Featured image: “Crítica,” engraving by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907. Public domain.
At some point, everyone deals with criticism. Be it from your mom about your choice of clothing or from your professor about an assignment, we’ve all felt that sting of flaws being pointed out. Especially as communicators, we know that putting any sort of professional content into the “world” opens it up to criticism, both warranted and unwarranted. But what does this mean for our own personal work, online portfolios and resumes?
I recently learned first hand that having your personal work criticized is both heart-wrenching and extremely valuable. A few weeks ago, after posting my resume to an online job site, I received an exciting email. The CEO of a successful company in Bellevue was interested in speaking with me about my work experience and skills for an open position. I was beyond thrilled.
I finally felt that my hard work as a communicator was paying off, and that this was a great opportunity. After a few email exchanges, we planned to have a phone interview the following day. Prior to this, I provided my updated resume which included a link to my live — but less than updated — online portfolio. Here’s where things took a hard turn for the worse.
I received a long email back from the company’s CEO after he reviewed my work. For clarity’s sake, we’ll call him “Bill.” Unlike the emails we had exchange prior, this message had a completely different tone, and was at least six paragraphs long. This email began with a story from Bills’ past as a journalist and how he had gotten harsh criticism, but learned from the blunt honesty. He was going to pay it forward, and this time I was the recipient.
This email began with a story from Bills’ past as a journalist and how he had gotten harsh criticism, but learned from the blunt honesty. He was going to pay it forward, and this time I was the recipient.
He ripped my work apart, tearing into my writing and design work. He ended the email with a small rant on how being “too nice” is overrated and even included a little quip on how I could be a future “winner” if I worked just a little bit harder. Essentially this person I didn’t even know called me a loser and said I would never be successful given my current work examples. Ummm… OUCH!
All of the criticism I received in the past came from people I trusted, had built relationships with and knew my work well enough to make such blunt suggestions. This person, however, took it upon himself to “save” my career through arrogant ramblings and frank suggestions about how to improve my work. So what was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to feel or react? Against my judgment of giving him a less-than-professional piece of my mind, I took the high road. I thanked him for his candor, but canceled our phone interview.
I get it: maybe he was testing me, or maybe he truly wanted to help my career. But at the end of the day I made the decision that working for someone who may have had great intentions but terrible tone and delivery didn’t suit me.
So, what’s the moral of this story? In short, criticism is inevitable, especially when you’re job hunting. Take what people say about you or your work with a grain of salt, and differentiate between what is actually helpful and honest from what is just, well, rude. Take a deep breath, step back and look at what is meant not what is actually said. Often times the two aren’t the same.
At the end of the day I had to admit to myself that Bill, although arrogant and rude, was right — my portfolio needs a lot of work. Point for you, Bill. But overall, the experience taught me some key things: never be afraid to put yourself out there, but be prepared for feedback… even if it’s necessary and painful.