Category Archives: Career Development

3 Tips for Responding to Critical Feedback

I have written previously about how to give critical feedback effectively, and how to ask for it. The other part of the equation is what to do once you receive critical feedback. It can be emotionally difficult, even if you asked for it, so it’s worth it to take some time to figure out how to process feedback thoroughly and make the most use of it.

1) Reflect on Whether It’s True

When we get feedback, most of us tend to immediately decide whether we agree with it or not. This impulse is totally natural, and it comes from a good place — having a strong identity. However, sometimes the feedback that can have the most impact is feedback that doesn’t fit with our view of ourselves. Feedback that takes you out of your own idea about what you’re “good” and “bad” at is the type of feedback that leads to real growth. If we wanted to rely on our own views, we wouldn’t have bothered to ask for feedback in the first place, right? So even though it’s hard, pause when you get the feedback, and resist making a snap judgment about whether you agree. Let yourself think about it and really reflect on it without judgment or anger. You may end up in the same place, and that’s ok, the process will still have been worth it.

2) Get Multiple Views

Since we do all have a very clear vision of ourselves, it’s easy to think that our view is the only view. However, it’s important to separate intentions from impact. By intentions I mean how you meant something to sound and how you thought you were coming across.  Often in the face of critical feedback, it’s easy to defend yourself by clarifying what your intentions were. While intentions are important, sticking to this point will blind you to the real area for improvement: understanding how you were actually perceived. Therefore, the greatest value in the feedback is that it will help you understand how others perceive you. Since one person’s view may not be the majority view, it’s a good idea to ask other people.  Don’t just go for quantity. Instead, think about who you trust, who knows you well, and who is skilled or experienced in the attribute in question. Then ask for their opinions, and keep an open mind for what you might hear. By doing this and asking for their honest views, you will get a much more accurate picture of yourself. Feedback is, after all, just a collection of opinions, so the best way to get an accurate picture is to ask more people.  While this can be uncomfortable, it is a very powerful thing, because it will allow you to make changes to your behavior that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.

3) Get Specific

I covered this in my post about how to give critical feedback effectively, but in case the person you are working with doesn’t follow that guidance, the burden shifts to you to get the specifics you need. Asking for specifics can sound awfully similar to asking for proof, and you don’t want these questions to come across as defensive (another example of the importance between intent and impact). Therefore, a good way to start is by making it clear that you are asking for specifics because you really want to understand the feedback. Ask questions like, “What could I have done differently? When should I have done something that I didn’t do? What was my approach missing?” You want to ask whatever you need to in order to understand the feedback around not just this situation, but whatever the underlying principle is. Only by understanding the principle will you truly be able to carry the lesson forward into your future work.

Tell me: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten?


Managing The Emotional Toll of Career Transitions

Like all major changes, career changes are challenging. While there are obvious challenges such as how to market yourself and how to acquire the necessary skills, there is also a huge emotional cost involved in transitions of any kind. Since most people rely on their jobs as a livelihood, and many more as a main source of identity, changing career direction can be downright scary. Over the course of making my own radical career transitions (teacher in AmeriCorps to manager at a hedge fund, for example), I’ve learned some lessons in how to lessen the emotional burden of making a big change.  While I’m talking specifically about career transitions here, I think these ideas could easily apply to other areas of life.

1) Think about your current reality, rather than the possibilities

One of the things I see clients doing the most is getting stuck in the possibilities. I don’t discourage exploration or dreaming — I think that it’s great and it’s a necessary place to start. However, dreaming about potential jobs endlessly, without a dose of reality, usually leads to more confusion than direction. I often hear people say something to the extent of, “There are so many things I want to do that I don’t know where to start.” One strategy I propose is to start narrowing the list down. Start broad, but limit the amount of time you allow yourself to stay in the mindset of “the world is my oyster.”  Start to whittle things down by learning about the realities.  There are probably practical considerations to help you narrow down the list. These could be things like work-life balance or salary considerations. Perhaps there are aspects of the job you haven’t thought about, such as, who knew the fashion industry really involves a lot of math and finance? By starting to ask real questions about yourself (what you like and what you don’t like, as well as your natural strengths) and your reality, you should be able to narrow your dream list down and move it one step closer to a realistic plan.

2) Get over the Idea that there is one perfect job for you

Another emotional hurdle is thinking that whatever you choose to transition to has to be “it.” I always tell my clients to start by taking away the expectation that they have to choose the “right” thing. Think about some of the most successful people you know and admire. Did their careers take one straight line, or were there many turns and pivots along the way? I’m guessing it’s the latter, and yet when we think of ourselves we tend to put enormous pressure on “figuring it out.” Rather than focusing on making one choice and tying ourselves to it indefinitely, I encourage people to think about it as an option. Perhaps it is an option you will enjoy and spend ten years in. On the other hand, you may realize once you get into the day to day that it’s not the best fit. That’s ok too. Give yourself permission to see your next move as a stage of your career and life, rather than an endpoint, and you will be much happier.

3) Use the Scientific Method

Now that you’ve accepted you need to narrow down the infinite possibilities, the question becomes: what to do with your short list? I suggest thinking of it like the scientific method, where you develop a hypothesis and then go out and test it.  You develop this hypothesis of what you might excel at by self exploration and research, and then go out there and test it by getting involved. The only way to know for sure is to experience it in some way, whether that way is working in the role full-time, volunteering, or shadowing. If your hypothesis turns out to be wrong, that is not a reason to panic. It is not a failure. As long as you learn from it, reflect on the new knowledge you have gained, and continue to move forward, it was progress. Big progress.

4) Ask yourself what it would mean if you don’t make a change

I used to ask myself, “What if I make the wrong choice?” That would send me down a spiral of doubt and anxiety. I see the same thing happening to clients all the time. The shift that helped me make some of the most radical changes in my life (e.g. quitting my lucrative job in finance and moving to DC to pursue graduate school) was changing the question. Instead of asking, “Is this the right decision?” I started asking myself, “How will you feel in one year, two years, five years, if you make no change at all?” For me, that was the motivation I needed. I knew that logically, if I stayed, I would only get unhappier. If I left, there was at least a chance I would find something I loved. When you look at it that way, it’s hard to deny the logic of taking action.

5) Get Support

No doubt about it, making changes and taking risks is hard. Really, really hard. Even with all the above work you can do internally, it is incredibly valuable to have outside support. For me, this was difficult because I had to tell people what I was going through. I also had to learn not to be upset when other people didn’t agree with the choices I made. What helped me was being clear about what I needed from people. Those who are close to you want to help, so let them know what would help. Want support without their input on your choice? Make that clear. Want a friend to work through the logic with you and be brutally honest? Make it easier for both of you and say that up front. This can be hard to do, but the only thing harder is trying to do it all yourself.

How to: Get a Raise

A raise: everyone wants one, but how to get it? And more importantly, how to ask for a raise without jeopardizing your relationship with your manager. No one wants to come across as money hungry, but the reality is that taking initiative about your career and salary will have a major impact on your lifetime earning.

1) Ask for It
The most common reason that people don’t get the salary they want is because they don’t ask for it.  While the unique value you offer to your company is clear to you, it may not always in be in the forefront of your manager’s mind. They likely have other direct reports and other responsibilities to worry about. Many people assume that their hard work will be noticed and rewarded, so they feel that asking for a raise will be unnecessary or have a negative impact on how they are perceived. However, if done calmly and logically, negotiating for a raise could actually improve your manager’s opinion of you. Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who was eager to challenge themselves and confident in their strengths? I know I would.

2) Time it Right

Timing is very important when it comes to increasing your salary. Most people wait until the end of the review period to bring this up, which is a big mistake. By then, you don’t have any more time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary.  If there was something specific your manager was hoping to see from you and hasn’t, you won’t have time to correct this. Additionally, there is a lot of review and oversight that goes into setting yearly compensation. Your manager has most likely gone through rounds of reviews with her superiors and gotten approval from HR. If you wait until your review is about to be delivered, chances are your raise (or lack thereof) has already been determined.  So, to give yourself time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary, bring up your goals at the beginning of the review period. Be honest about what you you want to achieve in terms of responsibility and salary increases. It’s also a good idea to ask them to be specific about what they want to see from you in order to increase your salary.   For example, “I would like to be making $80,00 by this time next year. What do you think my biggest development areas are?  Which projects could I work on to build these skills and demonstrate that I can operate at a higher level?” By asking up front, you will ensure you are on the same page about what’s required to move into a bigger role and earn a higher salary. That way, you can spend your time working on what is most important, and by the time your next review period rolls around, you should have a very strong case for getting a raise.

3) Track Your Accomplishments

Once you have had a conversation with your boss and discussed your goals, don’t go silent. Keep the conversation open throughout the review period. Make sure you are checking in with your boss at least once a month to assess your progress. This will help you avoid getting out of sync with them by decision time. It is also incredibly important that you advocate for yourself. No one else is paying as much attention to your accomplishments as you are, so be sure to keep a running list of examples where you were successful. By staying in charge of your own development this way, you will have a tangible record at the end of the year. This is so much more powerful than relying on someone else’s memory and interpretation of events.