Those of you who are currently employed–have you asked this question recently: “How am I doing, boss?” To go a bit further, have you even raised the question in your own mind?
Long-term career success depends a lot on making wise choices in your professional life and on ensuring that your on-the-job performance can reasonably be described as excellent-to-exceptional. If you stand out in the right way, your odds of advancement and overall career satisfaction increase substantially.
However, if you’re not asking the “how am I doing” question every now and then, you’re probably missing a critical element. That could result in your not standing out or, worse yet, standing out in an unfavorable way.
How big a deal is the “how am I doing” question, and what can (and should) you do if you’re not asking it often enough–or not at all?
WHY to ask: Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignorance about how your boss thinks you’re doing on the job is a recipe for disaster, not bliss. Just because he/she hasn’t been raking you over the coals regularly doesn’t mean all is wonderful. Sometimes negative things snowball over time, and you wind up with a performance review that leaves you wondering what hit you–if it doesn’t actually come with a pink slip attached.
WHEN to ask: Although there’s no hard and fast rule, I recommend bringing this question up in some form or other on a regular basis. Ideally, at least well in advance of each performance review, so you can identify potential “gotchas” before they reach the point of no return and take appropriate action.
HOW to ask: You could say something like, “Boss, I put a lot of effort into XYZ project, and I’ve been reviewing my work to make sure it was the best it could be. I’d like to get your opinion about that, in case there’s something I can do next time to make an even stronger contribution. Could we talk when you have a few minutes?”
If that’s a little too wordy for you, just keep it simple, such as, “Boss, I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing how I’m doing and make sure I’m on the right track. Can we do that next week?”
No matter how you phrase the question, if the answer sounds an alarm in your mind, you have work to do. In some cases, the axiom about “work smarter, not harder” could turn into “work smarter AND harder.” On the other hand, more work (longer hours, shorter or skipped lunches, etc.) might not improve the situation.
To know which route to take, you need to analyze your boss’ response. Hopefully, he/she has provided some specifics; if not, you need to probe politely for those.
A few questions to ask yourself along the way:
A quick tip: Don’t wait until something is a done-deal before you check in with your boss. Stay alert and take the initiative. You’ll go farther in the right direction and stand out more strongly if you do.