Starting a new internship or job can be intimidating enough without having to worry about how well you’re doing and what others—especially your superiors—think about your performance. If your new position doesn’t include a mandated performance review after 60 to 90 days, your first instinct might be to rejoice. You might be thinking about how lucky you are to avoid such an awkward and terrifying exchange. However, a performance review is actually an invaluable career tool in your journey to success.
It’s important to know how you’re progressing within your company. Do others value your input? Can you use your talents to help other departments? Have you encountered any challenges that are inhibiting your learning and productivity? Are there any opportunities for improvement?
These are all questions that your boss will be happy to discuss with you; he or she will be especially impressed if you initiate this discussion without prompting. Seeking feedback shows that you care about your job and that you are genuinely interested in doing your best. If you’re not entirely sure how to ask for feedback, we’ve compiled a list of tips from the experts.
Ask for feedback sooner rather than later
Typically, managers will schedule periodic one-on-one meetings with their employees to check in; however, millennial career expert at kununu and workplace psychology writer Caroline Beaton suggests touching base more regularly and intermittently. “Designated reviews are ideal for broad statements of progress and your general performance,” she explains. However, she cautions, “The last thing you want is to segue into the nitty-gritty details of a project in one of these meetings.” Your boss may have other things he or she planned to discuss.
What’s worse is that, according to Beaton, “This kind of feedback request can also throw managers for a loop, who can’t understand why you waited so long to check in and, in the meantime, made progress in the wrong direction.”
Don’t wait until you encounter a challenge or problem to reach out to your boss, and don’t expect that all of your concerns will be addressed in scheduled performance reviews. Talk to your boss about the possibility of setting up a quick meeting to discuss your role at the company and the progress you’ve made so far. Isabel Calkins, a junior at New York University, says, “When I was an intern at Cosmopolitan.com, I made it a point to email my boss to set up a time to chat about my progress and things I could personally work on. It was a very casual conversation where I got productive feedback and got to talk about any concerns that I may be having.”
If you are still relatively new, this is a good opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the company and its functions. If you have recently been assigned to a new project, you’ll have the perfect time to discuss what’s expected of you and to identify ways to put your talents to their best use. When you’ve completed the task, inquire casually about ways you could improve next time.
Medical intern director Dr. Luz Claudio says that the absolute worst mistake you can make as an intern is waiting until the completion of your program to ask for feedback. “At that point, there's not much that you can do to make changes that would help you improve in your current internship,” she warns. She encourages her interns to remember that they are, of course, not expected to know everything. But, according to Dr. Claudio, “Asking for feedback and taking criticism maturely will always be noticed and appreciated.”
As a general rule, asking for feedback should be a part of your regular conversations with your boss. This way, the process becomes less intimidating and more familiar, and you become a more competent employee.
This is the key to what Tyler King, CEO of start-up company Less Annoying CRM, calls actionable feedback. Remember that the point of getting feedback is to identify your strengths and work on your weaknesses. You are no better off with vague statements about your performance that offer very little examples or suggestions for improvement.
King advises that you identify a real learning experience you wish to discuss with your boss. “In the past month, was there anything you didn’t understand the reasoning behind, like a decision that was made or the outcome of a particular project? Ask your boss for the ‘why,’” he says. Another way to ensure actionable feedback is to bring up one thing that you struggled with at your workplace. Explain to your boss what you found challenging about the situation and ask for ways that you could have handled things differently or better.
Stephanie Shyu, founder of admitsee, a company dedicated to helping high-school students with college applications, adds that you can also be more specific by identifying a particular skill or area of knowledge that you hope to strengthen through professional development opportunities. “This demonstrates that you’re proactive about bringing value to the team and can even result in your company paying for a course you want to take!”
Unless there’s something terribly worrying, your boss will likely give you general notes on your performance; however, King says, “Make your one-on-one as valuable as possible you should bring something tangible to the table.” After an effective performance review, you should be able to create a list of action items for yourself and several strategies to achieve each goal on this list.
Find a balance between taking constructive criticism and standing your ground
The most frightening part of receiving feedback is the potential to feel personally attacked. Beaton says, “Where I see young professionals stumble most often is not asking for feedback because they’re scared to, and then taking the feedback they do finally receive as personal criticism.” Remember that the feedback you receive is meant to help you become the best worker you can be. Your boss will applaud your ability to respond well to constructive criticism and your interest in your own professional development as well as the success of your team.
On the other hand, Beaton warns, “Being too agreeable is bad for career advancement and bad for business.” She explains that less agreeable employees earn approximately 20 percent more than agreeable employees. “Although some managers may prefer to surround themselves with sycophants, most hire candidates who demonstrate that they can think for themselves,” she says. This does not mean that you should always be on the defensive; but if you are confident in your strengths, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
All that being said, there is such a thing as too much feedback. Beaton explains, “Constantly asking for approval reflects insecurity and lack of self-sufficiency. You’ll know you’re checking in too much when you start to see feedback as ‘affirmation’ or you notice that the feedback is no longer instructive, likely because the instructions have already been given.” You don’t want your boss to see you as needy or, worse, incompetent.
Nevertheless, detailed feedback that is tailored to you will be exceptionally beneficial to your overall growth and success within the company. Be mindful of when you ask for feedback, preferably scheduling it ahead of time, and be specific about the action items you intend to improve upon. Your initiative and drive to succeed will pay off in the end.