviewing skills and broadening your credentials—information that may help you vault ahead in the future.
4. Once you have established a comfortable rapport with a new colleagues after starting a new job, ask your new colleague about the organizational culture of your new employer, and how to excel in it.
5. Solicit feedback from trusted advisors on your presentations before delivering them. For example, I know a public affairs officer who consulted an executive before giving his first presentation on science communication to agency scientists shortly after being hired at a science-based agency. Based on her knowledge of the agency’s culture, the executive advised the newbie to incorporate into his presentation communication successes of some agency scientists who would attend his presentation, and to cite those scientists by name during his presentation. The executive’s advice helped the newbie ace his presentation.
6. Seek feedback on meetings, presentations and trainings you lead from attendees in written and/or oral form.
7. Show written documents you produce to others to solicit their editorial suggestions–before submitting them.
8. Consult with experienced trusted advisors at key points on large projects.
If your advisors provide positive feedback, share it with supervisors and hiring managers, as appropriate. For example, show positive written evaluations on your presentations to your supervisor. In addition, incorporate praising comments from top managers and positive annual evaluations in your resume.
Whenever you solicit feedback, be adaptable and keep an open mind—balanced by confidence in your self-worth that won’t be rattled by suggestions; keep input in perspective! And remember: It is always smarter to seek feedback and “friendly fire,” and to fix flaws and improve work products before you officially release them than to save your pride but then be harmed by criticisms (and perhaps silently be sabotaged by the deficiencies in your work products) after it is too late to address these problems.
Also, encourage candor and tact from advisors, and respond graciously to their suggestions. After you apply feedback from advisors, tell your advisors how their suggestions helped you improve, if appropriate.
But discreetly disregard feedback that is invalid, impractical or will derail your nonnegotiable priorities. And if anyone of any status under any circumstances ever directs you with condescension, disrespect or inconsiderateness, remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”