Who is your Simon Cowell?

"You are the worst performer I've ever seen!"   
"You may have a good voice, but you are nowhere near ready for the big time!"
"I would love to see you again after you have refined your craft.”

For those of you who consider yourselves American Idol fans, these words have been a common sound bite for quite some time.  We've all heard the banter on various blogs, tweets and media websites surrounding the harsh comments uttered by Simon Cowell over the last 9 years. 

But before you pass judgment on his unbridled feedback and sarcastic quips, ask yourself something – is there someone in your “inner circle” you can rely on to provide uncensored, honest and constructive feedback? I would argue the answer for many of us is no -- not because people aren’t willing to be honest, but because we are reluctant to accept their comments and apply them to our careers and/or job search.

The harsh yet beneficial reality of Simon Cowell’s comments on American Idol is the immediacy factor! Feedback is most impactful when it occurs immediately following the act that it describes. I remember being told by one of my early mentors how important it is to catch employees doing something positive, acknowledging them right away for their behavior.  Likewise, when someone makes a mistake or could use some guidance, it is 10 times more productive to take them aside and privately acknowledge the error, providing them with an alternate response to be used the next time the situation occurs. 

When done right, and objectively, this approach will help good employees become great, and great employees can become superstars!

The key to receiving honest feedback is demonstrating one’s willingness to actually hear what is being said.  Now I’m not naïve enough to think that every negative comment and positive accolade is 100 percent void of hidden agendas. You certainly need to keep your guard up in some situations with certain people.  But how often do we say we want honest feedback, only to turn defensive as soon as someone is willing to give it?  As a former member of Vistage International, a worldwide leadership development organization based in San Diego, I was always impressed by the honesty expressed in our monthly, half-day meetings.  One of the keys to this display of genuine concern was adherence to one simple rule:

“When receiving feedback from a fellow member, respond with thank you – nothing else.”

At times, we were able to ask follow on questions to gain more clarity or additional insights into the comments.  But under no circumstances were we permitted to defend, explain or justify our actions to the other members of the group. 

I started using this tactic in other facets of my life and it allowed me to not only hear more of what was being said, but it invited an increased amount of feedback from a wider variety of people – employees, peers, family, colleagues, mentors, etc.  I still have a long way to go to perfect this behavior, but every time I allow myself to react with a "thank you," I am pleasantly surprised by the result.

As you continue to search for an internship or corporate position, think how much more we could learn about ourselves if we simply listen, rather than defend.

If we took the time to reflect on the advice or counsel of others rather than justifying why we chose option A or B, and to consider the possibility that someone with another point of view (or heaven forbid from another political party) may see us more objectively than we see ourselves.  Perhaps we will be more productive in our work, interviews, job, family and relationships if we simply invite others to offer honest feedback.

Thanks, Simon Cowell, you are a great role model when it comes to honesty and candor in job search!

Ken C. Schmitt is Junior Achievement of San Diego's board member, the founder and president of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales Leadership Alliance.

A native of San Diego, Ken has been recruiting and coaching for over 15 years, supporting professionals from a variety of industries and functions. In 2009, he launched StartingPoint Careers to provide interviewing, resume writing and job search coaching to high school and college students. Contact Ken at 

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