Performance reviews. Some people love them. Others (okay, let’s be honest, most people!) dread them. No matter what camp you fall in, taking some time to prepare for your performance review is essential to get the most out of it. Though it might feel like going back to your grade school days of getting a report card at the end of each semester, performance reviews can be a valuable tool for requesting feedback and bringing up workplace issues that are important to you.

Though there’s some mixed evidence about whether or not performance reviews are the most effective method of evaluating employees, they continue to be popular. Some experts argue that keeping an open dialogue with managers is more effective than an annual sit-down meeting. Self-evaluations, in particular are often met with skepticism. However there are others who believe having a dedicated time to discuss employee performance on an annual or quarterly basis is worth the effort. If your company still holds regular performance reviews, here’s a few ways to make the most of the experience.


start with self-reflection

Look back at the past year and outline your biggest successes, as well as some areas for improvement. Be honest with yourself. If you sweep all your less than successful projects under the rug and want to forget about them, you’re missing out on critical insights about what you can do differently in the coming year. It’s much more valuable to bring constructive ideas to the table, than it is to pretend failures didn’t happen. Everyone and every job has ups and downs. Good managers are aware of this. Look at successful projects critically as well. Analysis isn’t just for less-than-stellar results. If you had some major wins, what did you do to contribute to that success? Are they things you can repeat or scale up in the coming year?

assess your goals from last year (and make new ones)

Most annual performance reviews will have you list a few personal goals for the coming year. Refer to your goals from the previous year. If all has gone according to plan, you’ve achieved those goals. Be prepared to discuss what you’ve done to meet your goals. If you’re still working on some of them – perhaps they were really long-term goals – be prepared to give a status update.

Next, consider what goals will be for the coming year. Thinking about this ahead of time allows you to be more thoughtful about your goals, rather than coming up with something on the spot during the meeting. Be realistic about what you can achieve within a year, or note that the goal is ongoing. Also, don’t forget to mix short and long-term goals. Think about quick things you can do to move the needle, as well as more long-term projects that you’ll need to work on throughout the year.

bring your notes and list of discussion points to the review

Preparation will make you look like the consummate professional you know you are. Don’t walk into your performance review blind or attempt to wing it. Even if you’re old hat at the performance review routine and confident your manager will give you an ‘A’ grade, preparing ahead is the professional thing to do. Know ahead of time what you want to discuss (the good and the bad points of the past year, as well as your plan heading forward). Don’t hesitate to bring your notes to ensure you hit all the key points you wanted to. Winging it is a surefire way to forget something important.

evaluate your skills and salary

Use your performance review as an opportunity to benchmark your position and compare where you stand in the market. Have you learned new skills in the past year that have increased your value to your employer? Maybe you’ve taken on new responsibilities and it’s time to reconsider your current job title. Or has the average salary for people in your profession climbed recently? It’s important to regularly evaluate where you stand to ensure you’re happy with your current position. Do some research into what people in your field and location are earning to compare. If everything is aligned, perfect. If not, bring your research to your performance review and discuss the path forward with your manager. It’s difficult to argue with detailed salary data from multiple trustworthy sources. Our salary guide is a great place to start.

determine what you need to be successful in your role

As technology evolves at a rapid clip, the tools and skills required in most careers evolve as well. Each year there seems to be an array of cutting-edge tools and methodologies that claim to hold the secrets to streamline your productivity and amp up your work. Consider if there are any new tools or skills that will help you be more effective in your role in the coming year. Many employers have employee development budgets and may be open to your suggestions. As we head into an era of automation and digital transformation, employers have a vested interest in helping their employees upskill and stay relevant. If you’re interested in attending a conference to gain industry insights, upgrade your reporting tools, or take a course to learn a new skill that will help you at work, your performance review is an excellent time to bring it up.

keep an open mind to feedback

Go into your performance review with an open mind. It’s easy to get caught up in the feelings of dread that come with having to put yourself and your work up for evaluation. Try to enter your performance review with an open-mind and it will be easier to accept feedback constructively and not take it personally. Often performance reviews are structured to divide your career into black and white successes and failures. (This is one of the reasons some HR experts dislike this format for evaluating employees.) Your manager might be required to fill out a section on your strengths and areas for improvement, even if they think you’re doing a great job overall. So try to remember that any feedback you receive is a tool to help you grow and improve.

speak up about something that’s important to you

Your performance review is a two way street. Though it might feel like your career is in peril when you and your manager are analyzing the nitty-gritty details of your performance, your performance review is actually an excellent opportunity to bring up topics that are important to you. Even more so if your performance gets a glowing review. When you’re riding on the high of a job well done is an ideal time to let your manager know how they can reward your success. Maybe you want to take on more responsibility to gear up for a promotion. Perhaps you’d like to start working from home more often. Or maybe there’s an upcoming project that you’re interested in and would love to be a part of.  If your performance review is good, you have some added leverage and your manager has an incentive to keep you onboard, so they may be more open to making changes.

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