What do you call powerful information that contributes to foolproof career success but is ignored by two out of three candidates for well-remunerated managerial and executive positions? In the talent management sector the discussion of confidential data is generally referred to as 'feedback' and at a few professional executive search companies it is available to any candidate who has engaged in an assessment process to establish the closeness (or otherwise) of the job fit and determine individual strengths and weaknesses. Job-fit information derived from the assessments is usually not the focus of such discussions, but other data, including very precise scores on personal attributes, can be shared, discussed and ultimately assembled into an individual development plan.
Job candidates trying to find out what to fix or foster for career success need look no further. In the executive search industry, feedback is the closest thing we've got to a well-planned fix for slow progress up the corporate ladder. Which makes it all the more baffling that only one in three candidates requests access to this goldmine of information. At least one executive search specialist with strong assessment capabilities goes to great lengths to encourage candidates to return for feedback after candidate selection is complete, yet the response rate over the past year stands at only 30.8%. As an assessment specialist, I admit to a sense of frustration that relatively few candidates request a follow-up session to review scores and interpretations.
After all, the data has the potential to turn losers into winners and winners into super-stars, but not if it's left to gather dust. Reticence is understandable. We all feel ill at ease when personal characteristics and attributes are laid bare. Assessment results should not tell you anything you don't already know about yourself. But the way the information is packaged will show how your skills work in combination with each other while improving your 6 People Dynamics February 2012 understanding of the impact of your behaviour on others in the workplace. If the assessment tools that are adopted are valid and reliable and the assessments are professionally conducted, the insights are extremely useful. The perception of you is the reality observed by others. (For 'others', read prospective employers.)
The good news is that perceptions can be changed; so can behaviour. Admittedly, this requires a deliberate effort by the individual. The starting point is sensible, dispassionate review of assessment results. After that. improvement is a matter of application and time. The way forward is easy enough to follow. Perceived weaknesses have to be addressed. Often this can be actioned on the job. Make a point of listening more and listening skills will improve. Give more time to colleagues and subordinates while showing a genuine interest in them and interpersonal skills will develop. Though weaknesses are unlikely to become strengths, strengths can become super-differentiators that spotlight a stand-out job applicant, turning a good candidate into a great one. Once strengths have been identified, hone them.
Showcase your best qualities to best effect and you prepare yourself for the next leap up the corporate ladder. The analytical manager with an eye for detail and strong focus on operational competence may never score highly for empathy. But as long as that manager's behaviour is not perceived as destructive and empathy scores improve, that individual can reach the top by reinforcing the strengths highlighted by rigorous assessment Insights like this underline the value of returning for feedback.Those who do are generally quick to overcome their reluctance to see themselves as others see them. They then interrogate their interrogator by questioning the assessor about corrective action — either because they were unsuccessful in their job application or because they are already looking ahead to further career success. Improved self-awareness then becomes the fundamental building block in the evolution of an individual development plan.The plan may give added impetus to an existing career path or it may drive a change of career direction.
A well-formulated strategy will set out clearly defined objectives, timeframes and tips on future action. A mix of actions is often outlined; perhaps on-the-job counselling, job rotation, taking on delegated responsibilities outside an individual's core competence, academic courses, training, reading, executive coaching and working with peer groups. Those who use self-knowledge as a springboard to career action invariably succeed. Reassessment confirms improvement (often stellar). Progress can also be tracked on the databases of well-resourced executive search companies. Over time, these corporate performers win promotions, land their dream job or are rewarded by significantly increased job satisfaction. Their secret? It's 'feedback' and having the courage to digest it and put it to work.
Michelle Moss, head of the assessment division, Talent Africa
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