The Little Pink Spoon Approach to Job Interviewing: How to Give 'em a Taste and Leave 'em Wanting More
One of the great pleasures of summertime is popping into a Baskin-Robbins and trying out a few different flavors with those little pink spoons. Who doesn't love those little pink spoons!
Between you and me, 90% of the time I just end up getting Rocky Road anyway, but it's always fun to taste a few other flavors before ordering my cone. (*Although, if you're gonna do that, you better make sure that Larry David is not standing in line behind you!)
If you think about it, though, why is Baskin-Robbins so willing to give away their product for free? Of course, it’s simple and obvious: they hope that by giving us a free taste, we’ll end up buying a cup or a cone or a pint or a gallon. So they gladly give away millions of little pink spoonfuls in order to make many millions of dollars more in return. It’s the same reason movies show trailers, cosmetics companies give away free samples, and car dealers offer test drives: people want to try before they buy.
So, with this concept in mind, how might you apply the Little Pink Spoon principle to your job search in order to increase your odds of getting hired? Simply put, by giving a prospective employer a “free taste” of what you have to offer!
Three ways to leverage the power of the Little Pink Spoon approach in your job search using "the Three Shows": Show & Tell; Show Them That You Can Do It; and Show Them That You Really Want it...
 Show & Tell: No, "show & tell" is not just for kindergarteners. Verbally telling an interviewer how your background qualifies you for the job is one thing; visually showing them is another. As research has shown, vision trumps all other senses. John Medina states in his fascinating book "Brain Rules" that when people hear information, three days later they'll remember 10% of what they heard; but if they see it, they'll remember 65% of what they saw.
So what can you do to become more memorable? Be more visual! Bring stuff to the interview with you that you can show: Samples of work you’ve produced, reports or PowerPoint presentations you’ve created, photos of projects you've worked on, awards you’ve received, copies of articles or blog posts you've written. Even if the interviewer doesn't take the time to read or even look at what you brought, just holding it up and showing it to them makes it real...more real than just telling them about it. And having these samples handy is a great way to visually remind yourself of real-life stories you can use when asked, "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of...."
Even if you are not an artist, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a "portfolio" of your career accomplishments. You may even want to create a "visual bio/resume" or a personal marketing kit to supplement your traditional CV. As Dan Pink reminds us in his recent book, "To Sell is Human," we are ALL in sales. And, when you are interviewing, what you are selling is yourself. Because so few people outside of the design world think of creating a portfolio of their work, your proactivity and creativity in doing so will definitely help you stand out from the crowd.
 Show Them That You Can Do It: While job interviews can sometimes feel more like a one-way interrogation than a two-way conversation, there are things that you can strategically and proactively do to turn the discussion into a dialogue and a demonstration of your capabilities. Ultimately, what you want to do is to get the interviewer to change their perception of you from "an interviewee" to "an employee" by getting them to actually envision you working there.
One way of doing this might be to ask the interviewer to give you an example of a real-world business challenge that you would be facing if you were to be hired for this role. By taking off your "interviewee hat" and putting on your “consultant hat” and asking thoughtful questions, you probably won't solve their puzzle right then and there, but you'll be perceived as someone who is ready, willing, and able to get to work. Earlier in my career, when I asked my new boss at Disney why he hired me over a few other candidates who were more qualified, his response was: "Because you asked the best questions."
Another way you can show what you can do is by providing an example of your abilities using the PARLA model that I discussed in more detail in a previous post. In short, you can demonstrate your potential to do the job you're interviewing for by describing: a relevant PROBLEM you previously faced; the ACTION you took; the RESULT of that action; what you LEARNED from that experience; and how you would APPLY that knowledge in this role.
After the interview, to further demonstrate your potential, you might email them some additional thoughts and ideas, along with your thank-you note. This will further demonstrate your professionalism and capability, as well as reinforcing that you really want the job...
 Show Them That You Really Want It: It's one thing to show that you can DO the job; it's another thing to demonstrate that you really WANT the job. Earlier in my career I was crushed to not be offered a job that I thought I was perfect for. When I asked the hiring manager for some feedback after the decision had been made, he responded that, "It didn't seem to me that you were that enthusiastic about this position. We need people who are passionate about working here." Lesson learned: People aren't mind-readers, so make sure they know how much you want the job (assuming you really do).
Secondly, here's a question to consider: Are you potentially willing to work for free? Of course, you need to earn a living and don’t want to undervalue yourself. But, just as you might want to taste a new flavor before purchasing a whole cone, the prospective employer might be on the fence about hiring you, or might not yet be ready to make a permanent offer. So might there be some other way for you to show how much you have to offer and how much you want to work there? It’s not always possible, but what if you could start out as a volunteer or an intern, or in a temp-to-perm situation, or on a consulting or project or trial basis? This might not be an option, but it never hurts to be creative and open to exploring out-of-the-box possibilities as a way of getting your foot in the door!
In closing, from my experience, if you can "show" these three things -- real-world examples of your previous work accomplishments, that you have what it takes to do the job, and how much you really want it -- you will dramatically improve your odds of getting the job.
So, as you prepare for your next interview, think about how you might give people a "little pink spoon-sized taste" of who you are and what you have to offer so that they will want to buy the entire cone...along with some sprinkles, whipped cream, and a cherry on top as well.
OK, blog post done … time for some ice cream!
*If you have your own examples of the Little Pink Spoon principle in action, please feel free to share them with us...
The classic Gershwin song reminds us each year around this time that it’s “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” While those “fish are jumpin’,” the pace at work tends to slow down; the office dress code tends to get more casual; bosses, co-workers, and clients disappear on vacation; and most everyone tries to sneak out early on Fridays.
So, you’re thinking: Why not join the club, chillax, and shift into cruise control for the next couple of months?
But instead, what if, this summer, you decided to shift gears and do the opposite!
While everyone else is out getting their second Mister Softee or third iced coffee of the day, why not carpe the diem and take at least some of this downtime to do some of those things that you’ve been putting off all year long? That is, instead of cruising through the summer as many do and then wondering where the time went, why not put the pedal to the metal, and take advantage of these lazy, hazy, days of summer to get ahead…
How? By – in addition to, of course, allowing yourself to take some well-earned and much-needed time off for yourself – you may want to consider dedicating at least a few of those dog days of summer – the period between the Fourth of July and Labor Day – to focus on these four imporant, career-enhancing activities:
- Developing yourself;
- Developing your relationships;
- Developing your people;
- Developing your team.
The Time Management Matrix model I mentioned in a previous post (“Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips“) demonstrates that we spend most of our time in either Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important tasks) or Quadrant 3 (Urgent and Unimportant tasks). For good reason, it’s often referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent” because we let external demands and time constraints dictate where and how we spend so much of our time.
But with things slowing down a little and often with fewer Q1 & Q3 fires to put out, summertime just might be the right time to focus on Q2 (Important, but Non-Urgent tasks and projects)…and even allow us to spend some mindless Q4 downtime (Unimportant, and Non-Urgent) on ourselves.
So regarding those four items I mentioned earlier, which quadrant do they fit into? Yes, Quadrant 2!
Q2 is where the bigger picture, longer term, strategic, and developmental things happen. So, developing ourselves, developing our relationships, developing our people, and developing our teams are four high-payoff activities that often end up on our Wish List rather than on our To-Do List. Why? Because, by definition, though they are of high importance, they simply are not “urgent”…and it is the urgent and time-sensitive things that always command our primary attention, often leaving us with no time, or energy, to spend in the all-important Quadrant 2.
And what about Q4 – the unimportant and non-urgent? Well, we cannot live by work alone! There is definitely a need to recharge and refresh ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And summertime is the perfect time to try to carve out some time to do that…yes, during the workweek. After how hard we work throughout most of the year, don’t we kind of owe it to ourselves to take advantage of this downtime…and this beautiful weather? And, though Q4 activities are categorized as “Time-Wasters and Escapes,” as the saying goes, “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time.”
YOUR SUMMERTIME Q2 & Q4 TO-DO LIST
So, to help you seize the day and develop yourself, your relationships, your people, and/or your team this summer, here are just a few of a potentially unlimited number of possible suggestions (in no particular order) that you may want to consider adding to your summertime To-Do list:
While racing to meet deadlines and focusing on getting your work done throughout most of the year, it’s easy to forget about working on yourself. So make the time and take the time this summer to get organized, to create processes and systems that will help you to be more efficient and effective, and, especially, to learn something new. Here are just a few suggestions to help you develop yourself at work this summer:
- · Pick out a business book (or non-business book) and read while having a leisurely lunch somewhere outdoors.
- · Whether online or offline, get in the habit of finding time to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and/or the key periodicals and trade journals of your industry. As President Truman once said, “Leaders are readers.”
- · Sign up for a few work-related blogs and e-newsletters and read 3-5 per day (for example, some of my favorites are: Seth Godin’s blog, Harvard Management Tip of the Day, and SmartBrief).
- · Take some time everyday to watch a couple of TED Talks (these will not only increase your knowledge, but will also help you to improve your presentation and communication skills).
- · Look up a work-related topic on YouTube and watch a few different videos to get different perspectives.
- · Find out if your company has access to book summaries (e.g., summary.com or getAbstract) or other valuable e-learning resources (e.g., Udemy), and, if so, take advantage of them.
- · Learn to speak “the language of your business” by looking up jargon and terminology you’ve heard that you don’t know the meaning of (e.g., the Investopedia dictionary is a good source for improving your financial industry vocabulary, and there’s always Wikipedia as a good starting point for everything else).
- · Take some time to de-clutter and organize your workspace (including your computer desktop). I’ve found that a clean desk contributes to a clear mind. (And if you’re allowed to, perhaps you can take your laptop outside to do your work while, at the same time, getting some fresh air and sunshine!)
- · Initiate informal conversations with various people in your office to learn more about them and to leverage the wisdom of their experience. (As well as being willing to share yours with them.) As business author Dan Pink recently wrote, “Anytime you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve just proved that you’re not." Or, as philospher Thomas Carlyle (and, later, Emerson) put it, “Every man (*or woman) is my superior in that I may learn from him (*or her).”
Develop Your Relationships
Initiatiating conversations with your co-workers will not only increase your knowledge and develop yourself, but will help you to develop and strengthen those relationships. As the saying goes, in the business world it’s not just what you know…but who you know – as well as who wants to know you. And as the best way to be seen as “interesting” is to be “interested,” seek to ask questions and make an effort to get to know people on a sincere, genuine, and human level. A few ways to build your network and deepen your relationships this summer:
- · Go out to lunch with people in your office. Suggest sitting outside (e.g., at a sidewalk café or in Bryant Park, Union Square, etc.) or take a walk around the block (or along the High Line or across the Brooklyn Bridge). This is a great way to exercise your body while exercising your mind and your people skills.
- · Reconnect and meet up with old friends and colleagues. Look them up on LinkedIn and/or Facebook to see WHAT they’re doing…and then shoot them a note to find out HOW they’re doing…and ask if they’d like to get together sometime. It could be just for fun, or you never know where your next business connection might come from. Last summer I met up with a guy who was my best friend growing up in Queens, and who I last saw when we were 12 years old. It was a really nice reconnection and a lot of fun to reminisce about old times.
- · Speaking of LinkedIn, another way to develop relationships is to join a few LinkedIn discussion groups and dive into the conversation. It’s a great way to increase your visibility, build your brand, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert or thought-leader in your field. And, again, while doing so you never know whom you might meet.
- · After work, look for opportunities to attend networking events. Often held in the summer at outdoor venues or rooftop bars, it’s a great way to socialize and enjoy the great outdoors while developing your relationships.
Develop Your People
The biggest objection I get when trying to sell clients on my training services is not “We don’t have the budget,” but “We just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately, the reality is that “NOW” is never a good time. So if you sincerely want to develop your people, you simply have to make the time, and the commitment, to do so. If you truly want to attract, retain, engage, and motivate your people, one of the best ways to do that is to invest in their personal and professional development. And summertime just might be a good time to squeeze in some training, coaching, mentoring, and more:
- · Set aside some time to meet informally with each of your people to simply ask, “How’s it going?” Most conversations between bosses and their employees focus on tasks and projects. Or only happen two times a year during formal performance reviews. But this is all about them. Finding out what makes each individual tick will help you to engage and motivate them, and set them up for success. Find out what they want to be coached on, and – whether it’s by you or someone else – get them the coaching and/or mentoring and/or training they need to take their game to the next level.
- · Initiate a mentoring program or buddy system that will encourage people to pair up with others in your organization solely for learning and development purposes. This is a great way to increase cross-functional knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as upward and downward conversations.
- · Create a “learning library” – both online and offline – to provide employees with free access to books, videos, articles, etc. for them to learn what they want, at their own pace. Making this minimal financial investment goes a long way towards creating a learning culture in your organization. And don’t you want your people to be as smart and knowledgeable as they can be?
Btw, while some managers ask, “What will happen if we invest in developing them and they leave?” the other question to consider is, “What will happen if we DON’T, and they stay?”
Develop Your Team
Developing each individual is the first step, but when you develop people to become a high performing team, you’ll find that as a T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More. As I wrote in my post, “Team BONDING Needs To Come Before Team BUILDING,” to build a championship team takes time and attention. Time that you may be able to take advantage of during the summer:
- · One of the easiest and most common ways to create a team environment is to bring people together to bond over lunch. Whether they brown bag it or whether you bring in pizza and salads or something else, creating an opportunity for your people to break bread together in a casual setting will help them connect, exchange ideas, and get to know one another better. If you want to be creative and turn it into a learning experience as well, show a TED Talk, share an article beforehand, or start a summer book club...to get the conversation going.
- · Get out of the office either for an extra-long lunch or allow people to leave just a little bit early to meet up for afterwork drinks at a local rooftop or waterside bar. Social media is one way of connecting; social-izing live, in-person is another.
- · Plan a more structured teambuilding offsite event. Whether you facilitate it yourself or bring in an outside expert, it’s a great way to simultaneously develop your people as individuals and collectively as a team.
- · One other, random, fun way to help people bond: “T-shirt Fridays.” If if suits your culture, pick a different theme for each Friday and invite people to wear a t-shirt that day that represents “My favorite….blank.” One week is “Wear your favorite band or concert t-shirt (e.g., The Ramones); the next week wear your favorite sports team t-shirt (e.g., Mets or Yankees); favorite vacation t-shirt; favorite superhero or cartoon character; etc. This is a fun and no-cost way to break down barriers, help people find commonalities, and initiate conversations.
While there are a million more possibilities, I’ll stop here. If you have other ideas, please share them with us!
In closing, as the inspirational magnet on my refrigerator advises: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Which implies that if you do just some of the things listed above, your “September Self” will appreciate and thank your “Summer Self” for setting you up for a successful remainder of the year.
And again, while you’re busily making progress on your Q2 to-do list, remember to also take some Q4 time to reward yourself…especially if or when you hear that hypnotic and mesmerizing Mister Softee theme song calling your name.
I am a HUGE fan of Wharton professor Adam Grant. I love his insightful and entertaining blog posts, greatly enjoyed (and try to live by the philosophy of generosity espoused in) his book "Give And Take," and look forward to reading his most recent work, "Originals." But I have to say that I disagree 1000% with his recent blog post entitled, Stop Serving the Feedback Sandwich.
And here's why:
"The Feedback Sandwich sucks!"
“In regard to the Feedback Sandwich approach, I can see your point regarding its merits. It’s important to note, however, that this method is not appropriate for all situations and, when misused, can often be ineffective and counterproductive, and may actually undermine your intentions. But it’s true that, in many cases, when done appropriately and skillfully, there’s tremendous value in pointing out what someone’s done right, before pointing out what they’ve done wrong (or could have done better) – and then ending on a positive note.”
If you were me, which comment would you prefer to receive from someone who disagreed with this blog post that you're now reading?
Which do you think would be more powerful, impactful, and effective?
And which would give you -- as the deliverer of the feedback -- more credibility?
The first example (basically, "Your post sucks") is what many people, including a lot of bosses (and blog commenters!) do: They just slam you or flame you with their opinion of why you’re wrong and what you should have said or done differently or better.
The second is an example of the Feedback Sandwich.
The Secret Recipe: How to Use the Feedback Sandwich
In brief, it’s referred to, metaphorically, as a “sandwich” because the feedback (the “meat” of the message) is delivered to the recipient in between the use of cushioning (the “buns”) to lead in and soften the blow on one end...and to provide positive reinforcement on the other:
 The top bun represents starting on a positive note, for example: “Nice job on your presentation, I really thought your content and delivery were great.”
 The lettuce represents your transition, for example, a pause, or a phrase like: “One area of improvement might be…”
 The meat represents the main substance of your feedback message: “While I really liked your content and your delivery, I thought that your PowerPoint slides could use some improvement -- and here's how...”
 And the bottom bun represents your close, which might be something like: “Again, overall, I thought you did a really great job...and if you can improve your slides, I think your next presentation is going to be even better!”
The above message can be delivered in a brief 30-second comment, or over the course of a 30-60 minute two-way conversation.
Again, if you were on the receiving end of the feedback (*see David Rock's powerful SCARF model for more on that), wouldn't you rather hear what you did well prior to discussing what you could improve on? Or would you be happy with just the blunt-and-to-the-point criticism that the Feedback Sandwich-bashers seem to be advocating: "Here's what you did wrong...now go fix it."
(Tip: I've found, from personal experience that the best and most effective feedback-givers ASK YOU what you think you did well and what you might have done differently or better (thereby initiating a dialogue) BEFORE revealing what THEY think. But I temporarily digress.)
Why I Feel the Critics are Wrong
Like any tool, technique, or methodology, the Feedback Sandwich is not intended for all occasions. That’s obvious. But when used by a skilled person, with the right recipient, at the right time and place, in the right situation, and in the right way, I strongly believe that it is a tremendously productive and effective way to deliver feedback.
Even something as simple as responding to a waiter who asks how everything was: “The food was delicious, as always. We did want to mention, though, that we thought the music was a little too loud -- which made it hard to talk. But, overall, we enjoyed our dinner and thank you for your great service tonight” – is an example of using the Feedback Sandwich approach to deliver your message in a polite and productive way.
That’s why it’s so mindboggling to me to hear certain experts in the field (like this one and this one) bash the entire model outright. I’ve heard it referred to as a “Compliment Sandwich, a “B.S. Sandwich,” and a “Crap Sandwich.” And, when used improperly, it is indeed! But, in short, I feel that the people who denigrate, discount, and disregard this model in its entirety might want to take a fresh look at it from another perspective.
For example, for those who refer to it as a "Compliment Sandwich" are clearly missing the point. It is not: “Hey I really like your new haircut! By the way, you’re the worst employee I’ve ever had...and here's why. But, again, you look really nice today.”
The “buns” need to be genuine, sincere, productive, and directly relevant to the issue you are providing feedback on. It’s not supposed to be a "compliment," and it's not about flattery or sugar-coating...or making it easier on yourself as the deliverer of the message; it’s about conveying your feedback in a way that is most productive, most effective, and most “digestible” for the recipient. That's a key point to keep in mind: As the feedback-giver, it's about the other person; it's not about YOU.
Therefore, a question to ask yourself before delivering your feedback is: Is the purpose and delivery style and wording of your message intended to beat the person over the head, or to help them to improve their performance? And is the manner in which you are delivering the feedback -- to this person and in this situation -- achieving that objective?
Additionally, regarding the "fluffiness" criticism, the thickness of the buns needs to be proportionate to the person and the situation...while taking into consideration your relationship with this person. Some people need and prefer a lot of cushioning, and some want you to "just give it to me straight." Sometimes a “Great job!” is all that is needed to start and finish with. And other times (in many, if not most, cases), more specific and detailed comments (including specific evidence and examples) are essential if you truly want to make the feedback meaningful and productive.
When the Sandwich DOESN'T Work and You SHOULDN'T use it
So when is the Feedback Sandwich NOT recommended? In MANY situations! Including the ones Adam Grant describes in his post, as well as in the case of some of the scenarios described in the academic study he cites ("The Sandwich Feedback Method: Not Very Tasty").
For example, if someone really screwed up, of course you are NOT going to use the Feedback Sandwich:
“Billy, you’re a good boy and we love you very much. But we’ve asked you numerous times not to play with matches, and now you’ve burnt our entire house down and destroyed everything we own. So again, we love you, but you need to be more careful from now on so you don't burn our house down again in the future.”
“Peter, you’re a good guy and one of my favorite employees. But I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been falsifying pretty much all the data in your TPS reports. So I’m gonna need you to stop doing that, ok?”
When it comes to integrity or policy violations, safety issues, and/or serious or recurring performance problems, of course you are not going to “sandwich” your feedback; you are going to be blunt and serious and direct: “Peter, we have a serious problem here”; or “Billy, sit down...we need to talk.”
In those situations, you would omit both buns and get right to the meat. Cushioning your message here would be completely unnecessary, inappropriate, and entirely ineffective.
Similarly, there are situations wherein you might want to start with the top bun and deliver the meat, but leave off the bottom bun altogether (e.g., "I appreciate your effort and thank you for your hard work; however...this is the third time this mistake has happened and now we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed...").
So, as you can see, there are a variety of different ways to make use of the various elements of the Feedback Sandwich. Though seemingly simple to understand, there's an art and science to mastering it. And just because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution (what is?), in my opinion critics of the Feedback Sandwich are wrong to suggest that we should do away with this incredibly powerful and effective management/leadership/coaching tool altogether.
I've been on both ends of it, and I've received feedback without it. And all I can say is: Despite the "scientific research" to the contrary, in real life, when done right, it simply works.
Do's and Don’ts
Here’s a simple and common work situation in which it’s clear that the Feedback Sandwich would be a proper and effective approach for a manager to take:
Let’s say you asked one of your people – a relatively new employee – to write a proposal and then show it to you before sending it out to a client. Upon reading it, you find that the person worked hard on it, did their research, and got all the facts right. The problem is that in their haste to get it to you, they didn’t take the time to proofread it, and so it contains a number of small grammatical errors and minor typos. So how do you deliver this feedback message?
You can just bluntly say (as the critics suggest), “I read your proposal and it’s filled with errors. You need to fix it.” Or you can be sarcastic and obnoxious (as many bosses are) and say something like, “Haven't you ever heard of spellcheck?”
Or...you can use the Feedback Sandwich: “Thanks for getting this to me so fast – I really appreciate it. Good job on the research and the writing. However I spotted a few typos and grammatical errors, so I need you to proofread it, correct the mistakes, and get it back to me within the hour so we get it out before the end of the day. When we’re sending something out to a client, speed counts – but it’s equally important to make sure it’s perfect and presentable before it goes out the door. But as this was your first time, overall, you did a nice job.”
Simple and straight-forward, it gets your point across regarding the necessary corrective actions, powerfully delivers your message, keeps the relatively minor mistakes in perspective, and – often overlooked, but equally important – restores the employee’s confidence and morale in spite of the (again, minor and easily-fixable) errors. As the manager, it’s important to ask yourself: Is the purpose of the feedback to slam the person for what they got wrong or to acknowledge what was done well, fix the problem, and help them to improve going forward? The Feedback Sandwich does all that and does it well.
“It Sucked”: A Case Study
Earlier in my career, when I worked for one of the major TV networks, my boss’s boss asked me on a Friday to write up “coverage” (a review and recommendation report) on a new pilot script and get it back to him on Monday. (*He was asking me because my boss was out on vacation). Excited to be given this first-time opportunity and wanting to make a good impression, I spent all weekend on it and had it on his desk first thing Monday morning.
When Tuesday afternoon rolled around and I still hadn’t heard anything back yet (as we know, silence is often the worst kind of feedback), I knocked on his door and said: “Hi Jonathan, I was just wondering if you had a chance to read my coverage.”
Rummaging through a pile of papers, he finally found it, glanced at it, and then frisbeed it across his desk at me, hitting me in the shins: “Yeah, it sucked.”
As he went back to doing what he was doing before I had interrupted him, and with the report I was previously so proud of now resting on my shoe top, I meekly bent down, picked it up, and slithered back to my desk with my tail between my legs, crushed and demoralized. I thought I had done such a good job, but I left work that day wondering if I should start exploring new career possibilities.
The next day, though, I still felt like I needed to get some feedback on what I had done so wrong. And I figured I had nothing to lose. So when 6:00pm rolled around, when most others had gone home, I somehow got up the courage to go to his office and knock on his open door again:
“Jonathan, do you have a minute? I was just wondering what was wrong with the coverage I wrote – I thought I had done a pretty good job.”
His response: “You did a great job! Your writing is terrific – it’s always terrific – and you had some really great insights. I just really hated the script. But, your report, itself, was fine.”
Um...maybe he could have said that the first time? In retrospect, what he gave me the first time was the meat; the second time, the same exact meat…but presented in the form of a sandwich. A Feedback Sandwich. So, although the outcome was the same (he rejected the script I was recommending), the validation of my work made me feel a million times better, and left me eager for the next opportunity to show what I could do.
That’s the power of the Feedback Sandwich in action.
So while there are a lot of different feedback techniques out there, all with their respective pros and cons, the Feedback Sandwich is just one way – a powerful and effective way – to get your message across...when appropriate -- which is much of the time.
Think about it. If you are on the receiving end, would you rather someone take a hot, sizzling, greasy burger off the grill and place it in your bare hands…or would you rather they neatly and gently present it to you between two nice, fluffy buns?
*A version of this post was originally posted on my Hired Guns blog in July 2014 under the title, "In Defense of the Feedback Sandwich."
It’s the classic Catch-22 situation: You can’t get a job or change careers without the necessary experience … but how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will give you a chance?
The answer: find an internship, temp job, or consulting gig! And this advice applies not just to recent graduates, but to ANYONE at any age, or at any stage of their career.
Doing an internship, taking a temp job, or getting project work will give you practical, real-world experience, get your foot in the door (or get it back in the door) of the working world, lead to your developing some new relationships and new skills, and help you to figure out what it is that you really want to do and (equally important) what you don't.
Earlier in my career, as well as at various times when I was between jobs, I worked at a series of (unpaid) internships and (low-paying) temp jobs. Some of them were interesting, most were pretty boring, and others were completely torturous.
But without them I would, most likely, not be where I am (or who I am) today.
For example, during the summer between graduating with my B.A. and finishing up my master's, I did an unpaid three-month internship as a researcher at NBC. It actually cost me money to work there, as I had to pay for my commute and lunch every day, not to mention the costly dry cleaning bills.
But although doing that internship had some downsides, it had many more upsides: I gained valuable work experience and discovered some of the things I liked to do and was good at — as well as a number of things that I didn’t and wasn’t. I made some useful contacts, gained some invaluable work experience, built my confidence, got a rush of excitement walking into 30 Rock every day, and was now able to put “NBC” on my resume.
A couple of years later, after moving out to L.A., a series of eight temp jobs in eight different departments over eight weeks at Disney ultimately led to an amazing administrative assistant job in tv comedy program development, working for a writer/producer on the legendary Burbank studio lot.
Looking back, I can honestly say that each and every one of my internships, temp jobs, or consulting gigs turned out to be, in one way or another, an impactful and memorable stepping-stone in my career.
And they left me with some valuable, life-long lessons that can be summed up in these four simple phrases: Look, Listen, & Learn; Do & Try; Ask Questions, Especially "Why?"; and Build Relationships Now:
1. Look, Listen, & Learn
When you start doing something you’ve never done before, in work or in life, EVERYTHING is new: the people; the place itself; the policies, processes, and procedures, etc. So be a sponge! Take it all in. Every interaction, every conversation, everything you see, hear, and feel –- seek to look, listen, and learn.
Be alert. Be aware. Be self-aware! Look around you — up, down, and across. Step outside yourself. Try to see things from others' points of view. Seek candid feedback. Look for best practices. And worst practices. Take a mental (or written) inventory of Do’s & Don’ts. Absorb the culture. Engage with the entire experience. And maintain an open and positive attitude. Make everything that happens, every day, a memorable experience and a teachable moment.
While your time in this position may only be brief, what you learn, both positive and negative, could last a lifetime if you just pay attention. And, even though it may be far from your "dream job," as in the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” you never know where it might lead.
2. Do & Try
It’s one thing to learn by looking and listening. But people learn most -– and learn best -– by DOING. So seek to do, and to try to do, as much as possible. Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take some risks. Raise your hand. And be willing to get your hands dirty, even though they may sometimes end up getting a little battered and bruised. It’s all part of the game.
Don’t expect to do everything right, or to be perfect the first time out. “Trial and error” is a common phrase for a reason. That's why pencils have erasers. And, as Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” The key is to have the confidence to do and to try and to fail. You are going to make some mistakes, so just expect that...and accept that. Knowing this in advance will make it much less painful when (not “if”) it happens. And if and/or when it ends.
3. Ask Questions, especially “Why?”
It is said that knowledge comes not from answering questions, but from questioning answers. So never be afraid to ask who, what, when, where, how, and (most important!) why.
You aren’t expected to have all the answers. So leverage the knowledge and experience of those who’ve been down this road before. Seek advice, feedback, coaching, and mentoring. Everyone had to start somewhere, and now it’s your time, and your turn. Be curious. Explore. Seek to understand. Dig deeper. And question everything. That’s the only way to learn and to grow.
I remember asking the guy who hired me for that Disney job why he chose me over all the other candidates he interviewed -- even though I knew that a few of them had better resumes than mine. His simple and straight-forward reply: “Because you asked good questions.”
4. Build Relationships Now
We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” But, in reality, "who you know" is not as important as "who wants to know you"! You definitely need to know stuff – we don’t want to minimize that. And you do want to meet and get to know as many people as you can. But the key to success in building relationships is getting people to want to know you. And that all comes down to building personal relationships, as well as developing your personal brand.
Someone may have the highest intellectual intelligence in the world, but without emotional and social intelligence -– the ability to know ourselves, and successfully interact with others and develop relationships -– we are, most likely, not going to get very far in the business world.
So be seen. Be heard. Seek to become an "SME" ("subject matter expert") in your area of interest. Be passionate, and demonstrate that passion. Be interesting, but also be interested. Be recognized as someone who can add value. And someone whom others want to know.
But remember that when it comes to building relationships – in work, as in life – it's about quality, not quantity. Seek to form real, genuine, authentic personal connections. Be generous. If you seek to give more than you take and get, it will, (hopefully) eventually come full circle. And, if not...well, it's just the good and the right thing to do anyway.
One final thing to remember: While some internships and temp jobs and consulting gigs are stimulating and engaging and exciting, others (many) may not be. The key is to frame your thinking as, “I am going to try to make the best –- and the most -– of my current situation, knowing that it is just one stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.”
And keep in mind that, despite that common metaphor, most careers tend not to be a straight "path," but more of a "roller coaster" of ups and downs, emotional highs and lows, and unexpected twists and turns.
If you think of your career as a journey, and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to successfully reach your desired destination...and to enjoy the ride along the way.
*For more on this topic, please see my previous posts:
One of my NYU students was facing a dilemma: A few chapters into a highly-recommended, award-winning, bestselling business book, she realized that she found it to be a boring and uninteresting waste of her limited and valuable time. Meanwhile she had a pile of other, much more engaging and tempting titles sitting right there on her nightstand calling her name. She was excited about diving into one of them, only to find that when she put the boring book aside to embark on a new reading adventure, she suddenly and inexpicably found herself feeling extremely guilty.
As she put it, “The culture where I come from is really uptight about winning. People who quit are looked upon as ‘failures’. And, so, quitting this book translated into a failure on my part. And this feeling of guilt comes in whenever I don’t finish something.”
“Always finish what you start.”
“Don’t be a quitter.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“Never, ever give up.”
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
“Quitters are losers.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” (Thomas Edison)
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.” (Muhammad Ali)
“If you quit ONCE it becomes a habit. Never quit!!!” (Michael Jordan)
For those who grew up with parents, teachers, coaches, and/or other authority figures and motivational speakers drilling these mantras into our heads, no wonder we feel guilty when we decide not to continue with something!
But when is it ok to quit? How do we know when it’s better to cut our losses and move on? What about “sunk costs” that cause us to dig ourselves into an even deeper hole? How do we decide when to drop something and when to persevere? How do we determine whether to give something (or someone) a second or third or tenth chance vs. when to say, “that’s it…enough is enough”?
And, is there a difference between “quitting” and “being a quitter”?
Confession: I Am A Quitter
I’ve quit jobs that weren’t working out, and I’ve ended relationships that were dysfunctional. I’ve left many books unfinished, and I’ve walked out of many a bad play or movie. And I quit piano lessons when I realized that I wasn’t really very good. I recently quit eating foods loaded with sugar and carbs, and replaced them with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. And I quit reading the New York Times while laying on my couch, and instead now read it everyday while walking for 30 minutes on the treadmill.
So you can see where I’m going with this: When it comes to “quitting,” it’s all about context, and how you define and frame it.
In his classic leadership book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” legendary management guru Marshall Goldsmith explores “the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break.” In other words: there are unproductive and counterproductive behaviors that successful people need to QUIT doing in order to enable them to become even more successful, and leaders are often successful not because of how they are, but in spite of how they are. And, so, to get from “here” to “there” they may need to “quit” doing the things that may be holding them back.
While it is admirable to keep on keepin’ on, there is no shame in movin’ on if what you’re doing just isn’t working for you anymore. If you are not engaged, if you are unhappy, if you have given it your all and see little or no possibility of sunnier skies, then, perhaps, the best choice you can make might just be to make a change. As you get older (and, hopefully, wiser), you come to realize that life is short: Too short to waste on books, or movies, or tv series, or projects, or jobs, or relationships that you no longer find valuable. The key, and the challenge, is that – though you can seek out others’ input, advice, and opinions – when it comes to your life, you are the only one who can make the determination on whether to pass or to play.
It often helps to think about the fact that ending something negative – though leaving a void – creates the time and space for the start of something new. And that it’s hard to start something new while our cup is full or when we’re tenuously hanging onto the past.
So I’m not talking about quitting on a person who is relying on you, walking out on someone, leaving a project half-way done, or storming out of the office while crooning the old country song, “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.” I’m talking about when you reach a point where, after much thoughtful consideration and deliberation you’ve made the well-thought-out, considered decision that it’s time to move on.
Why Didn’t You Just Quit?
As I wrote about in a previous post (“A Love Letter to All of my Horrible Bosses”), earlier in my career I worked at one of the tv networks as an administrative assisstant for an abusive, sadistic, insane and maniacal boss who treated me horribly on a daily basis, including, one time, throwing a box of pens at my head because they weren’t the kind she liked. (They were medium point; she wanted the fine point.)
When people hear these stories about her – after laughing in disbelief and horror – they typically ask, “Why didn’t you just quit?” This question can best be answered in the following old joke:
“This guy works at the circus and his only job is to clean up after the elephants. All day long, day after day, his job is, literally, nothing but shoveling sh*t. And, then, after work every night he would meet up with his friends at the bar and bend their ears for hours complaining about it. Finally, fed up with the endless complaints and unable to hear about it anymore, his best friend exclaims, “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you just quit???” To which he replies, “What…and leave show business!”
The Learning/Enjoyment Matrix
Going back to my student’s story about the feeings of guilt associated with “quitting” her boring book in order to pick up another, more interesting one, it got me thinking about it in this way:
Ideally, it’s great when we’re able to spend our valuable time doing what we love and loving what we do. When we’re “Learning & Loving it,” time flies, we’re truly engaged, in a state of “flow” or “in the zone,” we can’t wait for it to start, and hate for it to end. This could refer to a book, a class, a movie, a tv series that we’re binge-watching, a project, a job, or even a relationship.
Sometimes, though – let’s keep using the book example – we’re not, necessarily learning anything monumental from it, but we’re enjoying it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, escapism, and fun.
But what about when we’re learning, but not, necessarily, enjoying it? Continuing with the book, maybe it’s taking a tremendous amount of effort to even pick it up again, a challenge to understand, and maybe even an exhausting struggle to get through every page. And, yet, little by little, you are learning something. Do you keep forging ahead…or do you quit?
Lastly, what about when you’re engaged in something where you are neither learning anything nor enjoying it? What then? And, what if it’s not a $14.95 paperback we’re talking about…but a hobby you were trying out that you’ve made an investment in, a project you’ve been working on, a relationship you are involved in, or…even your current job? Then what?
Again, there are no easy answers. And, again, only you can decide. But, perhaps framing your situation using this matix will help you to think things through.
Playing Quit & Seek: A Few Questions to Consider
When should you quit your job…and seek out a new opportunity?
When should you quit that bad relationship…and seek out a better one?
When should you quit a bad habit…and replace it with something more healthy and productive?
When should you quit complaining about problems…and start coming up with solutions?
When should you quit venting…and start in-venting?
How do you know whether to quit while you’re ahead (i.e., knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em)?
How should you quit (if or when the time comes, what’s the right way or the best way to do it)?
Why are you quitting (is it the right decision, and are you quitting for the right reasons)?
Who can you rely on and trust for counsel, advice, and support?
Have you weighed the pros and cons of quitting vs. persevering?
Have you explored all your alternatives?
Are you giving up too soon?
Or have you already stayed too long?
Have you given it your best shot?
Is it time?
The best distinction I’ve heard between “quitting” and “being a quitter”
In closing, quitting is never easy. It is often an emotional and wrenching and potentially-confusing decision with numerous variables and unlimited pros and cons. And though making the decision to quit something is a tough one, the decision to not decide can be equally as tough. As mentioned in my last post (“It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!”), I’ve found that being stuck in limbo is worse than anything. As the psychologist William James famously wrote, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”
Perhaps this inspirational quote will help to reframe what “quitting” is about, and help you to decide what road to take or what move – if any – to make:
“Quitting is not giving up, it's choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it's realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it's learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you, so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” ~Osayi Emokpae Lasisi, author of “Impossible Is Stupid”
To sum up, perhaps by ridding ourselves of the mindset that quitting is for losers, we will realize that sometimes, quitting is exactly what we need to do…in order to win.
For a little additional inspiration and a burst of confidence-boosting motivation, please see my recent post: