How to Accept Feedback to Grow Your Career


As you transition from your military to civilian career, you'll hopefully tap into the many resources available. From mentoring to coaching to services designed to amplify your business acumen, the number of individuals and services available are plentiful.

One resource that should be leveraged is feedback from colleagues, peers, interviewers, recruiters, consultants and family/friends. Feedback is information you receive that is a basis for improvement -- personal or professional. While it can be intimidating and off-putting to ask for and receive feedback, the power of another person's perspective is a tremendous ingredient for a successful career.

Consider this example: Joe left his career in the Marine Corps with an amazing resume. His skills were sharp, the accolades he received from supervisors in the service highlighted his leadership skills and ability to add value to the mission, his credentials were impeccable, and the decorations he received pointed to his experience and talents in uniform.

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But, as he began interviewing for positions outside of the Marine Corps, his efforts fell flat. He was told he was overqualified or underqualified for positions. He didn't receive follow-up interviews. And his network was growing weary of introducing him to opportunities that didn't prove fruitful.

Something was amiss, and Joe couldn't figure out what it was. He looked inward at his communication style, his delivery of key information, his responses to interview questions, and the formatting of his resume and LinkedIn profile. All seemed to be aligned with what he was pursuing.

Finally, Joe turned to soliciting honest feedback. First, he started by asking fellow Marines who had successfully transitioned to similar careers. Then, he began requesting debriefs after job interviews where he wasn't offered the position. Finally, he met with people close to him and asked for candid and honest feedback on how he was coming across.

Joe focused his questions to:

1. What are three words you'd use to describe me?

2. What makes me memorable?

3. What blind spots do you think I'm missing in how I communicate my value?

4. How could I improve the ways I communicate my value?

5. Given where I'm looking to grow my career, what tools or resources do you suggest I adopt or look into?

The reasons he asked these questions were to a) identify his audience's understanding of his unique value; b) identify gaps or blind spots; and c) gain insights into how he could pivot or amplify his value.

Did Joe hear things that made him cringe? Yes. That was the hardest part, he admits. His job was to ask and then listen without getting defensive or upset. He was gathering data to grow his value and learn how best to communicate who he is and what he wants.

Joe learned that he came across too harsh at times. People close to him mentioned, "It's Joe's way or the highway," pointing to inflexibility. He heard that he came across as arrogant at times, and that when he interviewed, he seemed "above" the position for which he was applying. And when describing his value, respondents said they really didn't understand how his work in the military translated into a civilian career.

For Joe, this feedback was invaluable! What he thought he was projecting as confidence and capability was coming across as boasting and dismissiveness. He could fix this! When he shared his military skills, training and experience, he realized he was confusing listeners who couldn't see the relevancy for the new job.

Joe chose to make specific changes to how he communicated his experience and career ambition. He worked on his body language to show more open and collaborative non-verbal communication. And he updated his resume to demilitarize his experience and make his background more relatable.

Feedback can make you feel vulnerable and exposed. That's normal. Accept that you are in control over what you do with the feedback. You don't have to act on any of it, if you choose not to. If the feedback is helpful and offers insight into how you can grow your relevancy to potential employers, then it's worth adapting to the suggestions.

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