When we observe someone going about their job search; talking on the phone, writing a resume or cover letter, how they dress, etc., the jobs we hold often place us in an excellent position to provide that person with feedback. Some of us are reluctant however to share those observations with our clients; especially so if the things we want to pass along are of a negative nature.
In my workplace, I am known as the guy in the office who will tell it like it is when it comes to providing a client with feedback. Sometimes that feedback is positive; overhearing a phone conversation and complimenting the caller when they terminate the call on the way they conducted themselves on the phone. Most of us can do this with relative comfort.
On the other hand, sometimes the most valuable feedback a person can receive has more to do with an under-developed skill, a weakness, something lacking that needs improvement. While positive feedback is something many people are at ease both giving and receiving, the same is not true when the feedback is decidedly less than positive. Then many people back off lest they offend the person; they don’t want to, “start something”, “make them feel bad”, and so they pass up the opportunity. The result is that the person continues to struggle in achieving their goal, either consciously or unknowingly going about their job search. That’s not really doing the client any favour and is more about our discomfort than it is about really being helpful.
Now while it is fairly safe to say that no one likes having their shortcomings pointed out to them, it is in my opinion essential to do exactly this if we truly care enough about the person; to help them move forward and approach their desired goals. The real stickler is not then whether to provide the feedback, but how to do so in such a way that maintains and strengthens our relationship with the client, while still delivering honest feedback.
Some people will appreciate a touch of humour; this approach can keep things light and is a strategy I often apply when first approaching someone. As an example I once pointed out the incorrect spelling of a word in both a cover letter and resume a job seeker had used that changed the entire realm of their experience. They meant to say they had extensive warehouse experience but it actually read as extensive whorehouse experience. Once pointed out, it was a shared moment of hilarity but it opened the door to talk about their weak spelling skills and where they could access help in the community to develop those skills.
With some people, they will not appreciate the use of humour; they will misinterpret this as making fun of them personally and in such a case, it’s important to recognize the warning indicators, quickly shift your approach, and either back off completely or switch to another approach. This is one of the advantages of experience; the longer you work with various people, the better you get at reading them, adapting your approach and finding whatever will allow you to connect with them.
No matter what approach you use however, most people can tell when your feedback is genuine and when it is contrived, phony or exaggerated. Compliment someone for having strong skills in an area they know they don’t, and your feedback is less valued; both now and in general. In short, you lose credibility. It is wise to present feedback on weak areas with sincerity and sensitivity; you are after all sharing information that is meant to benefit them. What you say may not be what they want to hear, but is what they need to hear.
I’ll be honest with you and say that while I’ve got this reputation for providing honest feedback, due to the sheer number of people I share that feedback with, I’m not always successful in my attempt to come across as helpful. l may for example volunteer my opinion on someone’s resume; someone who didn’t approach me or ask for the feedback. I’ll initiate contact, ask if they’d like some feedback, and give them the benefit of my knowledge. Some folks get defensive and I usually read correctly those I should back off from and leave alone, but, well….you know. Like I say, sometimes I make mistakes too!
Providing honest feedback however, is my way of respecting the client. I believe that I’m not helping as much as I’m able if I only tell them what they want to hear. Saying, “Wow, your mock interview was fantastic!”, when they know it wasn’t doesn’t really help them. Sure, point out what they’ve done well, however they can benefit as well from things they need to do to improve their chances of success. That real interview for a job they really want isn’t going to end well if they don’t address some glaring weakness.
So my advice is to be genuine in your feedback; tell it like it is. It isn’t about your own comfort level, it’s about caring enough for your client that you want them to ultimately be successful and if you’re in possession of some information which will benefit them, passing this on is the right thing to do. Like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you get.