How to Take (and Ask for) Feedback

Savvy graduates are always asking for feedback – they know that the only way to improve is to hear the truth.  Whether after an interview, a presentation, or just asking for instant feedback on their work performance, it can be one of the best ways to ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice.  

Asking for feedback however, can be daunting. How do you ask someone more senior and experienced to take time out to give you personalised feedback?  How do you take it if you don’t like what you hear?  And how do you act on it?

How to ask for it?

Inevitably the person you will be asking for feedback is going to be in a more senior position, so it can be daunting.  Here are 3 tips to help you on your way:

Firstly, don’t panic

Having been asked for feedback many times, we can assure that the person isn’t going to be angry that you’ve asked.  The worst that can happen is that they don’t have time to do it.  If this is the case, don’t pester them, just thank them for their time and move on. 

Secondly, the manner in which you ask is up to you

Some people ask for it verbally, others by email.  If you ask someone in person, you increase your chance of getting some feedback as it is harder to say ‘no’ in person. However, it is also harder to be critical in person and people often feel more comfortable when they have time to go away and think about it.

Thirdly, you greatly increase your chance of getting not only feedback, but useful feedback if you ask for it in a structured way

So instead of just asking for feedback ask them specific questions. What was the strongest part of my interview?  What was the weakest?  What did you like about my presentation?  Did I convey commercial awareness?  If you just ask for ‘feedback’ you could end up with something rather generic.

Once you’ve got the feedback, then it is time to review.

The Good

A lesser known part of feedback – it isn’t always negative points. You’ll often find that it can be very complementary.  If this is the case, make sure you take note of what you did well. 

Improving isn’t just about fixing things you did wrong. You can ensure you build on previous successes in the future.  At the same time, don’t just fixate on the good points (or the bad, but more on that below). 

Often feedback will be tailored to you in a way known as the “Compliment Sandwich” – a compliment, followed by a piece of negative feedback, followed by another compliment / encouraging point.  If you’re not careful you’ll miss the bit in the middle as the person giving you feedback is being very kind.

The Bad… and the Ugly

So you asked for feedback.  And hidden in amongst those compliments you find a nugget of critique that is a little hard to take.   You might not even have asked for it – you’ve just been told you can do something better next time. 

First thing is to accept that it is never easy to hear.  And there will be those ones that just sting, that will stay with you for years.   Remember that negative feedback is hard to take for everyone. 

Importantly, as well, no one finds it particularly easy to give either, so the delivery in which you receive it will vary.  Often you’ll find that there are positives in amongst the feedback and suggestions on how to improve. 

If you’ve been on the receiving end of unhelpful critique (e.g. just a list of faults) then ask for tips on how to improve and do some research in how to overcome them. 

Save the feedback somewhere so that you can return to it when the memory of the sting isn’t quite so fresh.  You’ll be amazed how quickly you can turn that piece of negative feedback into something positive. And you'll never make the same mistakes again. 

Up Next: How to Cope with Rejection