As many students discover before graduating, the familiar academic structures of rubrics and exam questions phase out when transitioning from student to professional. Ambiguity gradually seems to become the new norm where “it depends” is, annoyingly, the most common response to questions requesting guidance. Projects such as the job/internship search no longer have a prescribed set of steps for all to follow to achieve a desired outcome, making it somewhat frustrating to feel assured about whether one is on the right track and what to do next.
One challenge that many students face when transitioning away from the academic lifestyle, especially when starting full-time professional roles, is the decrease in structured feedback. When there are no more grades. “How am I doing?” often lingers in one’s mind without a clear answer. While many positions do follow a formalized performance management procedure, feedback from superiors outside of a bi-annual performance review may not be offered regularly. What does it mean to not hear much about how one stands? Is it an indication that management is dissatisfied? Does it suggest that the supervisor isn’t invested in their direct report?
While the frequency and format of feedback varies greatly by each manager’s role, style, and personality, it tends to be volunteered less frequently than new professionals expect. This can be confusing and sometimes even discouraging when being very new. Be assured that, in the professional work environment, superiors may not offer much detailed feedback outside of scheduled performance reviews unless requested by you, the employee. Though there can be numerous reasons for this, including manager’s time constraints, remember that many superiors come from a generational background in which “no news is good news”. In many cases, managers want to let their employees, even new professionals, take ownership of their role and “let them do their job” without taking the time for feedback conversations unless there is a need to address something.
So does that this is just the way it is, that there is no hope for getting an answer to “How am I doing?” Definitely not. It simply means that, when an employee wants feedback, the expectation is that they ask for it. The more specific, the better. For instance, let’s say you are two months in to your first full-time job and you haven’t heard much about whether you are meeting management’s expectations. You could of course ask for general feedback, but a better approach would be identifying specific skills or outcomes for which you would like some direction and asking for guidance around these target areas. “Do you have any feedback?” will get a much less thorough response than, “Last month’s consumer report analysis was the first one I had ever done on my own. I want to make sure I’m being as thorough as possible with data visuals and conclusion summaries because I know how important it is for improving our processes. Was I on the right track with the content I chose and the level of detail I provided?”
How do you request feedback? Popping into your manager’s office whenever they are between meetings? Via email? Through the company’s instant messaging system? This will depend on your manager’s preferred communication style, as well as your own, however the more time your superior has to consider your question, the more thoughtful their feedback will be and the better informed you will be with where you stand and how you’re doing.